Socialist Worker

BMW workers rev up for round of strikes with solid first walkout

by Dave Sewell
Issue No. 2550

Union reps estimated that most of the 1,900 affected workers at Cowley picketed over the course of the day (Pic: Guy Smallman)


Hundreds of workers picketed the Mini car factory in Cowley, Oxfordshire, on Thursday. It was the first in a round of coordinated walkouts by Unite union members against BMW bosses’ plans to rob up to 6,000 workers of their pensions. 

Bosses aim to close workers’ final salary pension scheme next month, costing them thousands of pounds. 

Those who have worked there the longest stand to lose the most. Ken, who has worked at Cowley for 35 years, told Socialist Worker, “When you’re coming to the end of you’re working life you start making plans. 

“And something you’ve relied on and paid into all that time is suddenly gone—they turn around and say we’ve changed our minds.

He added, “It almost wouldn’t be so bad if it was some little company, but this is a firm making billions in profit. 

“It’s like they’re saying all the work we’ve put in over the years isn’t appreciated.”

Jim, a Unite rep, told Socialist Worker, “I’m not asking for the earth, just what I’ve been paying for. The employers say they made a contribution but I’ve contributed too—I’ve contributed 34 years. 

“It’s scandalous that they are taking it away.”

For many workers it was their first strike. There hasnt been one at Cowley for 35 years

For many workers it was their first strike. There hasn't been one at Cowley for 35 years (Pic: Guy Smallman)


Pav, a forklift driver and union rep, said that this was the mood across the shop floor. “The stability of a job for life and a decent pension was the only reason most of us came to BMW,” he told Socialist Worker. 

“This isn’t about them needing the money—we know they can afford it. 

He added, “We’ve been bending over backwards for them for year  and now they stab us in the back.”

Unite members also struck at BMW’s other Mini plant in Swindon and the BMW engine factory at Hams Hall. Further strikes are set to include Rolls Royce workers at Goodwood near Chichester too.

Deserves 

Andy, Unite convenor in Swindon, told Socialist Worker, “BMW is a cash rich company—it gave its shareholders £2.3 billion. The workforce is hard working and loyal and deserves to be able to retire with dignity”.

As pickets outside Cowley blew their vuvuzelas in answer to cars tooting their support, production lines inside were dead. Union reps estimated that most of the 1,900 pension scheme members in Cowley picketed at one of the six gates over the course of the day.

Roland, one of the senior stewards, said, “There hasn’t been a strike here for over 30 years so for most people this is the first time they’ve taken action. 

“It’s a demonstration of how unhappy people are—management saw the ballot result but they might be surprised at the strength at the gates.”

Rich want a smash and grab raid on our pension schemes
Rich want a smash and grab raid on our pension schemes
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The next planned strike on Sunday will prevent regular maintenance, making Monday another lost day of production. Jim said, “They planned for strikes in the week, but not on Sundays. 

“They asked us to move that one because it would be disruptive—we told them that’s the point.”

Unite is calling for meaningful talks, in place of what Jim called “talking to a brick wall”. 

But it will take a sustained fight to beat an attack that is part of a general onslaught on pension schemes. Workers should not accept any worsening of the terms of their current pension scheme either. 

Pav said, “We’ve had great support from workers at other companies—the contractors, suppliers and lorry drivers. 

“They support us because they know their bosses might start using it as a weapon if we lose saying if BMW can do this then so can we.”

Thanks to Peter Smith

Up coming Coming strikes: 

  • Sun 23 April—Cowley and Swindon
  • Wed 3 May—Hams Hall
  • Fri 5 May—Goodwood
  • Tue 16 May—all four sites
  • Thu 18 May—all four sites
  • Sun 21 May—Cowley and Swindon
  • Wed 24 May—Goodwood and Hams Hall

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