Socialist Worker

Great start to second wave of Unilever strikes

by Dave Sewell
Issue No. 2286

Picket lines swelled at Unilever factories from Port Sunlight in Merseyside to Purfleet in Essex this morning (Wednesday) as the second wave of strikes to defend pensions got underway.

Workers in the Unite, GMB and Usdaw unions previously struck at 12 Unilever sites on 9 December—the first national strike in the company’s history.

Today’s strikes took place in Deesside, Colworth, Norwich, Port Sunlight, Purfleet and Warrington. They were part of a programme of rolling action, with strikes at all 12 sites spread out over 12 days.

Unilever wants to scrap its final salary pension scheme, costing workers an average of 20 percent of their retirement income.

“Both me and my partner are set to lose £7,500 a year,” said Allison Bridge, a worker at the Colman’s mustard plant in Norwich. “Workers need to fight back against such attacks.”

Unilever is a highly profitable company. Its CEO, Paul Polman, is one of the highest paid bosses in the FTSE 100 index.

Mark Armitage is the GMB rep in Warrington, where Persil and other cleaning products are manufactured. “Throughout the consultations they’ve not been able to put a single argument based on cost,” he told Socialist Worker.

“Their words are that final salary schemes are a ‘broken model’. But I don’t understand how it’s broken—it’s affordable, it’s sustainable and they owe us a decent retirement.”

Workers are particularly angry that Unilever went back on promises made three years ago. They were told their pensions would be safe—in return for closing the scheme to new entrants and increasing the amount workers have to pay in.

There was a warm reception for the public sector workers who visited the Norwich picket lines—including members of the Unite, Unison, NUT and PCS unions. Workers at the council office brought out equipment to make hot drinks.

Ian Barnard is a line operator at Purfleet, where many workers have paid into the pension scheme their whole working lives.

“If the government wasn’t doing this in the public sector then Unilever wouldn’t be doing it to us now,” he said.

“At the end of the day, you can’t just roll over and let them take it from you.

“There will be no use looking back in a few years and wishing we’d done more. Now is our opportunity to fight it—and we are prepared to go out again and again.”

Diary of action

Today’s strikes were part of a 12 day programme of rolling action involving workers at 12 Unilever sites around the country. Bring your banners and show your support at the picket lines.

Thursday 19 January

Warrington (Persil and other detergents)
GMB and Unite members are on strike for 48 hours, until 6am on Friday.
2 Liverpool Road, Warrington, Cheshire WA5 1AA

Norwich (Colman’s mustard)
GMB and Unite members are on strike for 48 hours, until 6am on Friday.
Colman's of Norwich, Carrow, Norwich NR1 2DD

Trafford (PG Tips)
Unite members to strike for 24 hours from 9:50pm.
They are also set to strike for 12 hours from 6:50am on Sunday 22 January, and take action short of a strike from Tuesday 17 January onwards.
Trafford Park Road, Trafford Park, Manchester M17 1NH

Friday 20 January

Port Sunlight
Unite and Usdaw members to strike for 24 hours from 6pm
Port Sunlight, Wirral, Merseyside CH62 4ZD

Leeds (Lynx and other deodorants)
Workers set to strike from 24 hours, starting at 6pm for Unite members and 7pm for Usdaw members

Coal Road, Seacroft, Leeds LS14 2AR

Wednesday 25 January

Burton-on-Trent (Marmite)
Unite members strike for 24 hours from 5am
Wellington Rd, Burton-on-Trent, Staffordshire DE14 2AB

Thursday 26 January

Crumlin, South Wales (Pot Noodle)
Unite members to strike from 6am until Saturday at midnight.
Croespenmaen Industrial Estate, Crumlin, Gwent NP11 3AG

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Article information

Wed 18 Jan 2012, 19:19 GMT
Issue No. 2286
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