TODAY scores of T&G members will be picketing the Gate Gourmet plant at Heathrow Airport, as they have every day since they were locked out by the US-owned multinational company on August 11.
Despite the enormous hardship they are suffering, with no wages coming in and only the meagre ‘hardship’ payments from their union, they are as determined as ever to win reinstatement. They need these jobs for their families to live and to pay their rents or mortgages.
It is more than a month since the Trades Union Congress conference in Brighton, representing all the major trade unions with 6.4 million members throughout the country, declared its unanimous support for them in their struggle to get their jobs back.
A resolution was passed unanimously on September 12, which stated: ‘Congress records its profound anger at the shameful treatment of 667 workers sacked by Gate Gourmet catering at Heathrow on 10 August. . . Congress therefore calls upon: . . the [TUC] General Council and affiliates to support members at Gate Gourmet by all legal means. . .’
TUC General Secretary Brendan Barber and T&G leader Tony Woodley immediately reneged on this resolution carried by the TUC conference and stabbed the Gate Gourmet workers and the whole working class in the back.
They refused to mobilise the union movement behind the Gate Gourmet workers to win reinstatement. Instead Barber and the T&G’s aviation National Secretary Brendan Gold, working under Woodley’s direction, got together with Gate Gourmet to carry out its ‘Final Survival Plan’.
By September 26, an ‘Agreement for Resolution of Dispute between TGWU and Gate Gourmet London Limited’ was signed by Gate Gourmet, Barber and Gold. It was a complete sell-out of the locked-out workers by the leadership of the TUC and T&G.
It gave Gate Gourmet everything it wanted. Barber, Woodley and company acted as personnel officers for Gate Gourmet, for free.
They agreed to the axing of about 700 jobs, sanctioned compulsory redundancy for ‘approximately 210’ of the locked out workers and agreed that all the dismissed workers give up their legal right to claim unfair dismissal, to prevent ‘exposing the company to legal liability for selective re-engagements’.
So Barber and Woodley not only signed up for compulsory redundancies, they agreed to ensure that the sacked workers gave up their legal employment rights!
This is the deal that the T&G leader forced his locked-out members to accept at a meeting in Southall on September 28, with the declaration: ‘It is a package that eventually every individual member must accept.’
While the TUC and T&G leaders have done everything to sell out the Gate Gourmet workers, the deal has still not been ratified by the employers. The ‘Agreement’ is dependent on ‘BA having formally signed the modified commercial agreement between BA and the company’ and BA has not signed.
This has brought a plea from the trade union leaders urging ‘British Airways and Gate Gourmet to sign their new catering contract’.
This is the same BA which is taking disciplinary action against T&G shop stewards over the unofficial solidarity strike by 500 workers at Heathrow in support of Gate Gourmet on August 11. BA is also planning a ‘Wapping-style’ operation, cutting thousands of jobs at Heathrow, when it moves its operations to the new Terminal 5, in 2008.
It is clear that the social being of the sacked Gate Gourmet workers is the social being of the whole working class.
If Gate Gourmet get away with this, with the present TUC and T&G leaders policing compulsory redundancies, using the anti-union laws as an excuse, then BA’s Chief Executive Willie Walsh will take this as the green light for his plans for Terminal 5. Every boss in the country will try to do ‘a Gate Gourmet’!
The sacked and locked-out Gate Gourmet workers must not be left to fight alone.
The T&G must make their action official so they receive strike pay.
Every trade unionist must ensure that the TUC unions deliver their promised support. This means organising strike action by all unions, not just airline workers, to win reinstatement for the Gate Gourmet workers. There must be a general strike to win their jobs back and smash the anti-union laws.
Barber, Woodley and Gold should be sacked for what they have done. They must be replaced by leaders who will uphold long-standing, trade union principles, fight compulsory redundancies and defend employment rights.
This fight must be taken forward by a mass lobby of trade unionists at the next meeting of the T&G’s General Executive Council and at the TUC General Council on November 2.