VB releases special can celebrating ‘long-term and deep appreciation’ of unions after recent CUB55 unpleasantness

Nicholas McCallum

One of the world's biggest brewers turns a corner and says cheers to workers. 

You can get it bargaining. You get it arguing. You can get it fighting like we all know how.

As Victorians celebrated Labour Day, Carlton United Breweries was celebrating the legacy of 8-Hour Day and the work of Australian Unions by putting out a limited-edition VB can to commemorate the brewery’s “long-term and deep appreciation for our workers and their unions”.

This year, following a new EBA negotiated with 200 CFMEU members, CUB released its special VB can to celebrate 140 years since it introduced an 8-hour day at its Melbourne brewery. The brewery made 400 slabs, one for each worker and manager. 

(L to R) ETU Victoria Secretary Troy Gray, Organiser Scott Riches, CUB Delegate Paul Jeffares, Organiser Steve Diston and Assistant Secretary Ivan Balta

“On Labour Day 2019 this VB commemorative can celebrates the 140th anniversary of CUB, with its workers and their unions, delivering the first 8-hour day for any Melbourne brewery in 1879,” the special can reads.

“CUB has a long-term and deep appreciation for our workers and their unions.”

It was only a two and a-half years ago that CUB was workers’ enemy No1 after they sacked 55 workers from its Abbottsford brewery in Melbourne and triggered the Bitter Victorian dispute.

The 55 workers – ETU and AMWU members – were given the sack and told to reapply for their jobs on reduced pay and conditions.

The workers picketed and dug in for a fight that would last more than 180 days.

In solidarity with the CUB55, Australians gave up their favourite beers and ciders in a boycott of CUB products – labels like VB, Carlton Draft, Pure Blonde and Crown Lager were left up no the shelf. 

When summer rolled around at the end of 2016, CUB caved, and the 55 strikers returned to work on their original pay and conditions.

The shop stewards at the Abbotsford CUB plant, ETU’s Paul Jeffares and AMWU’s Chris Brown, were awarded the ‘Delegates of the Year’ at the ACTU’s NexGen17 conference in 2017.

Paul (or Paulie) and Chris (or Brownie) were recognised for their leadership through the six-month struggle, an award that was warmly backed by the entire union movement.

ETU Victoria Organiser Steve Diston said the delegates’ leadership was key to victory in the 185-day struggle between the 55 workers and one of the world’s biggest brewing corporations.

“It’s only right that Paulie and Brownie were recognised as stand out delegates. You need strong delegates to pull off a blue of this scale with the outfit we were up against.”

ETU CUB Delegate Paul Jeffares enjoys a hard-earned beer.

Diston said that neither Paul or Brownie were delegates when the dispute kicked off, but they stepped up into their leadership roles when the “going got tough” and led the fight to wrestle a giant.

“These two regular Aussie workers were able to make a huge difference in their workplace when one of the largest multinational companies in the world decided to cut their pay. They made this difference by being union delegates,” he said.

“I just hope other workers look to the example of Paul and Brownie; they never once took a backwards step in the face of overwhelming corporate power.

“This is the difference a union of workers can make – to fight together for our futures. And win.”

ETU National Secretary Allen Hicks at the time thanked the many workers and unions who stood in solidarity with the CUB55 through the strike and boycotted their preferred beer.

"You boycotted some of your favourite beers. You put in money out of your own pocket. You spent your evenings, weekends and breaks spreading the word about the dispute, putting up posters, handing out flyers. You played 'beer police' at barbecues and parties. And you won," he said.

"This victory doesn't just get 55 people their jobs back. It sends a message to any company thinking of trying to exploit loopholes in workplace law to take money out of the pockets of working people.

"It sends a message to any manager in Australia who thinks of their employees as just an item on a balance sheet."

Following the historic win, CUB agreed to work with unions to map out a better approach based on mutual respect, productivity and a shared passion to make the best beers with the best skilled workers.

This is was happens when workers stick together and the public backs them. And, very occasionally, the bosses will make you a special drink.


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