THE 670 Gate Gourmet workers, members of the Transport and General Workers Union (T&G), sacked over a month ago for taking strike action, know what they want.
Every day on their mass picket, down the road from the plant, they are demanding that the leaders of the 820,000-strong T&G and 6.4-million-strong Trades Union Congress (TUC) call action to get their jobs back on their existing terms and conditions.
They are aware that the strike action on August 11-12, by fellow T&G members working for British Airways (BA) at Heathrow Airport, brought hundreds of flights to a standstill. It cost BA £14m, slashed this year’s profits, wiped millions off its shares and had the company and the media screaming at the Gate Gourmet bosses to settle the dispute.
This act of solidarity by T&G members, baggage handlers, check-in staff and others, was not merely implementing the well-known policy of the trade union movement: ‘An injury to one is an injury to all!’
The airport workers realised that if Gate Gourmet gets away with sacking hundreds, cutting wages, speeding up production and smashing the union, then other employers will implement this ‘pilot scheme’ across the airports.
The sacked Gate Gourmet workers know that if the strike at BA had gone on a few more days, or if the rest of the airport workers had struck and shut down Heathrow, they would be back in the factory today.
However, after the initial optimism born out of the solidarity strike on August 11-12, the Gate Gourmet strikers have made the grim discovery that they are not only fighting the bosses of this US-owned multinational company and BA, but the employers have a ‘fifth column’ in their union.
This is clear from the fact that Gate Gourmet says it had an agreement with union officials in June for redundancies and changed working conditions. Casual workers were brought into the factory as part of the company’s plan. Shop stewards called a mass meeting to discuss this situation, resulting in workers being thrown out of the factory and sacked.
Then BA used letters from T&G officials ‘repudiating’ the strike to get the airport workers back to work.
Next, an agreement was reached between the Gate Gourmet bosses, TUC General Secretary Brendan Barber and the T&G’s Brendan Gould sanctioning a redundancy and compensation package, inviting workers to take the money and go.
Finally, last Friday, the T&G confirmed ‘that it has agreed with Gate Gourmet selection criteria for redundancy and the process of ratifying the company’s rescue plans’.
The sacked workers would be forgiven if, under these conditions, they considered that the T&G officials were acting by proxy for Gate Gourmet’s Human Resources Department, with their talk of redundancy, not reinstatement.
Alongside this, over the last month, the leaders of the T&G, Amicus, UNISON and the GMB have discovered the Tory anti-union laws – in place since the 1980s and enthusiastically upheld by Prime Minister Tony Blair’s government – and that a change in ‘employment legislation’ is desirable.
The T&G statement about this called on the Blair government to introduce ‘emergency or retrospective legislation for justice for Gate Gourmet workers’.
This is a craven plea by union leaders who know that the Blair government will never do this!
As the TUC conference opens in Brighton, it is time to call a halt to the talking and treachery.
T&G members, shop stewards and branch officials, and delegates to the TUC must demand that the T&G and TUC organise strike action to reinstate all the Gate Gourmet workers and decide this through a special motion at today’s conference.
This is the way the trade union movement was built!
In 1972, over 30 years ago, it was mass strike action, with the T&G to the fore, which won the dockers’ dispute, released the ‘Pentonville Five’ from jail and put an end to the Tory National Industrial Relations Act.
Mass non-payment and insurrectionary demonstrations defeated the Poll Tax and led to the ousting of Tory leader Margaret Thatcher 15 years ago.
Today, mass strike action, a general strike, is necessary to reinstate the sacked Gate Gourmet workers, defend their union and consign the Blair government and its anti-union laws to the ‘dustbin of history’. This will open the way for a workers’ government, which will protect trade union rights.