By Isabel Ringrose
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Chep UK strikers vote in bigger numbers to carry on pay battle

‘I’ve got more in common with an African or an eastern European cleaner than someone from Eton,’ says striker
Issue 2792
Ten pickets smiling and with fists in the air standing by a picket shed

Pickets were confident this week as they waited for the ballot result (Pic: Sue Caldwell)

Chep workers in Manchester will continue their solid fight for a pay rise after voting for further strikes by an even bigger margin than when they started.

The first vote was 74 percent in favour of action. This time it was 94 percent for action.

Chep striker and Unite union rep Gary Walker told Socialist Worker, “There was no doubt in my mind we would have a strong result.” He explained that since balloting last year, Unite’s membership has gone up so reps were hopeful for an increased mandate to take the strike forward.

“Chep was hoping for the swing to go the opposite way, especially our manager,” Gary explained. “It shows them we’re strong and not divided like the plant managers are trying to portray.

“There are a couple of lads who were quite open at the beginning that they didn’t want to come out on strike. But they didn’t want to cross the picket and since have come out with us.”

Gary added that the support has been “unbelievable and fantastic” with local trade unionists and trades council members visiting the pickets with banners.

Chep is being hit hard by the strike, but its “stubbornness” means it hasn’t given the strikers a new pay offer.

“They want to talk next Wednesday, we wanted it to be brought forward to Friday,” Gary explained. “The next round of pay talks starts soon—it’s February now and we’re still dealing with 2021.

“We’ve just found out that now they’re paying customers to keep hold of the pallets or offering discounts on contracts. That’s costing them money as well.”

Unite general secretary Sharon Graham hasn’t yet visited the pickets, “but it would be good to see her,” Gary said.

“The more this goes on the more there is an expectation that what we want will rise,” Gary said. “Other companies are settling disputes for higher offers than we were willing to settle on.”

Gary said that Wincanton B&Q strikers voting on a higher offer than at Chep means they may “try to push for more”.

“The cost of living is increasing day by day. The original demand we put on the table was 5 percent. But as this has gone on the lads are saying we’re underselling ourselves.

“We’ve not done all this to carry on struggling to make ends meet.”

With the Tories in crisis and workers paying for the pandemic, Gary thinks the fightback has to escalate.

“This is the most corrupt government I’ve ever seen,” he said. “After 12 years of austerity, and now throw Covid and the cost of living crisis into the mix, it’s a ticking time bomb. And we’re seeing momentum gathering and more strikes popping up.

“The top 1 percent didn’t get hit by the pandemic—their wealth went up.”

And despite working throughout the pandemic, Chep only offered workers a 1.8 percent pay rise. Gary slammed this as “laughable, but infuriating”.

“You see the dividends for shareholders and the pay-outs energy companies have, but in April energy prices are going to explode. It’s capitalism at its worst.

“It’s time to renationalise, and the Labour Party has abandoned us for big business. We need an alternative.”

Gary added that the Tories have survived their corruption for so long “by dividing us”. “They push ideas that all working class people are migrant haters and backwards.

“Out of our workers we have Slovakians, Polish, Portuguese, Turkish and people from the Czech Republic and Africa.

“I’ve got more in common with an African or an eastern European cleaner than someone from Eton.

“Working people are told this is the system we live by and there’s no alternative. We have to be fighting for something other than this.”

  • Tweet messages of support to the Chep strike to @unite_northwest Donations to Unity Bank NW/1 Strike Fund. Sort code 60-83-01 Account 20217873

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