The real thing?

The truth about working conditions inside Coca-Cola's "Happiness Factory": wage cuts, 12-hour shifts

Coca-Cola’s current TV ad features life inside a Coke vending machine where hundreds of weird cartoon creatures individually make a bottle of Coke.

Small fluffy white balls bounce onto the bottle to cover it with kisses and penguin scientists frost the bottle with the flakes of freshly shredded snowmen.

The bottle is sent to the delivery chute accompanied by a full marching band, cheerleaders and fireworks displays. It is essentially the cast-offs from Lord of the Rings on acid with a work ethic.

It is cute, clever and if I was a child watching it I would have the uneasy feeling that I was being “groomed” by Coke. Tellingly the commercial is called “Inside the Happiness Factory”, though in fairness it is an advert for the company, so it is hardly likely to be called “Making the bastard workers do some PR”.

In an extended version, things go a little bit Aardman animation -- “real Coca-Cola employees [in America] were interviewed and their responses used by the animated factory workers.”

Describing life inside the “Happiness Factory”, a talking potato with rotor blades on its head says, “It’s a relaxed atmosphere. It’s not like some jobs, where you’re tense when you get here. It’s a good working environment.”

So great is the life of a Coke employee that a cartoon cheerleader (possibly a pear or a parsnip), tells us that she “could not imagine leaving”. And in the piece de resistance, a female tuba player with an Hispanic accent asks the camera, “What have I given to Coca-Cola? My loyalty and my love, I give that.” then she pauses and demurely chokes “Don’t make me cry.”

So there we have it, working for Coca-Cola is brilliant! How do we know? A flying potato vouched for the company.

There are no plans to produce a similar video using the comments of Coke workers operating the canning production lines at Milton Keynes or the bottling plant at Wakefield.

Which is just as well for the company. For the first time in 30 years the workers have gone on strike; they are less than impressed with life in the “Happiness Factory”.

Perhaps in the Milton Keynes version a penguin has just finished a 12-hour shift in hot and humid conditions. “This used to be a good job once, but over the years it has changed.”

A fluffy white ball on a picket waving a union banner adds, “We have exchanged our benefits for wage increases over the years, so we have paid for our own wage increases.”

Before a tuba player says, “They are offering us below inflation pay rise, so it’s actually a pay cut.”

On the Northfield industrial estate in Milton Keynes the pickets sit in front of the plant, shut for the day, on picnic chairs. GMB and Unite placards dot the grass verge.

At the Wakefield plant, which came out earlier, banners were brandished declaring “Strike, it’s the real thing.” The strikers list the slow erosion of their benefits: substitute team leader pay cuts, average holiday pay cancelled, the 15-minute handover at the end of a shift to explain to the next team the problems and events of the production line is no longer paid time. And now a wage deal that is again below inflation.

There has been no evidence of the company treating their more famous employees in this way. No one has reported a team of WAGS heading into Wayne Rooney’s pit cottage, shouting “Colleen, cum quick lass, there’s trouble at advertising agency.”

No one has yet seen her in desperation as Wayne howls, “An advertisin’ man needs a fair day’s pay fer a fair day’s work. A million’s all I ask, it’s nowt t’ th’company but bread an’ butter to an advertisin’ man.”

And so far there have been no solidarity meetings at Labour clubs up and down the country, where speakers glance at dignified but downtrodden Colleen and the WAGS, and in anger cry out “ Sum o’ these women 'ave not ‘ad a new pair o’ shoes in hours.”

The company could be in for a difficult time, summer is the peak demand time and if the sun finally shines they could find themselves running short, if the dispute continues.

But these are ‘ifs”, the only thing for certain is that all is not well in the “Happiness Factory”.

And the company with a brand logo that is possibly more recognised around the world than the crucifix, takes another blow to it's rapidly tarnished image.

Carl Court/Getty
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To stop Jeremy Corbyn, I am giving my second preference to Andy Burnham

The big question is whether Andy Burnham or Yvette Cooper will face Jeremy in the final round of this election.

Voting is now underway in the Labour leadership election. There can be no doubt that Jeremy Corbyn is the frontrunner, but the race isn't over yet.

I know from conversations across the country that many voters still haven't made up their mind.

Some are drawn to Jeremy's promises of a new Jerusalem and endless spending, but worried that these endless promises, with no credibility, will only serve to lose us the next general election.

Others are certain that a Jeremy victory is really a win for Cameron and Osborne, but don't know who is the best alternative to vote for.

I am supporting Liz Kendall and will give her my first preference. But polling data is brutally clear: the big question is whether Andy Burnham or Yvette Cooper will face Jeremy in the final round of this election.

Andy can win. He can draw together support from across the party, motivated by his history of loyalty to the Labour movement, his passionate appeal for unity in fighting the Tories, and the findings of every poll of the general public in this campaign that he is best placed candidate to win the next general election.

Yvette, in contrast, would lose to Jeremy Corbyn and lose heavily. Evidence from data collected by all the campaigns – except (apparently) Yvette's own – shows this. All publicly available polling shows the same. If Andy drops out of the race, a large part of the broad coalition he attracts will vote for Jeremy. If Yvette is knocked out, her support firmly swings behind Andy.

We will all have our views about the different candidates, but the real choice for our country is between a Labour government and the ongoing rightwing agenda of the Tories.

I am in politics to make a real difference to the lives of my constituents. We are all in the Labour movement to get behind the beliefs that unite all in our party.

In the crucial choice we are making right now, I have no doubt that a vote for Jeremy would be the wrong choice – throwing away the next election, and with it hope for the next decade.

A vote for Yvette gets the same result – her defeat by Jeremy, and Jeremy's defeat to Cameron and Osborne.

In the crucial choice between Yvette and Andy, Andy will get my second preference so we can have the best hope of keeping the fight for our party alive, and the best hope for the future of our country too.

Tom Blenkinsop is the Labour MP for Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland