Unite members at the CHEP UK pallet warehouse in Trafford, Manchester, have achieved a hard fought victory, following a heroic 21-week strike – the longest in the union’s history.
The workers first began striking on 17 December 2021, after being offered an insulting 1.8% pay increase.
Pallets are essential for supply chains. During the pandemic, demand for them rose dramatically, pushing up prices. As a result, CHEP made over £70 million in profit last year – an average of £100,000 per worker.
Yet instead of boosting wages, this money simply lined the bosses’ pockets.
Thanks to their determined strike action, however, the pallet workers have now won a 9% total pay increase going forwards, alongside a lump sum of £1000, three extra days of annual leave this year, and a backdated wage rise of 5% to last July, when the dispute began.
5 months, 21 weeks, 126 days - that's how long our members from Chep continued their fight for fair pay and won 👏— Unite North West (@Unite_NorthWest) May 3, 2022
The longest running strike in Unite's history, an inspiring fight and an amazing victory all wrapped up in to a short 2 minutes below 🎥https://t.co/lMkI1EzZZ6 pic.twitter.com/Ncy1wk5H0J
Initially, 75% of Unite members at CHEP voted in favour of the strike. But after twelve weeks on strike, they were only offered a derisory 2% pay increase. As a result of this kick in the teeth from the bosses, 94% of the workers then voted to continue the strike.
The strike went on through a hard winter. But the workers manned the picket line 24 hours a day, Monday to Friday. None of the strikers expected it to continue as long as it did. And even when it seemed like a stalemate had been reached with the company, they were determined not to give in.
This was the first time that most of the workers at the Trafford site had been on strike. And the bosses clearly intended to make an example of them, by attempting to break the strike.
Instead, the strikers showed their fellow workers at other depots what can be achieved by collective action.
The final offer was accepted by 70% of the members. But they were more than ready to continue the fight for another 12 weeks, or more, had they received an offer as low as the previous two.
Throughout the strike, the workers enjoyed widespread public support. This included solidarity protests up and down the country, as well as a large, enthusiastic rally in Trafford, which was attended by other unions and by members of the public.
Organised workers in Manchester have won a number of significant disputes in the last year.
This includes a 22% pay rise that was won by Biffa bin workers in April, after the threat of strike action; as well as successful strikes at Go North West buses a year ago, which forced the company to back down from deploying ‘fire and rehire’ tactics against the drivers, organised in Unite.
The cost-of-living crisis is bringing misery to workers across the country. As a result, fresh layers are being drawn into the struggle. Industrial disputes are at their highest level in five years, with the TUC logging over 300 strikes across the UK in the past 12 months.
But isolated strikes – no matter how strong and determined the strikers themselves are – can only achieve so much. Different CHEP depots bargain for pay individually, for example. Were Unite to link these depots up together, organising workers for joint action, they would be in a much stronger position.
With capitalism in crisis, and attacks on workers intensifying, the unions must be prepared to take bold, united action to bring the whole working class together in a militant struggle against the bosses and the Tories.