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USDAW members picketing at the factory in Leeds

On the evening of Friday 20th January and the morning and afternoon of the following Saturday, workers at Unilever’s Leeds site in Seacroft took a further 24hrs of strike action in opposition to the company’s attempts to close the final salary pension scheme. This forms part of an eleven day programme of rolling action across Unilever’s sites up and down the country.

An USDAW member in Leeds

The mood amongst strikers is one of determination, with them facing losing between 20-40% of their pension funds as the company wants to move to a career average scheme. Just before this action took place the union had heard that the companies trustees had voted to accept this plan.

The company, which was founded by philanthropist Lord Leverhume, still claims to hold social responsibility amongst its values. Yet despite making $4.6bn euros in profits last year, they now claim they can’t afford to pay the workforce a decent pension and as a recent video produced by Unite the Union points out the entire workforce of the Lipton’s tea factory in Pakistan are temporary workers with no job security (see http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=33Theeovq1c). Moreover, the company spitefully cancelled christmas parties, presents and bonuses for its workforce because of the industrial action.

But just as the company can show it has now good will, so can the workforce. The Leeds site produces well over a million units a day, with last year producing a record breaking 560m. But to do this the company is heavily reliant on overtime to make up production shortfalls (not least due to the effects of the strikes). But this weekend, no electricians are willing to work meaning that production will stop during the sunday evening shift – after the strike production will only be able to restart for a few hours in between this causing a further impact on the company.

Whilst the industrial action will be having an impact on the company, at present they are refusing to even enter ACAS mediated talks with the unions.Reps from across Unilever sites will meet to discuss the next steps in the campaign after the present round of industrial action is concluded. If the company are still refusing to come to the negotiating table then it is likely to take an escalation of the action to do so.

In the meantime, Unilever workers and the unions should aim to build links with all others fighting for decent pensions, not least workers in the public sector who face similar attacks on their pensions. Unions and trades councils should invite Unilever workers to speak at meetings to help counter the governments attempts to divide public and private sector workers, and instead fight for a decent pension for every worker.

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