Tractor factory strikers on the picket line (Picture: Alan Kenny)

Around 500 workers at the British headquarters for the CNH Industrial tractor factory in Basildon, Essex, began a round of strikes over pay on Tuesday.

Despite the rain, over 200 Unite union members turned out to join the picket line outside the huge factory that makes New Holland branded farming equipment. Music was blaring and spirits were high as the strikers began nine days of action.

They are set to be out on Wednesday and Thursday, Tuesday to Thursday of next week and 28 to 30 May. The strikers include line workers, mechanics and engineers.

At the factory the workers see the parts come in one end and run a production line so that built tractors come out the other end. The Basildon plant is one of the few CNH factories globally that makes tractors in their entirety. 

The workers estimate that they make 73 tractors a day—and the price can average between £100,000 and £200,000. That means the company could be losing up to £10 million a day.

The CNH group grabbed just under £2 billion in pre-tax profits in 2023. Management and the workforce’s union, Unite, agreed in 2022 to increase pay calculated by the average rate of inflation over the year.

In 2022 and 2023 the workers won a pay rise of £40 a week for year one and £100 a week in year two, which came to around 16 percent combined.

The workers voted for action and action short of a strike, such as an overtime ban, by 91 percent and 93 percent.

One worker told Socialist Worker, “We’ll be out here for the long haul, until we win. And we’re all together—that’s what matters. We just want what we’ve already won, we’re not asking for a pay rise.

“We just want to keep up with the cost of living. It’s stubbornness from management—it doesn’t care about us. There’s been no more talks.

“We’re just the bottom of the chain. But we’re proving things can’t work without us. There’s nothing being done in that factory while we’re out here.”

Pay talks for 2024 began last October—and management dragged its heels. It offered 4 percent for the CPI inflation rate in January 2024, rather than as an average for the whole previous year. And it wants the 2025 pay rise to be based just on December 2024.

One worker said that management has a deal it wants the workers to accept—but it won’t share the details. “Our new reps came in around four years ago and changed the culture,” they said.  

“We are the ones who will vote on a deal. Management here treats people differently depending on your job and how much you earn.”

The strikers are part of some 20 departments, who were all out on strike on Tuesday. But for future dates the union is only calling out a few departments at the time.

“This will still shut down production, nothing can be made,” one worker said. “Some people aren’t too happy about this because they want to be out and don’t want to cross a picket line.” 

Management has also threatened some strikers with disciplinarians to intimate them, and has said the workers’ sick pay, medical benefits and other conditions could be at risk while pay negotiations are unresolved. It also took away grading benefits in the run up to the strike in an attempt to undermine it.

The strikers are on the picket lines in two shifts, from the early morning to late evening. They deserve support in their fight against a multi-billion pound company that won’t pay its workers.

Visit the picket lines between 5.30am-9.30pm at CNH Industrial, Cranes Farm Rd, Basildon SS14 3AD

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