On the Picket Line

Clarks strike strengthens union, pushes back wage cuts

By Jonathan Silberman
and Andrés Mendoza
December 20, 2021

LONDON — After eight weeks on strike, workers at Clarks Shoes distribution warehouse returned to work Nov. 30, having succeeded in pushing back the company’s demand to cut their basic wage by 15%. “It shows what can be done if we stick together,” striker Nathan Pritchard told the Militant by phone. “It sends a message to others in similar situations. What hit me the most was us working together and the solidarity.”

Citing economic challenges incurred during the pandemic, Clarks had announced new contracts, cutting hourly wages to 9.50 pounds ($12.57) for over 100 workers on “legacy” contracts, a cut of 1.66 pounds per hour. For the workers previously employed on the National Minimum Wage, which stands at 8.91 pounds per hour, their contract included a raise of 79 pence ($1.05). The company had threatened that workers refusing to sign the new contracts would lose their jobs — an increasingly used employer tactic here known as “fire and rehire.”

“We stood firm for eight weeks and won solidarity, including visits to our picket line, financial donations and the great march and rally we held,” shop steward Trevor Stephenson told the Militant. The solidarity march attracted hundreds of trade unionists and others from the area and further afield. The village of Street, where Clarks has been based for nearly 200 years, was lined by local residents and shop workers applauding the strikers.

The solid strike action — taken both by workers facing the wage cut and a good number of those getting a raise — led to a final settlement that protects the 11.16 pounds hourly rate for “legacy” workers and raises the rate for the rest to 10.03 pounds.

Not everything went the strikers’ way. Workers will lose daily half-hour paid lunch breaks. Overtime will be paid at straight time — down from time and a half — and sick pay has been weakened.

“The cut in paid breaks will cost me 25-30 pounds per week, so perhaps we could have stayed out longer,” Mark Hill said. “But keeping the 11.16 pounds was key. The strike strengthened the union. Back to work, we’ve got a good camaraderie.”