The Jacob’s cream cracker factory strike in Aintree, Liverpool has been called off. Strikers voted in favour of a pay offer put forward by management on their eleventh week of action. But over a third wanted to keep fighting.
Workers should be proud of their struggle, and they would have had to settle for even less if they had not fought.
The deal includes a 6.5 percent pay rise this year backdated to January with a £300 one-off payment. There is then a 3 percent increase next year with a £250 one-off payment. This is far less than the RPI rate of inflation which has soared to 14.2 percent.
Some 64 percent—377—of the 751 strikers voted in favour of the offer while 36 percent—209—rejected it. Jacob’s bosses had initially offered 3.75 percent rise, then 4.25 percent.
The GMB union members, who have been on all-out strike for four weeks, were demanding a minimum pay rise of 8.5 percent.
“I am a little bit disappointed,” striker Liam told Socialist Worker. “It’s not as big as we would’ve wanted or set out for. They did cough up more in terms of what the original offer was.”
Liam explained that some voted for the deal because, with the backpay and the one-off payment, workers would get around £2,000 just in time for Christmas.
“And the weather was getting cold. But you’ve got to deal with that. You’ve got to fight for what you believe in. I voted no so I feel I have lost. But you have to crack on.”
Liam said workers have to “be ready for what’s next” and build on the strength and unity they had on the picket lines.
Pressure on bosses was growing. In a meeting with the union, management admitted to losing £10 million in the lead-up to Christmas.
Just before walking out, the workers were offered 6.5 percent for the first year and 2 percent for the second year. The accepted “final pay offer” from management included a threat that there’d be no more pay negotiations or back pay for 2022. But they used the same threat in November before the strike went all-out.
The GMB didn’t give an official recommendation on the deal. Had national union officials strongly called for rejection, and pledged support from every level of the union, it’s highly likely that workers would have been confident enough to chuck out the offer.
The deal says there will be no additional disciplinary cases, but that those already taken place over “breaches of Dignity at Work during the strike period” are not lifted. The union should have ensured all these stopped.
At least two strikers have been dismissed and another suspended. The deal also provides for management to receive training from GMB and the Acas conciliation service. Liam said, “It’s good the company agreed to this because they didn’t want to acknowledge the relationship was broken.”
He added that there may also be an upcoming battle over sick pay. Bosses are planning to change the system so workers will receive official warnings or dismissals more quickly for being off sick.
Meanwhile in Carlisle workers at the McVities factory—owned by parent company Pladis which also runs Jacob’s—voted 54 percent for strikes last month. Bosses then proposed a deal similar to the one originally offered in Liverpool.
GMB balloted its members—but wanted at least two-thirds in favour of strikes to walk out. Workers voted for a two-year deal of 4.25 percent for 2022 and 4.5 percent for 2023.
“They backed down at the last second,” Liam said. “Our union convenor spoke to theirs to explain we were offered this—but that striking got us more.
“In a meeting last week our convenor found out Carlisle took the two-year deal. He said the meeting totally changed—what was possible from management five minutes before suddenly wasn’t anymore.
“We might’ve been able to get more if they had gone out as well. But we’ve shown we’re willing to strike. Management didn’t believe we’d go at all—now we have shown we’re willing to go out until things change.”
The Jacob’s workers stood strong on the picket lines and forced bosses to cough up more money. But they could have won more and not settled for a below-inflation increase. GMB leaders should have pushed to bring the two sites out together.
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