Coca-Cola...Only in the movies!

‘Only in the movies!’ was the signature phrase that the famous Cuban singer Rolando Laserie was known for. He would exclaim it every time his band was playing at its wildest or whenever he wanted to refer to something exceptional or out of the ordinary. And ‘Only in the movies!’ was the phrase that came to my mind to best describe what happened in Coca-Cola Fuenlabrada (Madrid).



During the Third Congress of the Federation of Agriculture and Food Workers of Comisiones Obreras, I had the opportunity of speaking with Coca-Cola union delegates who told me about a tragicomic episode that occurred at the Fuenlabrada plant. What follows is a slightly free –almost filmic– version of the events, which is the most appropriate way I found of portraying this absurd episode.


The Fuenlabrada plant, owned by the Casbega Group, is one of the largest Coca-Cola plants in Europe and, according to the information on its website, it is viewed by other plants around the world as an example in terms of technological innovation. When it comes to labor relations, however, the company’s managers, far from being innovative, are akin to specimens straight out of Jurassic Park.


In early March, the atmosphere at Fuenlabrada was becoming heated, following the unjust penalization of a worker, which prompted the immediate mobilization of union activists and leaders. The penalized worker was an active member of Comisiones Obreras, Spain’s confederation of workers, and there were well-founded reasons to believe that he had been targeted primarily because of his union membership.


The union supported the worker, as the sanction was seen as a case of discrimination against the union, and therefore it decided that all workers should be duly informed and made aware of the situation.


To do this, the union called all its members to a meeting at the plant’s canteen during their lunch hour. There, with the help of a megaphone, one of the union leaders started to give an account of what had happened. Things were perfectly normal until the plant’s Labor Relations manager, Jorge Flores Molina, appeared on the scene. The manager was visibly upset and he started to work his way towards the union leader by aggressively pushing through the group of workers…


-What are you doing here? Who authorized you? I’m sick of you…- Molina shouted, as he continued shoving his way towards the union’s spokesperson. 


A few steps before Molina could reach him, the union leader realized that he was going for the megaphone, and he tried to pass it on. The device flew into the air and for a brief moment it was the only thing moving in the room. Everything else seemed frozen in time.


Suddenly two hands, moved by what seemed like prophetic grace, went up in the air and got hold of the megaphone. It was one of the workers. The manager’s face seemed transformed as he stared furiously at the worker –it was as if he were possessed by the devil, like Linda Blair in the movie “The Exorcist.”


Molina continued on his crazy run for the megaphone, but the worker who was holding it moved away from him, looked around and taking a deep breath, like a basketball player before dunking the ball, he swiftly and neatly passed the “megaphone-turned-ball” to another worker, who in turn passed it onto another and then another, in a collective and spontaneous action that put more and more distance between the megaphone and the manager, safeguarding Comisiones Obreras’ valued possession.


Meanwhile, Molina’s rapid movements and feline leaps were proving useless and he was losing miserably. The Human Resources director, María Inés Odriozola Linderas, who was watching the scene from the sidelines, her face livid with rage, realized just how badly her team was playing. Molina moved as if fueled by a Gatorade transfusion, but his speed, efforts and physical exertion proved futile.


Finally, there was an unexpected development in the game: the “megaphone-turned-ball” fell into the hands of Juan Carlos Asenjo…and the worker, perhaps flustered, hesitated and fumbled. Molina knew he had to seize the moment: “Now or never,” he said to himself. He flew like Clark Kent in a mission so urgent that he didn’t even have time to strip his earthly attire and don his Superman suit.


The time was up for Asenjo, and he didn’t realize that he wouldn’t just be losing the “megaphone-turned-ball,” but that he was also risking his own safety. Molina’s lunge became a powerful rugby tackle that sent Asenjo crashing against a Coca-Cola vending machine. Asenjo’s body made a dull, blunt sound as it hit the vending machine, a sound that reverberated throughout the plant as it was amplified by the Comisiones Obreras megaphone he was still holding in his hands. Everything seemed to freeze again, and the only thing moving was Asenjo’s body slowly dropping against the vending machine that prominently displayed the Coca-Cola logo in large, red letters.


Asenjo was then rushed to the hospital by fellow union members, who later filed a police report.


This account, which reads like a screenplay for a short fiction film, is “based on a true story.” But as writers also like to say, “reality often surpasses fiction.”


We will continue to inform on the state of Asenjo’s health. As for Molina’s health, it is none of our concern, but we do think he needs help.



Gerardo Iglesias


April 17, 2009





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