Coca-cola workers in Spain hold out against multinational


On 16 April 2015, Spain’s Supreme Court ruled that the redundancy plan – more concretely, the mass layoff of 290 workers from the Coca Cola Iberian Partners (CASBEGA) plant in Fuenlabrada, Madrid - was invalid.

The ruling ratified the National Court’s decision of June 2014, obliging the company to “reinstate the workers to their posts and under the same employment conditions they had prior to their dismissal”.

Coca-Cola had subsequently announced the reopening of the Fuenlabrada plant.

To shouts of “yes, we can” and “long live the working class struggle”, the workers celebrated the end of an intense 15-month battle.

But the joy soon gave way to anger when they discovered the company’s plans to turn the plant into a logistics and operations centre, rather than a production plant. The workers and unions rejected the proposal, calling it a ruse.

In January 2014, Coca-Cola closed its plants in Alicante, Colloto (Asturias) and Palma de Mallorca, in addition to the CASBEGA plant in Fuenlabrada (Madrid), as part of a restructuring process merging the country’s eight bottlers under a new brand name, Coca Cola Iberian Partners.

As many as 1,230 people out of a staff of 4,200 were dismissed, “to eliminate duplications and inefficiencies and to unify criteria in the activities and procedures,” according to a company press release.

And yet CASBEGA in Fuenlabrada was generating profits of €900 million a year.


A legal process plagued with irregularities

Despite taking it to the courts and seeking their protection, the dispute between Coca-Cola and its workers has been protracted and plagued with irregularities.

In June 2014, the Social Chamber of the National Court of Madrid declared the redundancy plan invalid, based on the violation of the right to strike, through the use of “blacklegging” (the replacement of strikers with other workers), among other grounds, and ordered that the dismissed workers be reinstated. Coca-Cola then appealed to the Supreme Court.

Six months later, at the request of the trade unions Comisiones Obreras and UGT, the National Court gave the company a deadline of five days to comply with the ruling.

The court warned Coca-Cola Iberian Partners that it would face penalties if it “obstructed the work of the workers’ representatives”.

The company then announced that it “respected and accepted” the court decision but that the National Court’s ruling “does not require the workers’ effective reinstatement, which depends exclusively on the will of the company, nor does it require the reopening of any workplace”.

In January 2015, barely a month after making this statement, the company dismantled the Fuenlabrada plant using outside workers, to avoid complying with the court decision declaring the redundancy plan invalid.

A strong police presence (ten anti-riot trucks) ordered by the Spanish Ministry of the Interior was brought in to stop trade union representatives from entering the facility.

Several people staging a protest at the Dignity Camp at the gates of CASBEGA were beaten.

The Izquierda Unida (IU) deputy from the Madrid Assembly, who attended the protest, denounced the actions as “illegal”.

Finally, in April 2015, the Supreme Court upheld the ruling of the National Court, declaring the dismissals invalid.


Social and labour dispute

José Antonio Asenjo, a worker from the plant and spokesperson for Comisiones Obreras at the Dignity Camp (set up by workers and their families at the factory gates), declared that “they have not made us bow, they have not tamed us”.

“The company is trying to confuse our supporters and to clean up its image,” pointed out Asenjo, referring to the ‘If Madrid doesn’t produce it, Madrid won’t drink it’ campaign, launched by the workers, calling for a boycott of Coca-Cola products.

In 2014 alone, Coca-Cola sales in the Madrid region and its surroundings fell by 49 per cent and the brand’s image, linked to the idea of “happiness”, has been seriously compromised.

Paco Bermejo, spokesperson for the Coca-Cola Platform, underlines that “this is not just a labour dispute but a social dispute. It is the start of a fight against the Rajoy government’s labour reform and a specific kind of business model.”

“A country cannot progress if the rights of workers and their representatives are not respected in the workplace,” adds Bermejo, alluding to the company’s management of the labour dispute.

“Standing up to a multinational for fifteen months is no easy task. We are telling Coca-Cola that its arrogant ways have no place in a democratic country. First they tried to buy the workers, then they tried to break the strike, and finally they apply the redundancy plan and leave them jobless. This dispute has extended beyond Madrid’s borders and has become global. This company has made a mockery of the Spanish justice system, with dirty legal tricks,” denounced Jaime Cedrum, general secretary of the Comisiones Obreras in Madrid, during the demonstration held prior to the reading of the Supreme Court ruling on 15 April.

The Fuenlabrada Coca-Cola plant case raises the alarm over the opaque negotiations on the TTIP (Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership), under which trade union action could be limited and governments could be sued through ad hoc private tribunals.

The French multinational Veolia, for example, sued Egypt through such channels for raising the minimum wage from €41 a month to €72.

The Coca-Cola workers and their families have demonstrated in Madrid on numerous occasions. They have also taken part in most of the demonstrations held in the city over recent months, such as the Marches for Dignity or May Day, uniting their demand with the many others that have arisen in Spain during the brutal economic, political and social crisis unleashed in 2008.

On 22 May 2015, Coca Cola Iberian Partners admitted defeat and reopened the Fuenlabrada plant, although as a logistics centre supporting the national distribution network. The workers are continuing their fight to recover the positions they held prior to the redundancy plan.


This article has been translated from Spanish.