Unite and PCS union members at IT services giant Fujitsu have voted overwhelmingly to strike in national consultative ballots that closed last week.
Fujitsu Services made record profits last year and the parent company forecasts even bigger profits for the future.
Yet Fujitsu bosses have imposed a pay freeze and propose to dismiss 4,000 staff and re-employ them on new contracts in order to close the main final salary pension scheme.
Unite estimates that the attack on pensions is equivalent to a pay cut of between 15 and 30 percent for most employees.
Unite and the PCS have been running a joint campaign over pay and pensions that has produced a rapid increase in union membership across the company, most of which doesn’t yet have recognition.
Now the company has put around 6,000 staff in Britain – half the total – at risk of redundancy, with a plan to cut up to 1,200 jobs.
Both unions see the job losses as unnecessary, unjustified and a further attempt to increase profits at the expense of the workforce.
Union reps have decided to widen their existing campaign to cover jobs, pay and pensions and want their unions to run official strike ballots as quickly as possible.
The Fujitsu campaign shows that where unions are prepared to put up a fight, employees flock to join, even in an industry such as IT which has little tradition of trade unionism.
Even in a recession unions can grow if they can win for their members.
Since Fujitsu announced in May that it intended to close its final salary pension scheme to new members, there has been a flurry of similar announcements from other employers including Barclays, IBM, Dairy Crest, Costain, Royal Bank of Scotland and Morrisons.
Companies want to save money by putting less into workers’ pensions, and to shift the risk of stock market fluctuations from the company onto individuals – who are much less able to cope with it.
Sections of the media and many politicians have been keen to create a division between public and private sector workers.
They hope to encourage private sector workers to direct their anger at the supposedly “gold-plated” public sector pensions, rather than at the employers and government who are responsible for inadequate occupational and state pension provision.
The “gold-plating” is a myth – as the TUC points out, the average public sector pension is £7,000 and the majority of public sector pensioners have pensions of less than £5,000.
But that isn’t preventing employers trying to stoke division in the hope that they can get away with attacks on pensions for all of us.
The fact that PCS has members in Fujitsu – due to the outsourcing of public sector work to the private sector – as well as Unite, and that the two unions are working closely together makes this campaign particularly useful in promoting public-private sector unity.
The Unite Fujitsu Combine Committee has decided to send a delegation on the “Jobs, Education and Peace” demonstration at the Labour Party conference on 27 September, which is backed by the PCS alongside other unions and campaigns.
Fujitsu has 12,500 employees at well over a hundred sites around Britain, with major ones in Bracknell, Stevenage, Manchester, Warrington, Crewe, Solihull, Wakefield, Telford, Swansea, Slough, Staines, Belfast, Derry, Bristol, Cardiff and Netherton.
It provides essential IT services to many government departments as well as private sector companies from ThomsonReuters to BP and from Lloyds Bank to Marks & Spencer.
Though the IT industry is only beginning to develop effective union organisation, IT workers have enormous potential power. After all few organisations can function without their computers.
Unite is asking for messages of support to be sent to email@example.com or to Unite, Fujitsu Services, Central Park, Northampton Road, Manchester, M40 5BP.
For more information, including what you can do to help, see » www.ourunion.org.uk