BMW Workers Vote to Strike over their Right to a Decent Pension

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.

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Condemn US Airstrikes against Syria!

Condemn US Airstrikes against Syria!
Oppose the Warmongering Support of the British Government!
Hands Off Syria!


Stop the War protest outside Downing Street on Friday April 7

We condemn in the strongest terms the military attack launched by the government of the United States on the sovereign territory of Syria on April 6. During the attack, fifty-nine Tomahawk Land Attack Missiles were launched from U.S. navy destroyers in the eastern Mediterranean targeting aircraft, aircraft shelters, fuel and other storage, ammunition, air defence systems, and radar at the Shayrat Airfield in Homs province. There can be no justification for such a unilateral use of force by one country against another. The military action was not sanctioned by the Security Council of the United Nations, was contrary to the UN Charter and international law and must therefore be considered a criminal act. The support for this warmongering activity by the British government and its allies must also be strongly condemned. According to reports, the actions of the US government resulted in the deaths of five soldiers and nine civilians, four of them children, from nearby villages hit by the missiles.

The US, Britain and their allies are attempting to justify this attack on the sovereignty of Syria by asserting that it was undertaken in response to the deaths of civilians at Khan Sheikhoun on April 4 from the use of chemical weapons. They claim the government of Syria was responsible for launching these attacks, although no evidence has been produced to substantiate such claims. The governments of Syria and Russia, on the other hand, state that the Syrian military forces from the Shayrat Airfield bombed an arms depot belonging to terrorist forces in Syria, those who are known to be supported by the US and Britain. It was the bombing of this target that appears to have released the chemical weapons. The use of chemical weapons of any kind must also be condemned in the strongest terms. Previous UN investigations in Syria have pointed to their use by those opposed to the Syrian government. What must also be of the greatest concern on this occasion is that US president Donald Trump was so eager to resort to unilateral military action without any investigation as to the facts, even when the evidence suggests that it is those supported by the US and its allies who have in the past been guilty of storing and using chemical weapons.

The British government has shown itself to be the greatest ally of the US in this criminal activity, which conveniently took place while the EU was hosting its Brussels Conference on “Supporting the Future of Syria and the Region”. At that conference, Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson once again demanded regime change in Syria, as if Britain and the other big powers should decide on the future of that country. Since that time, the British government has used the pretext of the terrible deaths of Syrian civilians at Khan Sheikhoun to launch further provocations against Russia, one of the main supporters of the Syrian government. Defence Secretary Michael Fallon blamed Russia for the civilian deaths, while Johnson cancelled his planned visit to Moscow, vowed to coordinate an anti-Russian coalition at the imminent G7 summit, and demanded that Russia stop supporting Syria or its military officials would face further sanctions. This coordinated activity by the US, Britain and their allies appears designed to weaken Syria’s successful military offensive against so-called ISIL, at a time of increased deployment of US ground troops in the country, and to create the conditions for a renewed political offensive against Syria and its closest allies. For their part, Russia and Iran have demanded an investigation into events at Khan Sheikhoun, but also announced that they will retaliate with force to any further aggression against Syria.

We call on all people to condemn the criminal actions of the US government and vigorously oppose the warmongering actions of the British government and the dangerous escalation of military force and provocation.

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Communes, Cooperatives, and Radical Democracy in Rojava

cross-posted from Co-operative Economy in Rojava and Bakur

The Revolution in Rojava has its own special dynamic that is difficult to express with words. In a positive sense, it is surprising. At first sight, the Kurdish Freedom Movement can seem to be too much oriented towards a practical approach and with not enough focus on theory, yet, they actually do have a very well-defined vision of a possible future.

On the 19th of July 2012, the People’s Councils of Rojava formed to bring the model of “radical democracy” to life. The first councils were based in different quarters of town. Yet, after a few months, it was noted that these councils were not close enough to the population to guarantee real self-organised autonomy. A discussion ensued, as a result of which it was decided that “communes” (“komîn” in Kurdish) would be built up on a lower level─that is, neighbourhoods and streets─to integrate people better into the basis of the self-organisation; a more direct form of “radical democracy”. Today, there are more than 4,000 communes in the whole of Rojava. Many of them even exist in the areas outside of Rojava that were freed by the YPG and YPJ forces, like Manbij [Mabuk‎ / Minbic] or Shedade. Neither the launch of the democratic-autonomous self-administration from January 2014 onward, nor the proclamation of the Democratic Federation of North Syria in March 2016, automatically led to a real, lived, radical democracy. Instead, they steadily furthered the continuous expansion of the council system.

The revolutionaries in Rojava are working tirelessly to build up communes everywhere. They also go to less politicised people, or people that are politically far from them. Communes are structures at the grassroots of society; the commune is where self-organisation as propagated by the revolution mainly happens. People in a village or in urban areas, or households of one to three streets, come together, discuss, organise and build commissions to work on different topics. They also coordinate these commissions. The coordinators meet up each week. They are frequently in the streets, or visiting households─of course including those households where no one participates. All households are called upon to come to the assemblies if something important needs to be discussed. That happens frequently, about once a month. In the assemblies, they also inform people about the discussions and decisions taken in the assemblies at the higher level. In the city, this is done by the aforementioned neighbourhood council, and in the countryside by the People’s Council, which brings together 7 to 10 villages.

“I go to almost all demonstrations that take place in the city. I go with Kongreya Star, the women’s movement I belong to,” says Yade, a woman of around 55 years old, who is sitting on the ground facing me. Between us is the oven, around which everyone gathers. These days it is very cold in Rojava; a sharp wind blows. “The oil that fuels the oven is brought to us by the commune, which has created an economic committee specifically for this. It is much cheaper this way and a certain quality can be more or less guaranteed. Otherwise, we’d have to get it on the market, and there are all sorts of crooked merchants out there.” It took two hours before she told me this information. The people of Rojava are friendly towards outsiders, but they remain reserved.

The Commune buys essential food products (sugar, salt, bulgur, oil, bread, etc.) and other important goods directly from producers and wholesalers for around 20 to 35% cheaper. If there are cooperatives that produce or trade in these goods, the cooperatives are favoured. A relatively large amount of goods was bought from the cooperative “Hevgirtin”, which exists throughout Rojava and trades in products of agricultural cooperatives and other local produce. Since not everything that is used in Rojava is produced locally, imported goods must be purchased from merchants, too.

This practice of building up and supporting a cooperative economy strengthens the communes in their structures, because they take care of a broad array of material needs. But they also do something even more important: people who have been torn out of their usual social surroundings and are dependent on the state in all areas of life come together at the grassroots and act together in solidarity. They learn to discuss issues together, and not in an individualistic manner.

“These projects remind us of our childhoods. Some of us have already lived in a similar way as children and now we are finding our way back to our essential selves,” interjects the father of Abdulselam, the teacher. Abdulselam had invited us for dinner  in his home and the father, who may be about 60 years of age, came to visit his son rather spontaneously. He continues talking excitedly: “The older generation recognises what the commune does, and that is a good thing. We understand that this makes sense and we also see how much we have lost during the past 40 years”.

The commune procures generators to create electricity for the households. This happens mostly just between 4 pm and 10 pm, because they only manage to produce three hours of electricity. Instead of people acting individually and one to three households making electricity for themselves, thereby constantly raising the noise level in the streets (while the poorest cannot afford any of it), the commune does this for everyone as a group. The diesel for the generators is bought relatively cheaply from the public facilities that do the refining.

Even if the commune hasn’t formed a cooperative, it still acts like a cooperative in issues like purchasing and meeting the needs of the people. Communes look at how people’s needs can be covered in the cheapest and most effective way, while at the same time supporting the poorest among them. They support the poor on the short term by providing for their basic needs, and on the long term by getting them involved in production processes, especially in cooperatives.

Communes that have not founded cooperatives, or that have no members working in cooperatives yet, are still treated like de facto cooperatives by the economic structures.

The health movement of Rojava has made it one of its goals to train two people in each commune in basic health care. They will be able to treat the lighter cases of diseases and injuries. There are also neighbourhood dispensaries.

“Knowledge in the health sector must not be limited to individuals. This kind of knowledge must become part of society; it strengthens democracy and the self-sufficiency of the people,” activists tell us with pride. In the three communes we visited, there were people who are currently receiving training. From now on, they will have people in their direct surroundings who can treat medical problems. People don’t have to go to the doctor for everything; those who were trained can treat them and get medication from the dispensaries.

Tens of thousands of people in the communes are getting basic military training at the moment because of dangers from terrorists and other structures. This mostly means attacks by IS, Al-Nusra and the Turkish and Syrian regimes. Sleeper cells in the cities of Rojava could attack at any moment. In the case of an open war, there could be attacks from enemy units against the civil population. The population has to learn to defend itself without waiting for the YPG/YPJ (the People’s Defence Forces and Women’s Defence Forces, respectively). These new structures are called Civil Defence Forces (HPC).

Conflict solution was also communalised

The peace committees are formed at the neighbourhood level in the communes. These committees carry out conflict resolution at the grassroots level. The need for communes to build such committees has been stressed over the past two years. If not one committee for every commune, then at least one for two or three neighbouring communes.

Communes are also increasingly active in other areas, too. For example, the coordination of the communes offers better cultural programmes for parents now, so their children can regularly visit the cultural centres in their town. There are courses in music, singing, dance, theatre, etc. This work is important because the Kurds and other cultural groups have been culturally assimilated over many decades and there is a great need to freely celebrate their culture and to develop it further.

In short: much has been done in Rojava over the past two years. The communes are increasingly becoming the centre of political, economic and social life. They are being strengthened in cooperation with different institutions and movements in Rojava, above all by approaching the wider population through the communal structure.

A lot remains to be done, the revolutionaries are still at the beginning of their work. They are discussing and trying out many things. The contradictions between people, communities and social groups continue to exist; some have been weakened and new ones have appeared.

 

This article originally appeared in German on ISKU Informationsstelle Kurdistan e.V.

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The Young Communist League of Cuba currently has 300,752 members and over 33,000 grassroots committees.

When former U.S. President Barack Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro began normalizing relations in 2014, many claimed the move signaled the death of communism on the Caribbean Island.

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But for Communist Party official Susely Morfa Gonzalez, the shift in diplomatic relations actually signaled a growing interest in communism among the nation’s youth.

Since 2014, membership in the Young Communist League, UJC, has been steadily increasing, Gonzalez told Granma on Thursday. The UJC, founded in 1965, is the youth wing of Cuba’s Communist Party. It currently has 300,752 members and over 33,000 grassroots committees.

“Despite the high figures, we want to keep recruiting more young people and ideas,” Gonzalez said.

“What is more, we continue to strengthen the organization and its political processes, encouraging and motivating new generations to learn more about Cuba’s history in a more inclusive, humane and creative way.”

The UJC, like most youth wings of communist parties, serves to teach young people about socialism while involving them in community organizing projects. Despite declining membership in young communist leagues around the world, the UJC is finding new ways to recruit youth and grow its base.

Not only has the UJC held historic tours, summer camps, workshops, and political debates for high school and college students across the country. The organization has also teamed up with Cuba’s National Association of Small Farmers to educate and financially support young campesinos living in the country’s rural areas.

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Youth represent 65 percent of Cuba’s sugarcane and tobacco industries, Granma reported, making those fields of work optimal organizing spaces for the UJC. A growing number of young workers from Cuba’s growing private sector are also joining the organization.

Gonzalez claimed these diverse recruitment tactics, coupled with ongoing political education, are helping the UJC grow in numbers. She also said those who move onto joining the Communist Party continue to help the UJC recruit more young people.

“Those of us who wish to defend, transform, create and preserve everything that has been achieved over these last 55 years will always be with the UJC,” Gonzalez told Granma.

“Our aim is to increase participation in order to be an organization for all, so that every young person feels a greater attachment to it.”

Gonzalez serves as first secretary of the UJC National Committee for the Communist Party.

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A Marxist-Leninist Statement on Strikes Against Syria:

Oppose U.S. Air Strikes Against Syria! No to Escalating the Military Conflict in Syria! Hands Off Syria!

Thursday, April 6 — 10:30 pm

The U.S. has engaged in criminal activity by launching tomahawk missiles against Syrian military targets on the night of April 6. News agencies report that 50 to 60 tomahawk missiles were launched from two U.S. warships in the eastern Mediterranean between 8 and 9 pm against the Shayrat airbase in Syria, allegedly hitting runways, aircraft and fuel stores. According to some reports, the targeted airbase played a significant role in the Syrian army’s efforts to liberate cities in central, northern and eastern Syria from ISIL, including the battles for Palmyra, Raqqa and Deir Ezzor.

U.S. imperialist president Donald Trump used the pretext of a chemical weapons attack that is widely suspected to have been a provocation by forces in the pay of the Anglo-American imperialists to blame Syrian president Bashar Al-Assad and justify launching the strikes. The aim is to ensure that there is no peaceful, political resolution of the conflict in Syria under the auspices of the Syrians themselves along with those countries they have sought assistance from including Russia.

“Tonight I ordered a targeted military strike on the airfield in Syria from where the chemical attack was launched,” Trump said, adding that there can be “no dispute” that Syria was responsible for the use of chemical weapons, which is simply not the case. No evidence has been presented that the Syrian government was responsible for the attack.

Trump said the tomahawk missile attack was to defend the “vital national security interest to prevent and deter the spread and use of deadly chemical weapons.” To cover up the barbaric nature of this attack, Trump called on “civilized nations” to “join us in seeking to end the slaughter and bloodshed in Syria.” He said “years of attempts at changing Assad’s behaviour have failed.”

News agencies report that there will be no further strikes until “another decision is made.” Trump is alleged to have informed various countries before the attack, including Russia through military channels, and the U.S. said it received support from “a broad list of nations.”

The cruise missile attack comes after 1,000 U.S. ground troops invaded the country in the past weeks with another 1,500 expected to enter soon after.

CPCML

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Gerard Coyne’s Unite leadership campaign is about removing Corbyn and nothing else

John Corr

Let us be clear from the start. Support for Gerard Coyne’s campaign to lead Britain and Ireland’s largest trade union, Unite, has nothing to do with rescuing the union from a “clique” obsessed with “Westminster power games.” Nor are Coyne’s supporters concerned with better representing the interests of Unite’s 1.4 million members.

The driving force behind Coyne’s support is nothing less than an attack on Labour’s democratically elected leader Jeremy Corbyn. It is believed that by removing one of Corbyn’s closest and most powerful political allies, Len McCluskey, Corbyn can be further isolated.

If successful, this could help lay the groundwork for yet another coup attempt.

Coyne and his anti-Corbyn backers will deny this of course, but the evidence is overwhelming.

“Show me your friends, and I will show you who you are”

A lot can be learned about someone by their friends, and Coyne certainly has some disreputable supporters.

Throughout his mudslinging campaign, Coyne has relied heavily on the support of the Labour right. Indeed, the Tory organisations operating within the Labour Party – Labour First and Progress – have been actively campaigning on his behalf.

An election campaign document leaked to the Independent demonstrated the motivations behind this support. The Independent’s political editor Joe Watts, writes that the report shows that “Mr McCluskey’s opponents believe they can topple him as general secretary – a result that could fatally weaken Mr Corbyn as Labour leader”.

This has been further confirmed by recent reports that Andy McSmith – the head of media for Coyne’s campaign – was seen meeting with James Robinson, who is head of media for Labour Deputy Leader Tom Watson and husband of Progress MP Gloria De Piero.

These meetings prove a direct relationship between anti-Corbyn MPs and the Coyne campaign.

Coyne has built his campaign on the claim that McCluskey is “obsessed with Westminster power games” and that he ignores the more immediate issues faced by the membership. He also claims that under McCluskey Unite has been run by a “clique who exercise control for their own narrow political agendas.”

These are statements of breath-taking hypocrisy.

The very reason that Coyne has the backing of the Blairites is because McCluskey’s removal would help to isolate Corbyn. McCluskey is not the only one involved in a parliamentary power struggle, although he is the only one with the decency to admit it.

And how else should we describe the 172 coup-plotting Labour MPs – who consider their own views more important than half a million members – but as a “clique who exercise control for their own narrow political agendas”?

Coyne’s mates at the Murdoch press empire

Throughout his leadership campaign, Coyne has also relied on the support of the tabloid media – in particular, the racist, sexist, anti-worker The Sun.

Earlier this week, Coyne even penned an article for Rupert Murdoch’s propaganda mill, in which he repeated the now discredited view that Unite is seeking to affiliate to Momentum. Talk about having friends in the wrong places.

However, Coyne is not unaware of the betrayal inherent in writing for The Sun, even if he does misunderstand why it is a betrayal:

“He [McCluskey] and his followers will cry foul when they find out that I am writing for The Sun, because Britain’s biggest-selling newspaper does not share their rosy views on Jeremy Corbyn.”

But it’s more likely that trade unionists will cry foul because The Sun is a notoriously anti-union rag. Just last week The Sun ran an article attacking trade unionists by claiming that councils can save money by removing facility time – the time required to carry out their duties as a rep – for trade unionists in the public sector.

The Sun was also responsible for producing some of the most hateful diatribesagainst striking junior doctors last year.

The fact that a prospective trade union leader would take to the pages of The Sun demonstrates how out of touch he is with the mood of British workers.

Coyne’s article continues:

“But I respect the hundreds of thousands of Unite members who readThe Sun. I want to reach out and represent all Unite members, not just those from a narrow band of the political spectrum.”

Carefully chosen words, but does Coyne also respect The Sun‘s despicable liesabout Hillsborough? Or The Sun’s persecution of Muslims, immigrants, and members of the LGBTQ community? Or its backwards views on women?

Many of these marginalised people also make up Unite’s membership! Why isn’t Coyne speaking out for these groups?

One thing is for certain, if Unite falls into the divisive hands of Gerard Coyne then workers, whether they are members of the Labour Party or not, will be in a far weaker position.

There is a popular hashtag many people will already know: #DontBuyTheSun.

But ahead of the Unite leadership contest, maybe we can get another one trending: #DontVoteForCoyne

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BMW workers announce eight 24 hour strikes

BMW workers announce eight 24 hour strikes over ‘pension robbery’

05 April 2017

A series of eight 24 hour strikes combined with an overtime ban and work to rule, involving up to 3,500 BMW workers making engines and the iconic Mini and Rolls-Royce motorcars will start on Wednesday 19 April, Britain’s largest union Unite, announced today (Wednesday 5 April).

The walkouts over BMW’s plans to close the final salary pension scheme will be the first ever by BMW’s UK workforce and follows a 93 per cent vote in favour of strike action by workers at the German carmaker’s sites at Cowley, Goodwood, Hams Hall and Swindon.

It is expected that production will be significantly disrupted by the action, which involves workers from across the four sites who are members of BMW (UK) operations pension scheme. The 24 hour stoppages stretching over five weeks across all four sites are scheduled as follows:

  • Wednesday 19 April – workers at Cowley, Hams Hall and Swindon strike
  • Sunday 23 April – workers at Cowley and Swindon strike
  • Wednesday 3 May – workers at Hams Hall strike
  • Friday 5 May – workers at Rolls-Royce at Goodwood strike
  • Tuesday 16 May – workers at Cowley, Goodwood, Hams Hall and Swindon strike
  • Thursday 18 May – workers at Cowley, Goodwood, Hams Hall and Swindon strike
  • Sunday 21 May – workers at Cowley and Swindon strike
  • Wednesday 24 May – workers at Goodwood and Hams Hall strike

Workers have expressed alarm over BMW’s plans which could see some UK workers lose up to £160,000 in retirement income. Last week a delegation of BMW UK workers headed the carmaker’s headquarters in Munich to protest and hand in a petition accusing bosses of ‘pension robbery’.

BMW’s plan to close the pension scheme by 31 May 2017 comes as figures last month showed a surge in BMW Group’s net profit of eight per cent to €6.9 billion, as well as a record year for Mini sales and a six per cent rise in Roll-Royce sales.

Commenting Unite general secretary Len McCluskey said: “BMW’s refusal to talk about affordable options to keep the pension scheme open means a sizable chunk of its UK workforce will be taking strike action for the first time in the coming weeks.

“Bosses in the UK and BMW’s headquarters in Munich cannot feign surprise that it’s come to this point. Unite has repeatedly warned of the anger their insistence to railroad through the pension scheme’s closure would generate and the resulting industrial action.

“BMW’s bosses need to get their heads out of the sand and recognise their pension pinching plans will not go unchallenged. BMW’s UK workers have contributed significantly to a record year in revenues and sales for the carmaker. They deserve better than broken pension promises and the loss of tens of thousands of pounds in retirement income.

“I urge BMW to step back from its May deadline for the pension scheme’s closure and negotiate seriously to find a settlement which is good for the business and good for the workforce.”

ENDS

For further information please contact Unite head of media and campaigns Alex Flynn on 020 3371 2066 or 07967 665869.

– See more at: http://www.unitetheunion.org/news/bmw-workers-announce-eight-24-hour-strikes-over-pension-robbery/#sthash.oLY34gH3.dpuf

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