BMW workers have stepped up their defence of their final-salary pension scheme, as part of the struggle to defend pension rights for all, through an overwhelming vote for strike action.
Unite members were balloted across four plants: Cowley in Oxford, Goodwood near Chichester, Hams Hall near Birmingham and Swindon. On a turnout of 72%, 93% of members voted to strike and 97% for other forms of industrial action. Eight 24-hour strikes, along with a work-to-rule and an overtime ban have now been announced, starting on Wednesday, April 19, which will involve up to 3,500 workers. The strikes will be the first ever to be held at BMW’s British sites.
“BMW needs to reflect on this extraordinary vote in favour of industrial action and the real possibility that its UK workforce will strike for the first time under its ownership in the coming weeks,” said Unite general secretary Len McCluskey. “It won’t be a step which will be taken lightly, but the vote in favour of action shows a determination by workers who have contributed massively to BMW’s record revenues to stand up for their pensions.”
Tony Murphy, Unite’s national officer for the automotive industries, said: “This massive vote in favour of action demonstrates the depth of anger among BMW workers over the carmaker’s pensions robbery.”
“BMW’s UK workforce has worked hard to help deliver record profits,” he added, in a reference to last year’s reported profit of £5.7bn, which saw a £1.8bn dividend handed to shareholders. “We would urge BMW bosses to recognise the strength of feeling by negotiating meaningfully over keeping the pension scheme open and honouring their pensions promises.”
Such figures, which are themselves just a fraction of the total claims of various owners of capital on the massive product of BMW workers in Britain, might be thought to be cause for celebration and help guarantee the workers’ pensions. Yet it is apparently still an inadequate return for BMW, whose spokeswoman Sarah Heaney said: “BMW Group has always prided itself in providing excellent pensions for its staff and wants to act now to protect future pension provision for all its staff and to help improve the cost-competitiveness of the UK as a manufacturing base.”
This is not the first time in recent years that BMW has been attacking the claims and conditions of workers in the name of “competitiveness”. In April 2012, a series of “productivity” drives to increase the company’s rate of return by getting more out of the workers for less led to a dispute at the Cowley Mini plant, which even then was producing 200,000 cars per year. This took the form of effectively lengthening the working day through an 11-minute reduction in their morning and afternoon breaks. At the time, in a 9-hour 15-minute shift, employees had combined paid breaks of 53 minutes excluding their unpaid lunch break. At the same time, the company aimed to intensify production by keeping tracks running while workers went to the toilet or took breaks.
Workers at the Cowley plant are again at the centre of the dispute, and have been holding demonstrations at the factory gates. Speaking at one protest, Regional Officer at Unite Fred Hanna said: “The disruption today is about our members showing support and solidarity to keep us together across the four plants.”
Retired Arshad Khan, a former employee of 33 years said: “I am feeling for my colleagues who have worked there for many years and have paid so much pension money which they are not going to get back. It is a betrayal from BMW. There is a lot of support for strike action in and around the plant. We would like to have industrial action.”
“Discussions with BMW are not going very well at the moment,” said Stefan Danger, a current worker nearing retirement. “The strength of feeling is very strong here today and it is a good turnout. I am nearly there, looking forward to my pension and before we know it the rug has been pulled up from under our feet. I do support industrial action. There has been very much overwhelming support for it so far.”
Thirty workers from the four plants also travelled to Munich in Germany to protest outside the BMW headquarters.
BMW workers voted for strike action because they are fighting for the rights of all. On the basis that an injury to one is an injury to all, workers refuse the propaganda of division coming from the company, which argues that only some workers are affected. They are also rejecting the divisive tactic of the offer of a one-off payment of £7,000, ridiculed as a “drop in the ocean” by the union when compared to retirement income losses of up to £160,000 in some cases. Workers know that when they fight for pensions, it is for the entire class, as pensions are a right under attack from all sides, whether they are final-salary schemes or otherwise, including state pensions. Workers have a right to dignity while working and in old age. Workers today are fighting both for the pensions that all want and need, and to defend the pensions we have.