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Unilever strike: 'It's us that make them their money!'
"Unilever is the 18th richest company in the world. But it's us that makes them their money!"
As one private sector pension scheme after another is hacked to pieces, workers at multinational company Unilever are making a stand to defend pensions.
Following a strike of 2,500 workers last month, from 17 January thousands of Unite, Usdaw and GMB members at Unilever are taking strike action for up to 12 days.
The strike is because the company threatens to end the final salary pension scheme, leading to pension cuts of up to 40%.
Pickets at the Purfleet factory on the first strike day, warmed by cups of tea and bacon sandwiches in the drizzle, explained their anger at the company.
"You should look at the pay at the top. They're taking off us to give to them.
"Unilever is the 18th richest company in the world. CEO Paul Polman is on £54m in pay and share options. He has a chauffeur and claimed £75,000 in travel expenses last year. He's one of the highest paid bosses in the FTSE 100. But its us that makes them their money!
"For the last few years they've taken from us - bonuses, the Xmas party, Bupa payments, we've had pay freezes.
"Now there's a pay and grades review, because apparently some workers are 'too highly paid', but we know this review is not for our benefit.
"There's no problem with the pension scheme, they're just using the economic crisis as an excuse. Unilever took a pensions holiday which went on for years, and now, seven years later, suddenly there's a problem? The figures show our scheme is 92% funded, and you have to bear in mind the government changed the way the figures are reported which makes them look much worse. The scheme is robust.
"Our contributions were nearly doubled three years ago - we went from paying 4% to more than 7% - on the guarantee that would save the final salary pension."
One woman striker explained: "I've been here ten years and I'll lose £2500 a year - and that's based on the assumption of extra contributions.
"And it's only guaranteed for three years, then they could come back and move the goalposts again. Some of the guys here will lose a lot more.
"Unilever is refusing to talk. Unite and the other unions have gone to ACAS and are willing to talk but the company refuses.
"We're taking strike action over a number of days and a number of different shifts, so that there's maximum involvement and maximum impact.
"Unilever are planning to do this internationally. We're the first, and then they'll roll it out globally.
"Others are looking at what we do. Already we've heard that on the Continent the workers are not happy."
As the pickets recognised, public sector workers fighting to defend pensions are being told they should be grateful for what they've got compared with the private sector, while private sector workers are being told what they've got is too generous. "What we should do is all join up together!"