The confidence and determination of the low-paid Mitie workers at the Sellafield nuclear site in Cumbria is rising with every day on strike and with every gesture of solidarity from other workers.
They are fighting not just for a substantial wage rise but also to have their union, Unite, recognised.
After three ten-day strikes, a meeting attended by about 100 of the 180 strikers voted to escalate the fight with a two-week strike from 2 June.
At a meeting in Carlisle called by Cumbria Unite Community branch to organise solidarity, Mitie worker Debbie Matthews and Unite organiser Michelle Smith revealed the dirty, dangerous and bullying reality behind the glossy, hi-tech image of the biggest industrial site in the country.
"We work in the same environment as the skilled workers but without the training and protection. I've had to clear out cupboards containing used protective masks and I worked in a building full of asbestos. Even some of the Sellafield direct workers haven't had hot water to shower or wash their hands after the toilet." Science hasn't brought civilisation to Sellafield!
A male and a female security guard had been told to stand in one place for hours without a toilet break. One suffered the indignation of peeing into a bottle, the other eventually suffered the humiliation of wetting themselves but then having to carry on working and travelling home by train.
"Another girl went into premature labour because of the bullying. I had months off due to the stress. For a long time I've worked seven days a week, because the basic pay simply doesn't cover the bills. The wage has only gone up £3 in 20 years."
Mitie have offered a wage rise of just 24p above the minimum wage. The local GMB union accepted this, as they have accepted all these shameful conditions for years. But having suffered the results of 'social partnership' these downtrodden workers have become militant.
Debbie says: "I moved to Unite three months ago. Since then, Unite has backed us up more than the GMB in 14 years. Solidarity? We're like a family now. Now we've got a voice we're getting braver. We're like an army. We get up at 3am for the picket line with a song in our hearts! After getting the solidarity from the Sellafield workers and contractors we go home skipping and dancing."
Michelle sees a bigger potential strength in the Sellafield workforce, and this strike has shown them it. "The Mitie members have a big participation, it's member-led, with meetings of 60-70 since last August and mass picketing. The motto is, if you're on strike, you're on the picket line - not in bed."
This was echoed at their recent strike meeting where the Sellafield Unite branch gave support and the convenor said: "Your strike has set a new benchmark for us - this is the best organised strike I've seen here in 40 years."
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