IT workers in Manchester are resisting a multinational firm's attack. Fujitsu is holding down pay, robbing pensions and planning mass layoffs. But Unite union members launched their third wave of strikes on Thursday with a 48-hour walkout.
Engineer Warren Bryde told Socialist Worker, "The company want to degrade a union that's the bane of some executives' existence. And among the workers there's a feeling that's been welling up for some time.
"I've had two years on the trot with no pay rise. But those at the top got a massive pay rise. So you think to yourself, 'hang on, where's the justice in that?' and then feel like you have to take action."
Some of the central issues are job security and making the company stick to its agreements. The details can be technical, but the issue is simple - the balance of power in the workplace.
Fujitsu aims to make 1,800 redundancies—a fifth of its whole workforce in Britain—among other attacks. Workers' union organisation is an obstacle it needs to roll back to do it.
Senior rep Kevin Davies said, "Fujitsu is a successful company because of workers' efforts—last year it made about £12,000 profit from each employee in Britain. But they are continually cost-cutting to employees' detriment.”
Another Unite rep Lynne Hodge has been sidelined by bosses. One of the dispute's aims is defending her job. Lynne told Socialist Worker, "I came back from holiday in May last year and was told to stop doing my job. I raised a grievance straight away.
“They are trying to get rid of me. The point is that there's an agreement they should be following and they're not following it. With all these redundancies coming those agreements are important."
The workers’ defined benefit pension scheme has been retrospectively changed. Workers told Socialist Worker that those who retire older than 60 were supposed to get a 9 percent extra annual accrual but this has been cut to 5 percent.
One picket said this would rob almost £2,000 a year from his retirement income, and for a colleague it was nearer £3,000.
The Manchester workforce, disproportionately older than some Fujitsu sites, will be hit hardest by this. But workers know that it affects them all. Warren said, "I might be 20 years off retirement, but if they do this now how much worse will it get by then?"
Fujitsu is a large company with different sites, but only in Manchester is there a majority union. This makes it a particular target for bosses' attacks.
Kevin said "The union has been considered a thorn in management's side for many years. They've put an awful lot of effort into trying to thwart the union. If they put that energy into improving the company we'd all be better off, but that Victorian attitude is still with us.
"But union membership has gone up through the dispute. For the bosses it's an unfortunate side effect of everything they try to do to us that it makes them a recruiting sergeant for the unions."
The challenge for workers is to defend their gains in Manchester and build on them across the Fujitsu workforce. "We need a national dispute over jobs," said Kevin.
With the IT sector increasingly important within the British economy and bosses everywhere on the offensive, the fight at Fujitsu has broader significance.
Kevin said, "IT has generally been a conservative sector, with no traditions of industrial action and little confidence to take it. But everywhere in the industry that's starting to change. As firms cut costs, people are realising that either you take action or you lose your job."
Workers were set to strike again on Monday, Thursday and Friday of next week.