A victory for workers at Glen Dimplex
All workers must prepare to fight!
17 November 2021
Workers on the picket line at the Glen Dimplex factory on Portadown.
Glen Dimplex, a highly successful electrical appliance company with 70% of the UK's home heating market, has just experienced that rarest of things in a confrontation with its employees, a clear-cut victory for the workers. The company, notorious for harsh working conditions and low pay, is owned by Martin Naughton, billionaire and well known philanthropical supporter of the arts and charity.
Of course, the funding that Naughton provides to a variety of charitable organisations has to be made somewhere and it is the sweated labour in his highly profitable plants which is the source of his “generosity.” Following the opening of pay talks in April the management at the plant had refused to engage seriously with a request for an 11% wage increase, offering only 3.25% and attempting cynically to wait the workers out.
Those workers, some who have been there for decades, were employed to carry out various aspects of assembly line work on a top rate of £9.07 ph. which was well below the living wage, itself a misnomer. New starts were even worse off, coming in on £8.61ph where they tended to remain in the longer term. Getting to the top of the scale was difficult and some workers were trapped on the lower rate for years.
As is the general trend it is likely that the management considered the 11% claim as merely an opening gambit, an increase that was aspirational and which could be whittled down, but they miscalculated. Conditions have changed substantially in the last two years. The workers confidence in asking for an increase was boosted by their designation as essential workers, and they included a claim for a 'covid payment' in their pay deal, but it is the soaring level of inflation that is driving forward a real sense of urgency when it comes to keeping up with rapidly increasing demands on meagre incomes. Workers are increasingly willing to take industrial action and confidence is growing as workers observe a surging and stubbornly consistent global wave of strike action.
Following a ballot for industrial action in which 75% of ballots were returned, an exceptionally high turnout, a 96% majority recorded support for strike action and the workers walked out on a planned 3 day stoppage last Wednesday.
The strike was highly effective on two levels; following the first day of action, despite company predictions and denials, production collapsed at the plant where only one out of the four heater production lines is known to produce £375k worth of product per day. The picket was also highly visible and energetic with local union stewards and activists attracting increasingly active support from the workers as confidence and morale soared. By mid-shift on the second day of action the management had caved in and agreed to the increase requested along with the appropriate back pay to April and the offer also reportedly included a one off 'covid payment' of an unspecified amount.
But, with that said, the class struggle continues unabated. The cost of living is still increasing and it is beyond doubt that the management will seek measures to speed up production to compensate for their defeat. Although the workers have achieved what they demanded their wages still fall well short of a real living wage, they have not caught up with average engineering production rates and despite the fact that the company, a highly successful and profitable company, has been left with no excuse for their miserable pay rates the best paid of them are still barely above the wage paid in McDonalds, and many are still below it.
Nevertheless, despite the fact that there is more to do, this remarkably successful strike is an outstanding victory for the workers involved and for all other workers considering taking action on pay and conditions it is a real confidence boost. In many companies where pay deals are being delayed and kicked down the road, sometimes in the hope of 'skipping' a year, management are pursuing a similar strategy. Attempts are being made to hold wage increases to 2% or below while inflation is running at between 4 and 5% and climbing and the workers that are being made subject to these cynical tactics are sure to be encouraged by these workers determination and their quick clean-cut victory.
Demands for action on wages
and conditions are becoming increasingly common and ballots when they are
commissioned are meeting with very high percentage rates of approval.
More layers of workers in public transport, health and education have issues
that are pending and Education Welfare Officers who are members of Nipsa
have already planned 15 days of industrial action before Christmas. Not
all groups of workers can expect such an immediate victory as the services
they provide are more long term and the public sector is not so tied to
immediate outputs as Glen Dimplex, but action taken together building towards
general strike action can push the employers on to the defensive.
Workers in wide ranges of employment are increasingly showing their willingness
to act in their own defence and to fight back and following this welcome
victory that is all the more likely to continue in the coming months.