MORE than 400 youth and trade unionists showed their solidarity with the Gate Gourmet sacked workers at a second anniversary benefit rally in Southall Community Centre on Sunday, that was followed by a great night of music and entertainment.
The in-flight meals workers vowed to continue their struggle to victory and win tribunal cases for racial discrimination against the employer, after the whole workforce of some 800 people was ‘sacked by megaphone’ at Heathrow in August 2005.
Sunday’s rally was opened by dhol player, Harbinder Binda and Balbir Bittu, playing classical toombi, who were loudly applauded by the audience.
The first speaker was Labour MP for Hayes and Harlington, John McDonnell.
Urging solidarity against the anti-union laws, he said: ‘It’s not only the Gate Gourmet workers, it’s the Freemantle workers, the Post Office workers and many others.
‘Transnational corporations are taking over contracts and cutting wages and conditions, and also slashing pensions. Gate Gourmet is just the first of many.’
Sacked Gate Gourmet worker Parmjit Bains said: ‘We were locked out by Gate Gourmet on August 10, 2005. Casual workers were brought into our plant to take our jobs. The company had a plan to cut costs and employ cheaper labour.’
About 800 people were locked out. Workers walked out at Heathrow to support them.
Parmjit added: ‘BA lost millions of pounds and we would have won if those workers had been allowed to stay out, but the union leaders got them back to work the next day.’
TGWU union leader Tony Woodley pledged that they would all return together to their jobs, but the TGWU leadership ‘made a deal with the bosses for a compromise agreement.
‘They said if we didn’t take unlawful dismissal, or legal action, some might get jobs but there would be 144 compulsory redundancies and conditions would change.
‘We refused to sign – they stopped our hardship money, but we continued our fight.’
She concluded: ‘We have been very badly treated. We are determined not to give up. Many workers face the same struggle, look at the postal workers.
‘We are fighting for a new leadership in the union that fights for its members.’
Lakhinder Saran, another Gate Gourmet worker, said: ‘I would like to explain about the tough treatment we have received from our employment tribunal and how we have learned the real face of British justice.
‘The tribunal decided basically for Gate Gourmet. Our evidence was not believed by the judge but all the evidence of the employer was accepted.
‘As a result, a large number of our cases have been thrown out by the tribunal as it ruled we took unofficial action in August 2005.
‘There are still about 60 cases to be heard.
‘The second part of our case was for racial discrimination. This was originally lodged by our union solicitors.
‘However, they decided to drop the cases for racial discrimination but we have decided to pursue it ourselves. There are now nearly 40 cases for racial discrimination coming before the tribunal.
‘We have had to go to a private solicitor so we are raising money to pay the fees.’
She vowed: ‘We will not give up and we will not give in – we’re fighting for the future of our children, we need our jobs to provide for our families.’
Saluting the principled stand of the Gate Gourmet workers, News Line Editor Paddy O’Regan told the rally: ‘This is a battle for the whole of the working class. and it’s got to be won.’
He said the struggle had to be developed ‘on all fronts, because it is the future of the working class that’s at stake.’
Speaking about the employment tribunal, he said the judge believed what Gate Gourmet had to say, but said the workers’ evidence could not be believed.
‘The last thing they want is for what happened to appear in the media and obligingly the TGWU leaders have just dropped it.’
But, he added: ‘These workers won’t be crushed – they are still fighting.
‘When Tony Woodley told the bosses “jail me’’ at the TUC Congress in 2005, he had already signed an agreement for compulsory redundancies two weeks later.
‘The TGWU leaders sold them out but a battle is taking place inside the TGWU because of it.’
O’Regan added that the CWU leaders took their members into a struggle with Royal Mail saying ‘we’re not really in it to win’!
He added: ‘Royal Mail brought in the injunction and then they collapsed. The man who negotiated this is (TUC leader) Brendan Barber. He’s the man who signed the compromise agreement (with Gate Gourmet).
‘This is why there’s got to be a revolution inside the trade unions,’ said O’Regan. ‘This is why this leadership’s got to go.
‘We’ve got to reinstate the concept of socialism and the struggle for socialism in the trade union movement.’
O’Regan stressed: ‘A new leadership has to be built up,’ adding that the working class wants to see ‘an end to these traitors’.
He concluded: ‘That’s why we must make sure this Gate Gourmet fight is won, that it goes forward and makes some victories for the whole working class.’
Billy Colvill, a CWU postal union rep from south-east London, condemned the attempt by the CWU leaders Billy Hayes and Dave Ward to call off the postal workers’ struggle.
He demanded the CWU executive defy the injunction brought by Royal Mail to ban strikes and added that if they caved in to the bosses they would be betraying the thousands of postal workers and CWU reps who have refused to accept so-called ‘flexibility’ and any tampering with postal workers’ pensions.
Colvill said ‘this agreement will be unacceptable’ to the CWU membership.
He warned: ‘This is a new era where what happened to the Gate Gourmet employees faces all of us in the trade union movement.
‘Reject this agreement, call for the resignation of our General Secretary Billy Hayes and Deputy General Secretary Dave Ward and replace them with a leadership that reflects the interests of the members, not the interests of big business and the Labour government.’
Former Hillingdon Hospital strike leader Malkiat Bilku said: ‘We stood there for five long years at Hillingdon and we beat one company and another company and the trade union leaders who said we couldn’t win, and the High Court injunction.’
She added: ‘There are many workers who are struggling these days like the postal workers. We are behind them as well.’
Niaz Faiz, PCS DEFRA group executive committee member, called for the PCS and UNISON to coordinate strikes ‘to make them more effective and raise the political temperature against Brown’s attacks. We need to show solidarity with each other, together we can win.’
Hengride Permal, chair of the Chagos Islanders Community Association, said: ‘An injustice was done to the Gate Gourmet workers, the same way it was done to us when we were forced out of our islands and into exile in Mauritius and the Seychelles Islands.
‘The court said we have the right to go home. We will fight until we go back to our island.
‘We are here to support the Gate Gourmet sacked workers. We are working-class people, so we should stand up for our rights. If it happens to us tomorrow, who is going to help us. What was done to them was a crime.’
Film director Ken Loach told the rally ‘it’s a real pleasure to be able to be here with the Gate Gourmet workers’.
Condemning their ‘brutal treatment’ he added that the solidarity shown by BA workers when the Gate Gourmet workers were locked out could have defeated the employers.
He added: ‘We have to question the anti-union laws kept in place by Tony Blair and Gordon Brown.’
‘It’s only through solidarity we can win,’ he said, calling for a leadership in the unions that is determined to get victories and justice and prevent sackings and treatment like that suffered by the Gate Gourmet workers.
‘We need leaders not an excuse for leadership’.
Richard Kassir, Harrow CWU, recommended everyone buy the pamphlet about the history of the Gate Gourmet workers’ struggle.
He said: ‘Their own union didn’t just let them down, they signed away their rights.’
He continued: ‘I was disgusted when I heard that Royal Mail had successfully taken action against our legal strike.
‘As a Royal Mail union rep I’m only too aware of the power of the venture capitalists and the support they get from Gordon Brown.
‘The Gate Gourmet workers’ fight is our fight. Justice for them would be justice for us all.’
Bess Mobsey, from the Essex region of the Fire Brigades Union (FBU), told the rally FBU members were ‘shocked and disgusted’ to hear how the Gate Gourmet workers were treated.
She added: ‘We know in the fire service that privatisation cannot ever possibly be to the benefit of workers.’
Sacked Gate Gourmet worker Jaswinder Kumar told the rally: ‘Other workers face our situation. Postal workers have rightly stood up to the plans to turn them into a flexible workforce.
‘Many Gate Gourmet workers have lost their houses because they could not afford to pay the mortgage.
‘They have done nothing wrong, they just sacked us, and now this is happening all over the UK because they want to cut down wages.
‘There is no future for the next generation and there are no jobs. These rich people don’t pay any tax while ordinary hard-working people like us do.
‘We are going to the tribunal for our racial discrimination cases and they are asking for twenty-five thousand pounds against us if we proceed with the cases.
‘It is not demanded from us but from our solicitors, it is to try to frighten our solicitors.
‘Everyone has the right to legal representation and this is being challenged. We are determined to beat Gate Gourmet. We are not afraid of these big bosses.
‘The working class is stronger than these bosses if we have leaders who fight for us.
‘When we met Tony Woodley, he ran away from us. But we are not running away. Let’s go forward to victory.’
The rally was also addressed by Satwinder Dhillon of the Indian Workers Association.
The collection for the Gate Gourmet workers fighting fund at the rally raised over a thousand pounds.