BUILD NEW LEADERSHIP IN THE UNIONS –message from News Line-Locked-out Gate Gourmet workers conference

Mothers of British troops killed in Iraq, ROSE GENTLE and SUE SMITH holding a  vigil outside Downing Street last October
Mothers of British troops killed in Iraq, ROSE GENTLE and SUE SMITH holding a vigil outside Downing Street last October

NEARLY 400 trade unionists and youth took part in the News Line-Gate Gourmet locked out workers’ conference in London on Sunday and speaker after speaker called for a new leadership in the trade unions to defeat the Blair government.

Moving the resolution before the conference – which called for action by the whole trade union movement – All Trades Union Alliance secretary, Dave Wiltshire, paid tribute to the Gate Gourmet locked-out workers’ six-month-long struggle.

He said the dispute was ‘right at the forefront’ of a rapidly developing mass movement, including strikes by over 75,000 civil servants in benefit offices and ballots for strike action amongst 1.7 million workers in the public sector, against the attack on their pension rights.

Reminding everyone of the ‘fiery speeches’ by Transport and General Workers’ Union (TGWU) leader, Tony Woodley, against the ‘gangster capitalists’ of Gate Gourmet, Wiltshire continued: ‘He said the T&G would do everything in their power to get them reinstated on their old terms and conditions.’

But barely weeks later, with the assistance of TUC General Secretary Brendan Barber, the TGWU leadership came up with a ‘Compromise Agreement’.

This gave the company ‘carte blanche to sack whoever they liked and impose whatever terms they liked’.

Wiltshire said as far as the trade union leaders like Woodley were concerned, ‘their job is to keep companies like Gate Gourmet afloat at the expense of their own members.

‘It’s yellow trade unionism.

‘For them today trade unionism is about propping up these companies so they have someone to talk to!’

Wiltshire insisted: ‘What is required is a movement to get rid of these trade union leaders and take on this Labour government, which is administering a bankrupt system on behalf of the ruling class in a most brutal fashion, as we all know.’

He concluded that a leadership has to emerge that will take the working class forwards ‘to socialism and a planned economy.

‘That’s not a dream – it’s an absolute necessity for the whole working class today. It’s the only way forward.’

Locked-out Gate Gourmet worker Lakhvinder Saran said the TGWU leaders ‘don’t tell us anything about what’s going on.’

She urged everyone to join the lobby of the TGWU Executive meeting this Thursday.

‘It is disgraceful that they stopped our hardship fund!

‘With all your support we will win this dispute,’ she concluded to loud applause.

Bill Rogers, chairman of ASLEF Chingford branch, said: ‘When I raised it at the branch meeting, there was genuine shock that the Gate Gourmet workers were still locked out and hadn’t got their jobs back.’

He added that since rail privatisation, around 120,000 railworkers have been sacked.

‘The situation on the railways demands strike action,’ Rogers said. ‘What’s really required is a general strike.

‘I hope everyone votes for the main resolution.’

Hillingdon Hospital strike leader Malkiat Bilku said: ‘You must stand for what is your right.

‘We are the working class. The way they treated the Gate Gourmet workers, no one should be treated in this world.

‘You have to win. You will win. The whole working class is behind you.

‘Shame on these trade union leaders too scared to take on these bosses.’

Locked-out Gate Gourmet worker Parmjit Bains said there was ‘nothing’ for the workers in the ‘Compromise Agreement’.

‘If we signed it, we would cut off our own hands,’ she added.

‘On Thursday we will lobby the TGWU Executive and we will show them they can’t take our hardship money.’

Sacked printer John Breen said the printers were marking the 20th anniversary of their struggle against Rupert Murdoch’s News International at Wapping.

He paid tribute to the role of the daily News Line and said to the locked-out workers at Gate Gourmet: ‘I want you to succeed sooner, rather than later.

‘It is the shop floor which is the basis of organised labour and the sooner we get rid of “New Labour”, the better.’

CWU rep Billy Colvill said: ‘I think every principled trade unionist must join the campaign against the victimisation of the locked-out Gate Gourmet workers.

‘According to a letter from our union leadership, they are negotiating a deal over cost-cutting technology with Royal Mail and the introduction of “competition’’.’

He described the plans for the future of the postal service as ‘the biggest attacks I’ve ever experienced on jobs and working conditions.’

He continued: ‘Nowhere in this letter does it tell us to resist these attacks.

‘I look at the Gate Gourmet “Compromise Agreement’’ and think: will this be us too?’

Locked-out worker Harbinder Singh said: ‘News Line has supported us from day one, whatever kind of weather, and we hope they will support us through to victory.’

He said the TGWU leaders thought that by stopping the workers’ hardship fund, they could end the dispute.

‘But this is the whole working-class people’s fight,’ he said.

Before a break, messages of support were read out from Gate Gourmet workers on strike in Germany and UAW autoworkers in the United States.

In the second half of the discussion, Geoff Loftus, from Greenford CWU, speaking in a personal capacity, said Tony Woodley was not the only union leader who’d sold out.

‘We’re going to get them out,’ he said.

Nash Campbell, Young Socialists Assistant National Secretary, said: ‘We’ll support you guys throughout your struggle. It’s wrong what your union’s done.’

Sehmi Kalwand, another Gate Gourmet worker, said: ‘The TGWU has completely failed to protect any workers.

‘Tony Woodley is not taking our staffs’ problem seriously.’

Richard Lugg, Hounslow UNISON, said: ‘We ourselves are now in a ballot for industrial action.

‘They’re screaming that we’re overpaid and we live too long.

‘The people in the City of London, meanwhile, have paid themselves bonuses of £7.8 billion!’

Young Socialists national organiser, Jonty Leff, said: ‘Youth are being treated like absolute slaves. Students are forced to take two or three jobs.

‘We have got to build a revolutionary leadership.

‘When young people, workers and students unite, that’s a force that can bring the whole system down.’

Anna Athow, a member of the British Medical Association, said: ‘This government is destroying the NHS.

‘They are privatising the provision of clinical services hospital care, that is doctors and nurses, in the same way that Mrs Thatcher out-sourced the ancillary health services in the 1980s.

‘Their aim is to have an Americanised market system of healthcare by 2008.’

She added: ‘The real issue is “Where are the unions?’’ UNISON has 1.2 million members, Amicus, the GMB, the RCN, the BMA, TGWU. What are they doing in the face of the imminent destruction of the NHS?’

Mr Vangelis, a member of NATFHE, the lecturers union, said: ‘I’m working in a university. People who work there are being employed on part-time contracts.

‘This country is becoming a non-unionised, open-shop labour market.’

Gate Gourmet TGWU branch secretary, Jarnail Singh, said he was in India when the dispute began, yet he was sacked as well.

He added: ‘The union leaders try to divide us. They try to make us sign the “Compromise Agreement’’.

‘Everywhere in this country now they want cheap labour, they don’t want the existing workforce.

‘This country’s government is always on the bosses’ side.’

The resolution passed by the conference demanded the Gate Gourmet dispute ‘must be made official, official dispute pay must be paid, the hardship fund must be immediately reopened and used to alleviate hardship cases.’

It added: ‘The TUC resolution must be activated with the calling of a national demonstration to demand the reinstatement of all of the locked out workers on their original terms and conditions.

‘This conference will actively support the Gate Gourmet locked out workers lobby of the TGWU Executive on February 2 and their lobby of the TUC General Council on Wednesday February 22nd to fight for these demands.’