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Posted on 13 January 2012 at 21:07 GMT

Unilever: hands off our pensions

Iain Dalton, Yorkshire Socialist Party

Unilever's attempt to scrap its workforce's final salary pension scheme, which will affect 5,000 workers, is being vigorously opposed.

On 9 December, workers at eleven sites across the country shut down production with huge numbers taking part in the picket lines.

At the Croespenmaen Pot Noodle factory in Wales, all bar one shop floor worker were present at the picket lines, with large vibrant pickets taking place elsewhere in the country.

But instead of taking the demands of workers seriously, the company contemptuously scrapped Christmas parties, gifts and bonuses.

To rub salt into the wound, chief executive officer Paul Polman has awarded himself 1 million in company shares. This shows just how seriously the company really takes its ethical principles.

Quite rightly, the response to this is further action to show that this contemptuous attitude towards the workforce cannot be tolerated.

After the demonstration outside the company's headquarters on 9 January, Unite, Usdaw and GMB unions have called rolling action from 17 January, which will again involve 2,500 workers at sites in Purfleet, Port Sunlight, Warrington, Leeds, Crumlin, Gloucester, Manchester, Burton-on-Trent and Ewloe in Wales.

So far the company has refused to meet the unions or to go to the conciliation service Acas. Yet the company can easily plug any gap that may potentially exist in pension funds.

The beginning of 2011 saw the company declare a whopping 5.2 billion in pre-tax profits.

Like workers in the public sector, changes made in the recent past such as closing the scheme to new entrants in 2008, were supposed to ensure the scheme's long-term future.

Yet only a few years later the Unilever tops are coming back for more, determined to make ordinary workers suffer in the interest of the wealthy 1%.

Future action should be coordinated alongside those public sector workers still fighting to defend their pensions, including other members of Unite in health and local government.

Unilever workers should address meetings of public trade unions and vice versa. The message of the unions must be clear: all workers deserve a decent pension, not the misery of pensioner poverty.

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