The business press gloated last week at Unilever bosses’ “victory” as most workers at the firm accepted the end of their final salary pension scheme.
Workers in the Unite, Usdaw and GMB unions struck against the plans in December and January in the first ever nationwide dispute at the firm.
The multinational is one of the most profitable firms in Britain. It could easily afford to maintain final salary pensions.
It previously promised workers that their pensions would be secure—but closed the scheme to new members.
After months of talks at Acas, the conciliation service, bosses offered only minor adjustments to their original proposal.
Usdaw and GMB members initially voted to reject the proposal.
But when Unite members voted to accept, Usdaw members were balloted for a second time and voted to accept too.
“Our members remain angry and bitterly disappointed by Unilever’s decision,” said Usdaw national officer David Johnson.
After Unite’s vote he said, “Usdaw members were left with little option but to reluctantly follow suit or face fighting the company on their own.”
If union leaders had given a clear strategy workers could have been confident to keep fighting.
When union leaders stopped calling coordinated action in January, the momentum was lost.
Unilever divides its operations in Britain into nine “sourcing units”. Unite is the main union for six of these. But Usdaw organises workers at the massive site at Port Sunlight near Merseyside.
A strike here could have had a significant impact.
The GMB is the biggest union at the Colman’s mustard factory in Norwich as well as Warrington. Its members are now being reballoted on the offer.
Mark Armitage is the GMB rep in Warrington, He told Socialist Worker, “It’s not a done deal, whatever the impression they give in the press.
“Unite is the biggest union, so when they voted to accept it left us in the air. But personally I still think we should reject it.
“I voted to reject, and I make it clear to members that if we reject we have to be prepared to take more action.”
GMB members should reject and demand sustained action against Unilever.