Socialist Appeal recently published this appeal from IT workers at Japanese-based multinational Futitsu, who have been taking strike action up and down the country in Britain’s first ever national strike of IT workers. The workers and their union, Unite, are incensed that the highly-profitable IT services provider is attempting to scrap the pension scheme and putting thousands of staff at risk of redundancy.
The company’s final-salary pension scheme was closed to new starters a long time ago, but now the company wants to go one further, and close the scheme to existing members. For the 4000 workers who have been paying into the scheme since they joined the company, this is equivalent to a 20% pay cut! The company has also reneged on a pay agreement with Unite concerning staff in Manchester and imposed a national pay freeze on its 12,000 staff.
To add insult to injury, 6000 workers have been put ‘at risk’ of redundancy, with the intention of laying off up to 1200 people. But the workers have been pushed one step too far – enough is enough!
A profitable company
All this comes against a background of record profits for Fujitsu and its shareholders. Fujitsu Services’ profits more than doubled last year to £177m, or roughly £8000 per employee. Of course none of this has been seen by any of the employees, here or in Japan. Instead, Fujitsu Ltd. paid a dividend of £154m to its shareholders last year, and £1.6m to two directors to leave the company.
Far from a cash-strapped company making cuts to balance its books, what we have here is a greedy multinational intent on using the excuse of the global recession to attack working conditions and thus increase profits. To make things worse, many of Fujitsu’s contracts are with the public sector, meaning that we are effectively paying for this company to attack its workers.
In response to these vicious attacks, Unite balloted for strike action at the end of last year, which produced a strong ‘yes’ vote of 74% in support of strike action. This has resulted in several days of strike action: December 18th, and January 8th, 11th, 14th and 15th. Socialist Appeal supporters visited the Manchester picket on January 11th, and the Wakefield site on the 15th.
The Manchester picket was well attended: a hardy bunch of a dozen or so workers greeted us at 7:30am, this number growing to approximately 50 workers and supporters present for a rally at 9:00am. Socialist Appeal supporter and Leeds Trades Council member Luke spoke at the rally, drawing parallels between this struggle and the recent successful campaign of Leeds refuse workers to fight off savage pay cuts. Also at the rally were workers from other unions who have been in struggle recently, and the Manchester Trades Council banner stood proudly at the back. Unite members at Fujitsu have supported their brothers and sisters in struggle at Vestas, Lindsey and elsewhere, and now workers from other parts of the movement returned the favour. Workers’ solidarity is alive and well!
Shop stewards reported that the strike action had already forced some concessions from management, including a 5% pay-rise for members of the pension scheme, but this still left them with an effective 15% cut. It’s clear that the scale of the strike action has shocked management into making some concessions, but the fight continues.
Particularly impressive was the range of workers on strike: we spoke to one senior business analyst who had downed tools! If a company alienates even its senior staff, you know something is afoot…
On Friday 15th Socialist Appeal supporters travelled from Leeds to show their solidarity with Fujitsu workers at the smaller Wakefield site. A refuse worker also joined the picket, sharing his experiences of the recent successful strike against savage wage cuts by Leeds City Council, where the erosion of pensions remains a significant issue. There were also a number of workers based at the site who, although they weren’t employed by Fujitsu, were nonetheless very sympathetic with the Fujitsu workers’ struggle.
The fight continues
The strike has shown that solid action by workers can bring results, but there is still much to do. Union membership across the IT sector is still very much in a minority, though Fujitsu workers did tell us that union membership has grown massively in Fujitsu, in part due to the strike action. Therein lies the most important lesson for the movement: unions recruit and grow on the basis of representing their members and fighting for them; they shrivel and die on the basis of back-room deals with management, undermining struggles and selling cheap insurance.
The IT sector is largely un-unionised, with many examples across the country of anti-union practice and employers fostering a culture of long hours, insecurity, individual contracts and divide-and-rule. This is what makes the first national strike of its kind so significant: if the Unite workers at Fujitsu are successful, it could provide a massive boost to trade-unionists trying to unionise the industry.