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No samba for Inbev workers

Posted to the IUF website 12-Dec-2005

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Article originally published by CSC Alimentation et Services, Belgium (http://csc-alimentation-service.csc-en-ligne.be/)

Belgium, the land of beer, is no more than a drop in the ocean for Inbev, now the world�s largest brewer. Over half the beer consumed in Belgium is produced at one of the four Inbev Belgian breweries (Jupille for Jupiler, Louvain for Stella Artois, Hoegaarden for Blanche and Leeuw-Saint-Pierre for Kriek Belle Vue). Inbev management, who have already closed other production sites since the merger, believe that there are too many breweries in Belgium. They have just announced a reorganisation, centred on the elimination of 232 jobs (out of 2,898) and production transfers (in particular from Hoegaarden to Jupille).

The announcement is not really news for the trade unions. Although the Group�s 2005 financial results were good, unions have been worrying for some time about the impact of the merger on workers and their unions. For this reason, the international food trade union federation IUF has felt it appropriate to call a worldwide meeting of Inbev unions. The IUF asked Belgian trade unions to sponsor a worldwide conference on Inbev, and CSC Alimentation et Services responded favourably to the request, as investing in international solidarity and cooperation remains the only way to create a counterbalancing power within transnational corporations such as Inbev.

International counterbalancing power

The conference was held on November 13-14 in Sao Paulo, Brazil, with 45 participants from 17 countries. The reports from Brazilian participants were especially damning in documenting Inbev�s poor record. Over the past few years, the company has dismissed 13,000 workers with no social plan whatsoever. Since there is almost no social security in Brazil, these workers have joined the ranks of the poor.

Management is running the company like the army. �We have to win this war�. �Summer: our latest battlefield�. Such are the slogans repeated again and again to the workers. Flexibility is the magic word, applied to both working hours and compensation.

A Brazilian colleague welcomed the Belgian delegates with cynicism: �Welcome to Inbev. Welcome to hell�. Everything leads to believe that Inbev�s management believes that the Brazilian way of running the business is the way of the future and should be applied throughout the company. �We are now managed by people whose sole focus is profitability. This promises heady changes soon�, concluded Manuel Garcia Caballero, CSC delegate at the Jupille brewery, who took part in the meeting.

Anti-union attitude

Participants in the meeting also expressed solidarity with Bozo Perovic. This Montenegrin trade union leader was dismissed by Inbev. Management ignored a Montenegrin Labour Court ruling ordering his reinstatement. He has therefore become, quite involuntarily, the symbol of the anti-union attitude sometimes exhibited by Inbev.

The conference also gave rise to an exchange of information on surveys and restructuring operations underway around the world. The various operations and services are closely compared and placed in competition with each other. Unions must therefore learn to improve international cooperation. This meeting was a first step; decisions were made to better coordinate trade union approaches globally. Information will be exchanged through a specific web site and solidarity actions will be developed.

The conference has already produced results: the trade unions organising the numerous Inbev breweries in Brazil have managed to form a national trade union committee. It is a good way to begin work on disparities and try to open a dialogue with management�