Unilever strike remains solid

Fitters walk out at Croespenmaen

Unilever pickets

Determined picketing and a basic class appeal won a big victory for Unilevers workers at Croespenmaen in Gwent. Workers who had been instructed to cross the picket line at the Pot Noodle factory downed tools and walked back out to support the strike.

The action was the second day of strike at Croespenmaen as part of a national dispute to defend the defined benefits pension scheme. Despite making billions of pounds profit, Unilevers want to cut pension entitlements to its workers. After a very successful one day national strike in December in which the entire workforce was solid, Unilever workers took part in a rolling strike across the country’s twelve plants, with a different plant coming out each day.

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. 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!"

When the Unilever Crumlin plant 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 from 26-28 January, this was shown very clearly.

The mood on the picket line has been excellent. Many of the men formerly worked in Merthyr Vale, Oakdale and Celynyn 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!".

The BBC sent a reporter who interviewed pickets and witnessed events on the picket line including the fitters walking out, but surprisingly the BBC did not cover the dispute on the TV or on its website. Strange that isn’t it? Not covering a victory by strikers.

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