Mark Harrison visited the Fujitsu picket in Manchester for the latest in a series of strikes
On the morning of 19th September I attended a picket and rally of Fujitsu workers at their site in Manchester. Ostensibly in opposition to Fujitsu failing to honour certain aspects of an agreement brokered with the ACAS arbitration service, the strikers were walking the line in defence of Alan Jenney (Deputy Chair of the Unite union’s Fujitsu UK Combine Committee and Unite rep at Fujitsu’s site in Crewe) who has clearly been singled out for compulsory redundancy due to his trade union activities.
Unite had been co-ordinating with the Public and Commercial Services (PCS)union whose members working for Fujitsu were due to strike simultaneously due to a pay dispute. Industrial action by around 720 PCS members was called off at the last minute once Fujitsu agreed a pay offer at twice the rate of inflation.
Workers I spoke to on the day were confident that the increased pressure of Unite striking alongside the PCS had led to this victory, although the fact that PCS members were government contractors played a major role. This victory was certainly a positive one for Unite members, although it left them to stand alone as there was now little that members of PCS could do to provide them with real support.
Approximately 200 of the 600 workers stayed away from work in Manchester, only management went into work at the smaller Salford site although there was a reportedly lower turnout in Crewe. Around 30 workers attended the picket from Manchester Fujitsu, in addition to a dozen supporters from other workplaces, trade unions or political parties. This included members of the National Union of Journalists reporting for BBC Radio Manchester, who also took part in a national strike this summer in response to compulsory redundancy of trade union reps. The picket was turned into a rally at around 8am. As well as being addressed by several Unite and PCS officials, those present were also spoken to by Karen Reissman, a former mental health nurse sacked for speaking to the media, a member of the Unison union’s national executive committee and now back working for the health service after an out of court settlement. The final speaker was an ex-rep of the Manchester Fujitsu site who had been previously been transferred to Warrington in order to avoid outright dismissal. Worryingly she told the Manchester workers “you don’t know how lucky you are”. Outside the Manchester bargaining unit for the past few months workers have been picked on in the warehouse, dragged into backrooms and “offered” compromise agreements before being escorted off site.
This is the latest in a series of strikes by Fujitsu workers since 2003 that has slowed down the erosion of pay and benefits for IT workers. Indeed, they will be on strike again on 4th October during Tory party conference, with a mid-day rally opposite to where the CEO of Fujitsu UK and Ireland will be speaking at a fringe meeting.
It shows the state of play that white collar workers are striking, it is also a positive sign that although only a slim majority of unionised workers voted for strike action, it appeared almost all Unite members stayed away from work. However, it cannot be overlooked that a majority of workers still did go into work.