Unite members at CHEP in Trafford Park, Manchester, have won a massive victory.
The management underestimated the resilience of the workforce and their determination to achieve a decent wage after the multi-national company made massive profits and paid out huge dividends during the pandemic. The 21-week strike has involved 24-hour picketing through all weathers, including one windy weekend when their shelter was destroyed and had to be rebuilt.
Management has finally agreed to pay 5 per cent for last year (which was due last June!) and 4 per cent for this year, plus a lump sum of £1000 and three extra days of annual leave. The company’s prevarications over lump sum payments and extra holidays hardened attitudes on the picket line, so workers were balloting for a third round of twelve-week action. The £200 one-off payment originally offered will now be £1000 and two extra holidays have been raised to three. A ballot was held on this latest offer and the result of 48 in favour and 22 against vindicates the decision of the stewards to recommend acceptance.
Unite has provided strike pay and facilities. But questions need to be asked about the officialdom’s conduct of the strike. Unite’s tactics often include ‘leverage’, i.e. targeting customers or suppliers of a company in dispute. In the case of CHEP pallets, obvious candidates were companies such as Heinz or Costco, who are major customers for pallets. Several NW companies were targeted by the ‘leverage’ team in March, but a token presence for an hour or so outside companies, without involving the workers employed there, and with CHEP workers directed not to participate, was never likely to have a significant effect on CHEP.
General Secretary Sharon Graham has been supportive of the workers. But it is not clear whether the regional officials in this ‘left’ region shared her enthusiasm to win this dispute quickly.
The CHEP strike has been successful in massively shifting the management from their initial offer of 2%. CHEP have been forced to make higher offers to other plants than they would have done if Manchester had not been on strike, purely to avoid the strike spreading, so all CHEP employees have benefited from the Manchester strike. A significant part of the deal is the agreement to “further talks to address pay parity with other CHEP sites”. This strike has to be the starting point for future coordination with other plants with the aim of developing a combine committee with shared information and joint claims. The Manchester stewards are well-placed to lead this development.
As one of the CHEP strikers said: “We need to shout about this result, to show young workers that it’s important, vital to be in a union. That’s how you win”.
After such a lengthy strike donations would still be welcome. Make payments to: Unity Bank NW/1 Strike Fund. Account 20217873. Sort code 60-83-01. If donating online, the account name is ‘UNITE 6/1 CHEP Manchester Branch’.