UK pallet workers celebrate gains

By Pete Clifford
May 16, 2022

MANCHESTER, England — “We are proud, many thought this wasn’t achievable but we stuck together to the end,” strike leader Gary Walker told the Militant  April 27 as workers at the Trafford Park warehouse here celebrated their victory over CHEP, which rents out pallets to major manufacturers worldwide.  

Unite union members April 14 had voted down by 89% a weaker offer from the bosses. After 19 weeks on strike, the longest strike by Unite in 15 years, the 66 union members voted to accept an improved offer and returned to work April 28. 

Workers won a 9% total raise for this and last year, substantially more than CHEP’s original offer, a 1,000 pound bonus ($1,260), and three extra holidays for this year. “The other U.K. CHEP sites got the rise too, because of our action,” reported striker Martin Rae. 

Workers say they are in a stronger position to push for parity between the Manchester plant and CHEP’s Pontefract, Yorkshire, plant, where workers get higher pay. The bosses agreed to address this during next year’s negotiations. 

“The divisions between different sites has been a bone of contention for years,” Walker said. “We face a big company, they divide us, but now we’ll be working to build on the links we made during the strike between sites to establish a multiunion combine. We even made contact during the strike with CHEP workers in New Zealand, who also had a strike.” 

“The solidarity we gained was eye opening, I just didn’t realize the support we would get from other workers and unions,” Walker said. “Every day we’d have people come by our picket line.” 

The strikers also gave solidarity, sending delegations to picket lines and protests by other workers, including striking railway cleaners at Manchester Piccadilly and bus drivers in Oldham and protests at Liverpool docks after the sacking of 800 P&O ferry workers.

The last solidarity march the CHEP strikers held April 13 was joined by bus drivers from Queens Road depot, including Tracey Scholes. The union had pushed back a move to sack her after an 11-week strike in 2021. CHEP strikers had joined protests supporting Scholes. 

“In the beginning I was doubtful, it was my first strike,” said Isiah Freitas, as strikers took down their picket shack, “but we kept getting stronger and I think unity is everything, I learned we can move mountains if we fight.” 

Striker Andy Aspinall said, “Some workers used to say what does the union do for you, but now we’ve got a voice, seen what we can do as a union, we’ve got confidence now.”