Workers' Weekly On-Line
Volume 51 Number 27, November 27, 2021 ARCHIVE HOME JBCENTRE SUBSCRIBE

Workers' Forum

Wincanton Lorry Drivers Win Above-Inflation Pay Rise

Workers and their union have forced a highly significant pay rise. Over 450 lorry drivers, employed by Wincanton on the Morrisons distribution contract across northern England and the Midlands, have secured a large pay increase with workers receiving rises between 18 and 24.4%, reports Unite the Union. These drivers operate across the north of England but have made an important breakthrough of significance for the entire working class in Britain.

Workers, affected by price increases of essential commodities such as gas, have needed to break through the pay restraint policies that businesses and successive Westminster cartel parties in government have maintained, in one form or another, since the 1970s. The government has frothed much claptrap about "levelling up", but in reality, the workers' opposition is confronting the main issue, the long-running offensive against them, head on. This is the real issue of relations. In many cases workers have faced pay cuts and still are doing so by profit-seeking employers. Annual pay rises have been kept below inflation, where not frozen altogether, for years.

According to the Office of National Statistics, inflation on all measures is rising. The Consumer Prices Index (CPI) for October 2021 was 4.2%, up from 3.1% in the 12 months to September. When housing costs are included (the CPIH rate), the October rate stood at 3.8%, compared to 2.9% in September. The Retail Prices Index (RPI) was 6.0% in October 2021, up from 4.9% in September. In other words, October annual inflation statistics are 20 to 30% higher than those a month previously.

Contrary to the messages fed to workers, wage increases do not directly affect prices. Gas prices have been fixed by the oligopoly cartels, while both wages and profits are claims on the product, the new value created by workers. To break down pay restraint has a significant effect on the morale and struggle of the entire working class. Fighting for their rightful claim is a trend in favour of the working class developing a counter-offensive to the anti-social offensive of the rich and their government. It is a product of the effort to solve the problem of social relations, developing an independent voice for workers and moving towards effective, coherent, and real opposition.

The Wincanton drivers operate from distribution centres at Gadbrook in Cheshire, Stockton-on-Tees, and Wakefield. They recorded a 98% yes vote for strike action, Unite reports. As a result, fresh negotiations were held with management, who immediately proposed new pay terms. Workers know that their dignity lies in their fight for their rights. They develop their tactics in line with the conditions of a shortage of skilled labour, particularly drivers, in the economy, affecting trade, food and other commodities in the supply chain. The government and business are aware of the political consequences of strikes, where serious shortages have recently been highlighted, both of labour and goods on the shelves of supermarkets including Morrisons.

Unite general secretary Sharon Graham said: "By standing together in unity our members employed by Wincanton on the Morrisons contract have secured an exceptional pay increase. This deal further demonstrated how Unite as a union protects and enhances its members' jobs, pay and conditions."

It is true that the union makes the workers strong and united in action, enabling the workers to put the full weight of their organisation behind their struggle and consciousness. Their action creates favourable conditions to steel the workers and make their opposition coherent. It is also true that it inspires the working class to make an exceptional victory the rule.

According to Unite, the negotiated agreement was not only for an 18% pay increase on basic pay and all allowances, for the drivers at Gadbrook and Wakefield, and 24.4% for those based at Stockton-on-Tees (in order to bring their pay rates in line with workers on the rest of the contract), but also for accomplishing back pay to August, for the drivers at Gadbrook and Wakefield, and from July for the drivers based at Stockton-on-Tees. As a result, following a ballot of members, the drivers accepted the offer and cancelled the potential industrial action, said the union.

There are many workers' pay struggles in the pipeline and workers will be closely looking at these developments when making their decisions for their own actions in the coming months. It is the outcomes of such struggles, still ongoing amongst lorry drivers, that provide a lead as workers attempt to influence the direction of the economy and take their own interests into account. Congratulations to the Wincanton lorry drivers, and success to all lorry drivers in their struggles.

(Sources: Unite, ONS)


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