Atomic Weapons Establishment strike rally, photo by Unite the Union

Atomic Weapons Establishment strike rally, photo by Unite the Union   (Click to enlarge: opens in new window)

Nick Chaffey, Southern Socialist Party

Thousands of workers at the Atomic Weapons Establishment (AWE) were stripped of their defined benefit pension scheme on 1 February by AWE bosses Lockheed Martin, Jacobs and Serco.

Unite the Union members have taken six days of strike action and have vowed to fight on, demanding their pensions are defended and transferred to the Ministry of Defence pension scheme.

AWE was privatised by the Tories in 1987 with ‘ironclad’ promises that pensions would be protected. These changes have been imposed on the unions who have vowed to fight on, determined to defend their pensions from voracious corporations looking to boost their profits.

Unite is well organised at AWE, representing 600 workers at the site. Strike days have seen all work at AWE come to a halt.

AWE is a key local employer, many families work here, and older workers understand that this attack on pensions will be a major hit to younger workers who will lose most from these changes. Unite strikers also recognise that this is the thin end of the wedge with the attack on pensions likely to be followed by further attacks.

Unite regional secretary Jennie Formby told a strike rally: “Recently, carmaker BMW, US multinational Honeywell, Gatwick Airport Ltd, Diageo and the Post Office have all announced that they are planning to close their defined benefit pension schemes. Unite is pledged to fight the move to the defined contribution option by all these organisations.”

Strikers are raising the need to strike together to escalate pressure on companies and the government. Pickets we spoke to see this as part of a wider austerity attack by employers and the government.

Len McCluskey came to support the picket lines in January saying: “Our members feel deeply betrayed. They have Unite’s 100% support and solidarity in this dispute.”