Over 2,000 workers at nine factories, two research and development facilities and one IT office are on strike today (Friday) to defend their pensions at manufacturing multinational Unilever. They are members of the Unite, GMB and Usdaw unions.
The company wants to abolish its final salary pensions scheme. This would mean that workers who have been with the company for decades would lose thousands of pounds.
Three years ago the scheme was closed to new entrants, and workers were forced to increase their contributions. They were told those changes would make the pensions affordable.
But Unilever is now pushing through new attacks. The deal they propose would only last for three years before being revised again.
Paul Comerford, a manufacturing technician based in Essex, told Socialist Worker, “It feels like a plan Unilever have had all along to erode away our pension rights.
“They are also jumping on the bandwagon, seeing what the government is doing to pensions in the public sector and thinking, ‘We’ll have some of that’”.
And the company has no shortage of cash—it made a profit of 2.41 billion euros in the first half of this year.
“Everyone deserves a pension for working, and Unilever is one of the richest multinationals in the world,” said Mike Rooke, one of the senior Unite stewards at the factory in Purfleet, Essex, which makes spreads including Hellmann’s mayonnaise and Flora margarine.
“Our CEO, Paul Polman, gets £350,000 paid into his pensions fund every year. That’s on top of a £900,000 salary, almost as much again in bonuses, and £1 million in share options last year.”
Over 50 workers rallied at the Purfleet factory gates this morning, as part of a 36 hour picket line that had shut down production since Thursday night.
The strike also stopped production at the PG Tips tea factory in Manchester and the Colman’s mustard plant in Norfolk. No production workers went in at the Marmite factory in Burton, Staffordshire—and a quarter of them joined picket lines.
Mark Armitage is the GMB rep at the Warrington factory that produces Surf detergent. “The mood is resolute,” he told Socialist Worker. “The weather’s not been great, but we’ve stood our ground overnight and no one’s crossed the picket line.”
Argos workers also struck in Motherwell, near Glasgow, on Thursday against attacks on their pensions.
And the Unite union has warned BMW that they face a “New Year of unrest”, including strikes, if they do not back down from plans to close their pension scheme to new starters.
Reballots have opened the way to bigger struggle