The second wave of strikes to defend pensions at consumer giant Unilever concluded last weekend.
Workers struck at factories producing Pot Noodle in Crumlin, Gwent, Marmite in Burton-on-Trent and Wall’s ice cream in Gloucester.
This follows action at other sites last week, involving workers in the Unite, GMB and Usdaw unions.
Unilever wants to scrap its final salary pensions scheme—despite guaranteeing three years ago that it was secure.
Unilever made over £2 billion profit in the first half of 2011.
Yet it has refused invitations to negotiate with unions through the Acas conciliation service—unless they accept the end of final salary pensions as a precondition.
The company’s CEO, Paul Polman, was one of the co-chairs of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, last week.
In a keynote speech, he argued that final salary pension schemes needed to be scrapped as part of “restructuring” the global economy.
“Final salary schemes don’t give young people the chance to enter the workforce,” he said.
Polman had £234,000 pounds paid into his pension pot last year. He also has over £2 million in salary and bonuses.
Many large companies are attacking their existing pension schemes. Some media commentators have argued that this means the Unilever strike cannot win.
But if the Unilever workers win their dispute it will set a new precedent for defending pensions in the private sector.
To do this will mean sustained, coordinated strikes to hit bosses where it hurts—in their profit margins.
Unions should call more action as soon as possible, and coordinate with the public sector workers fighting to defend their pensions from the government’s attacks.
It was impossible to miss the pickets outside the Wall’s ice-cream factory in Gloucester last Wednesday. Flags waved and a huge banner hung across the busy dual carriageway.
If anything the picket on the second strike day of their campaign to protect their pensions was more lively and determined than the first in early December.
Rashid Patel, a production line worker, said, “The pensions of the bankers are protected, but rich companies like ours are attacking our pensions.
“The gap between rich and poor is getting bigger. It is a ridiculous system.”
Unite regional official Trevor Hall told Socialist Worker, “We have great support here and there is a real determination to win this.
“There is no financial reason for the company to attack pensions. They have plenty of money. They are doing this solely because they think they can get away with it.”
Nina Franklin, president of the NUT union, sent a message of support. “Your actions give a lead to all of us as we struggle to protect our working conditions,” it said.
Phil Jones and Richard Trigg
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