Striking Fujitsu Services workers braved sub-zero temperatures, snow and ice to hold lively and effective picket lines on the first three days of five days of action over pay, pensions and jobs.
Around 1,600 Unite union members at the company held a one day strike in December – the first national strike by IT workers. They escalated the action with strikes on Thursday and Friday of last week and Monday of this week. They are set to strike again on Thursday and Friday of this week.
The stakes are very high. Like many companies, Fujitsu is using the recession to restructure, despite still making huge profits. It has put around 6,000 workers at risk of redundancy, with up to 1,200 jobs planned to go.
And it plans to close its final salary pension scheme, which the union estimates would be equivalent to a pay cut of around 20 percent for those affected.
Picket lines grew throughout the three days of the strike. By the third day there were even new pickets at some offices that hadn’t had them before.
In Belfast there were so many pickets at one site on the first day that the workers sent some out on following strike days to help picket other offices.
Over in Manchester, workers turned out in force each day of the strike, with other trade unionists joining a rally on the picket line on the third strike day.
Meanwhile in Crewe, where temperatures on the picket line fell to -14 degrees, up to 20 strikers gathered outside the office each day.
They succeeded in turning away several people who had been planning to work.
Three of the pickets, Ed, Bob and Wilf, said that they have all received awards from Fujitsu for good service.
Ed said that he has ripped his up in disgust. He told Socialist Worker, “I’ve worked for Fujitsu for 20 years. After the pay freeze, redundancies and attacks on pensions, relations have never been so bad. This is definitely a strike worth having.”
Bob added, “Pay and pensions are a package. And attacking our pensions is the last straw.”
Wilf agreed. “We’re all good people who work well together,” he said. “But relations with the company are now so bad we have all resigned from the consultative committee.”
The Crewe strikers said that union membership has gone up 50 percent since the campaign started – a trend that is repeated at many of the Fujitsu sites.
At Stevenage, strikers said that union membership has doubled.
Unite rep Trevor Palmer told Socialist Worker, “We’ve got loyal workers here – some who have given 40 years of service. But now they have had enough.
“Most workers have put up with their pay being eroded – and with moving from annual increases to bonuses that have degraded the final salary. They’ve even put up with some of the bonus not being paid.
“Then we got no pay rise and a paltry bonus. But the final straw for many was the decision to close the final salary pension scheme. That got people mad – although it affected only about a quarter of the workforce.
“Then, to cap that, we had the announcement of redundancies. It gave people something to campaign around nationally for the first time.
“Fujitsu is a very profitable company. It is winning business. And it hopes to make at around £100 million in profits this year.
“The company is laying off permanent employees and passing of work to outsourced companies. It is using the recession and climate of fear to increase profitability.”
The strike is clearly having a big impact on the company – the day before the action began, management offered a 5 percent pay rise to around 3,000 workers affected by the closure of the final salary pension scheme.
This shift should give the workers the confidence to keep fighting for more.
This is a key dispute. Many private companies have followed Fujitsu’s example and attacked final salary pensions or implemented a pay freeze. And the public sector also faces devastating cuts – whoever wins the next general election.
One of the keys to victory will be solidarity. Groups of strikers from Manchester have toured workplaces during the strike – raising support among workers at bus garages, hospitals, rail depots and even the local brewery.
Strikers from Solihull in the West Midlands got a great response when they spoke at a meeting of reps from the PCS civil service workers’ union in Birmingham on Monday.
London strikers have collected hundreds of pounds visiting council and college workplaces in Tower Hamlets, east London.
In Chesterfield, trade unionists at IT company CSC organised a public meeting with Fujitsu workers. Around 40 people came, including a rep from Steria – another IT company where there have been attacks on the final salary pension scheme.
Paul Packham, a rep at CSC and one of the organisers of the meeting, told Socialist Worker, “It was good to bring together workers facing similar struggles.
“The Fujitsu strike is an important dispute. If one of us wins, we all win.”
Ian Allinson, chair of the Unite Fujitsu UK combine committee, spoke at the meeting.
He told Socialist Worker, “The meeting showed that as more employers try to take advantage of the recession, workers are increasingly considering fighting back.”
Thanks to all those who sent in reports from the picket lines. For more information and pictures from the dispute go to » www.ourunion.org.uk
Email messages of support and requests for speakers to [email protected]