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31 January 2012
Unilever strikers condemn bosses' greed
To the sound of hoots of support from passing traffic, the delivery lorries normally supplying Walls Ice Cream were backing up, as drivers refused to cross the Unilever picket line in Gloucester on 25 January.
The lorries turned round next to a banner reading 'Unilever the greatest thieves since Robert Maxwell'.
The first national strike action to hit the world's third biggest consumer products company, started in December involving Unite, GMB and Usdaw.
This was after management broke previous promises when deciding to replace its final salary pension scheme with an inferior career average scheme, affecting 5,000 workers.
Despite repeated union appeals and the offer of talks at the conciliation service ACAS, Unilever has refused to meet and instead scrapped Christmas parties, gifts and bonuses.
So action has continued since 17 January for 10 days, across all twelve British sites - from the Croespenmaen Pot Noodle factory in Wales and the Persil factory in Warrington, to the Coleman's mustard factory in Norwich.
According to its profile: "No company touches so many people's lives in so many ways".
Kevin Jones, the Unite senior steward in Gloucester explained how the company is touching the lives of its workforce: "People will lose 20-40% of their pensions. If I live for ten years after retirement, that's £20,000 easy."
It was promised that closing the final salary pension scheme to new entrants in 2008 and increasing contributions would safeguard it. But now management, like the Con-Dem government, demand more.
Like many companies in the 1990s, Unilever took a pensions holiday, but any gap that created could be met by the £6.1 billion profits made last year, up £1 billion.
After all, it can afford CEO Paul Polman's £3.5 million a year payments, including £300,000 into his pension.
Last year, the man who earns 285 times more than his workers, said: "What I want is a sustainable and equitable capitalism". Views similar to those of Labour leader Ed Miliband!
Polman is co-chair of the World Economic Forum (WEF). Its meeting in the Swiss ski resort of Davos this month has been dubbed the 'Glastonbury festival for the rich'.
But according to Jennie Formby, Unite's national officer, he will be joined by "Unilever workers carrying a message to the rich as they party in Davos, on behalf of workers everywhere: your days of greed are up". (follow this on Twitter (#WEF#Davos#Unilever).
While the salaries of the top 100 chief executives have risen by half since 2010, public and private sector workers are facing a struggle to defend pensions and jobs.
The idea of coordinated action makes sense and was warmly received on the picket line. With a determined struggle, decent pensions for all is a fight that can be won.
Chris Moore, Gloucestershire Socialist Party
When the Unilever Crumlin plant in south Wales comes out on strike, every single one of the 180 workers does their shifts on the picket line.
It makes for a very strong dispute. In the latest strike on 26-28 January, this was shown very clearly.
Eight fitters were told they hadn't been included in the documentation to the company and they had to go in or their jobs were on the line.
Very tense scenes erupted when they tried to go in to work. In the end, the pickets let them through, but only on the adamant instructions of the full time official.
That wasn't the end of the matter. Lorraine Gronow, Unite plant convenor, takes up the story: "The fitters went straight to the manager's office.
They were very upset. They told him they couldn't be in work and that he had to tell them the truth - were their jobs on the line or not? He didn't make it easy for them, but in the end he admitted the law couldn't make them cross a picket line. An hour after they'd gone in, all eight fitters came out again to support the strike!
"The point is, everyone belongs on strike and everyone belongs on the picket line. It's their job. Apart from the 180 workers in the factory on full time permanent contracts, we also have 100 casuals in the plant.
They're not in the pension scheme, but not one of them has crossed the picket line. And the picket line has been there around the clock. For now, we're only doing 48 hours, but we have a lot more up our sleeve!".
The mood on the picket line has been excellent. Many of the men formerly worked in Merthyr Vale, Oakdale and Celenyn North Collieries.
Many of the women are married to men who were miners in those pits. The traditions of the South Wales Valleys are very much in evidence at the Unilever pot noodle plant in Crumlin.
Along with all the official placards on the site, the most colourful one reads: "Pot Noodle? Pot Nothing!".
Caerphilly Socialist Party
27 May Reckless, lying cheats
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