Workers facing the effects of globalisation need not see themselves as passive victims. This is one of the most important lessons of a four-week strike at five Unilever plants, said Lucas Vermaat of union FNV Bondgenoten.
Strikers won better conditions for employees who will be laid off as a result of plant closures, including training for other jobs or support for those who want to set up their own businesses. In addition, they will be given a say in the future of the company. Now it is important to see to it that their suggestions are taken seriously, Vermaat said.
This will be made easier by the fact that the the union has grown stronger as a result of the strike. At the plants that were on strike, ninety percent of employees are now union members.
When it seemed that Unilever wanted to move production temporarily to other European countries, union members at the ports refused to handle Unilever shipments.
As part of the campaign, FNV Bondgenoten has also organised agency staff at Unilever plants. As a result of the agreement reached, one hundred will get a job with Unilever. Locally, collections have been set up to supplement agency workers' strike pay.
Vermaat said that companies that move to countries like Poland or Russia can earn back their investments a year because of subsidies and tax breaks. "In a country like India, Unilever doesn't even pay taxes at all for the first ten years. So they throw people out again after a couple years and start a new plant a hundred km away. I have gotten heartbreaking stories by email from those people".