Pallet workers at CHEP’s Trafford depot have won a major victory in their long-running fight for a living wage. This shows the way forward for workers everywhere. To fight the attacks of the bosses, we need bold, determined and united action.
Unite members at CHEP UK Pallet Warehouse in Trafford, Manchester, have won a hard-fought victory, after a heroic 21-week strike – the longest in the union’s history.
Workers began striking on December 17, 2021, after being offered an insulting 1.8% pay rise.
Pallets are essential for supply chains. During the pandemic, their demand has increased dramatically, pushing prices up. As a result, CHEP made over £70m in profit last year – an average of £100,000 per worker.
Yet, instead of raising wages, this money has simply lined the pockets of the bosses.
Thanks to their determined strike action, the pallet workers have now won a total salary increase of 9% in the future, alongside a £1,000 lump sum, three extra days of annual leave this year and a backdated 5% pay rise to last July when the dispute began.
5 months, 21 weeks, 126 days – that’s how long our Chep members fought for fair pay and won 👏
— Unite North West (@Unite_NorthWest) May 3, 2022
Initially, 75% of CHEP’s Unite members voted to strike. But after twelve weeks on strike, they were only offered a paltry 2% wage increase. Following this kick in the teeth of the bosses, 94% of the workers then voted to continue the strike.
The strike lasted a harsh winter. But workers held the picket line 24 hours a day, Monday through Friday. None of the strikers expected it to last this long. And even when it seemed an impasse had been reached with the company, they were determined not to back down.
It was the first time most workers at the Trafford site had been on strike. And the bosses clearly intended to make an example of it, by trying to break the strike.
Instead, the strikers showed their colleagues at other depots what can be achieved through 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 even longer, if they had received an offer as low as the previous two.
Throughout the strike, the workers enjoyed broad public support. This included solidarity demonstrations across the country, as well as a large and enthusiastic rally in Trafford, which was attended by other unions and members of the public.
Organized workers in Manchester have won a number of important disputes over the past year.
This includes a 22% wage increase that was won by Biffa bin workers in April, after the threat of a strike; as well as successful strikes against Go North West buses a year ago, which forced the company to back down from deploying “fire and rehire” tactics against drivers, organized at Unite.
The cost of living crisis is bringing hardship to workers across the country. As a result, new layers are being drawn into the struggle. Industrial disputes are at their highest level in five years, with the TUC recording more than 300 strikes across the UK in the past 12 months.
But isolated strikes – no matter how strong and determined the strikers themselves – can’t do much. Different CHEP deposits negotiate to pay individually, for example. If Unite linked these depots together, organizing workers for common action, they would be in a much stronger position.
With capitalism in crisis and attacks on workers intensifying, unions must be prepared to take bold and united action to bring the entire working class together in militant struggle against the bosses and the conservatives.