Tag Archive for voice

Unilever Strike At Trafford Park

“What gets me is the high-handedness of this from the senior management. It’s not the managers here, they’re getting their pensions cut too. It’s those at the top, at the board level, where it’s the whole fat cat thing again, straight in.” That’s how one striker at Unilever’s Manchester factory summed up their dispute.
Pickets At The Trafford Park Factory
Several strikers voiced anger at the cynicism of the company, “They’re just jumping on the bandwagon, they’ve looked around and seen other companies doing it and thought ‘Oh, we can do that too’.” Unite members responded strongly with the overwhelming majority of the shift out on strike. The handful of scabs won’t have produced anything, as all the engineers required for the ageing machinery were out on strike! A number of agency workers had made sure they didn’t book on for strike-day shifts, adding their voice to a powerful message from the factory floor.
“You get a Tory government in and the bosses think ‘Right, here we go again’,” said one striker to me, and certainly Unilever bosses are taking a leaf out of anti-union tactics developed in the 1980s.
Writing to every member of staff at their home addresses, ‘Executive Vice-President’ Amanda Sourry proclaims her “deep disappointment but strong resolve” before ‘spinning’ the facts in a way that would have done Comical Ali, Saddam Hussein’s spokesman, proud!
Sourry says “approximately one-third of employees… attended work as normal” during the December strike day; not mentioning they were all managers!
Final salary pensions are not “in any form to be the right choice” to Unilever and Sourry, for whom the “right and responsibly thing to do” are presumably multi-£million bonuses for fat-cat top bosses!
As one striker explained to me, “This used to be PG Tips, it was locally-owned, you’d have managers and workers having a laugh together in the pub. Not now though, it’s a big global company like all the others.”
Unilever refused to negotiate seriously with the union, saying they would only negotiate on the basis of a career-average scheme, changing to which is the very reason for the dispute. Yet if you were daft enough to believe Sourry, “the Trade Unions chose to withdraw from consultation”.
Strikers were clear that the company would like to have worse in store for them. The new pensions scheme, if it is successfully imposed, will be reviewed in 3 years time. It won’t be reviewed upwards! A further shift is rumoured, from career-average to only ‘defined contribution’. Under that, the only guarantee is that you know how much you are paying in – all bets are off as to what, if anything, you will actually receive in retirement! And yet Sourry has the cheek to boast of “the much greater certainty in retirement” Unilever are offering, “compared with the much less predictable defined contribution pension schemes into which so many UK employers have now moved”!
Strikers were angry at those who scabbed, “They should respect the democratic voice of the union,” but can see their industrial action is having an effect. Socialist Party and National Shop Stewards Network leaflets were well received and several copies of the socialist sold.
The Trafford Park factory next strikes on Sunday, from 6.50am, and we will be there again to continue our support.
Words By Hugh Caffrey – Socialist Party, North West Regional Secretary

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