The sacked Gate Gourmet workers marked the fourth anniversary of their struggle with a 200-plus strong rally and an evening of thrilling entertainment at the Dominion Centre in Southall on Sunday.
One of the leaders of that struggle, Parmjit Bains, was the first speaker.
She said: ‘What happened to us in August 2005, when vicious bosses decided to sack us and replace us with casual cheap labour, is happening now to workers all over the country.
‘As the economic crisis gets worse, the employers are making cuts and more workers are coming under attack.
‘In our case, the company had a survival plan to cut costs and use cheaper labour.
‘We did not accept this plan and voted it out.
‘Gate Gourmet were furious and were determined to push ahead and created a situation where we were all sacked, all shifts, even those who were on holiday.
‘They said sack everyone and sort it all out afterwards.
‘But it was our livelihoods they were playing with and they were determined out of their crisis to make the workers suffer.
‘Since then, Gate Gourmet has cut wages, made people work harder, and have changed union agreements as they want cheap labour workers.’
‘Bosses all over the country saw how Gate Gourmet did it and they have followed,’ she said, going on to cite Oxford car workers and Visteon workers sacked at five minutes notice.
She said only by Visteon occupying their plants, did they win redundancy payouts.
Bains continued: ‘We know the employers will fight to survive but we also expect to see union leaders that will stand up and fight for their members.
‘Our union leaders, Tony Woodley and Brendan Gold of the TGWU, now Unite, did not fight for us.
‘They were more concerned with helping the company survive than helping their members keep their jobs.
‘Our union leaders knew that Gate Gourmet were going to bring in casual workers that morning and they were all absent. They were all off the site at a meeting.
‘They left the workers at the plant to fight alone, leaderless.
‘When they did arrive they did nothing so we were all sacked.
‘We picketed for over a year at Heathrow and at first Tony Woodley promised no one would be sacked and that we would all return back together.
‘We got a standing ovation at the TUC and everyone said they would fight for us.
‘But in less than a month, TGWU officials made a deal with the bosses for a Compromise Agreement which agreed 144 compulsory sackings and attacked our legal and trade union rights.
‘We refused to sign the Compromise Agreement, against the recommendation of our union and we are pleased we stood firm.
‘If we hadn’t then no-one would have won their tribunal cases for wrongful dismissal – only a relative few of the 1,000 were won – and one of those was the convenor, Mr Dhillon, who told us to sign, but did not sign himself.
‘We are very angry. We are angry at ruthless bosses like Gate Gourmet who destroy people’s lives.
‘We are angry at our trade union leaders who did not fight for us but helped the bosses.
‘We saw them refuse to fight, in the car industry, on the airport, and in other workplaces, and we are determined not to stay quiet.
‘Workers do want leaders that fight for them. We elect them and we pay our dues for that purpose.
‘We want leaders in Unite to fight for us and other workers. We don’t want them to say “yes” to us and “yes” to the boss at the same time.
‘That’s why we say we want Tony Woodley to resign. He promised to fight for us but they were empty words.
‘We know thousands of workers agree with us and this gives us strength to fight on.
‘We will not give in until we win.
‘We wish to thank you for all your very warm support – it keeps us strong!’ she concluded to applause.
Labour MP Stephen Pound saluted the sacked Gate Gourmet workers ‘for your courage, strength and determination and for the example you have shown to other workers, not just here, but worldwide.’
He also thanked the community for ‘supporting you against rampant global capitalism’.
He said there were two issues – ‘solidarity and the dignity of workers’.
He added: ‘If we don’t stand together, we get destroyed individually.
‘Gate Gourmet could be repeated at Oxford and BAE. We have to stand together.
‘You make companies succeed – there has to be some respect for the workers by companies.’
He also said: ‘I find it difficult to be a member of the TGWU at the moment.
‘I want my subs to support workers in struggle.’
Arthur Lynn, ex-Vauxhall Luton convenor, brought greetings from Luton car workers, saying: ‘The union leaders wanted RHJ, the same sort of venture capitalist company that sacked Gate Gourmet workers.
‘We are trying to get a new leadership.
‘Workers are being left in the dark.
‘The union leaders are saying the recession is over.
‘They are saying it’s the German workers’ fault that we’re with Magna.
‘But it was the German workers who forced their union leaders to fight for jobs. They called for solidarity across Europe.
‘We have no time for nationalism.’
He added: ‘Nationalisation across Europe is the only way forward and socialism.
‘Workers want jobs and a decent standard of living. They are not going to get it with these trade union leaders.’
He concluded: ‘Workers in Luton will have to occupy their factory.
‘We are proud to be here among the Gate Gourmet workers because we can go back to Luton and say they are still fighting after four years, you are going to have to fight to keep your jobs.’
Billy Colvill, Peckham CWU union rep, told the rally: ‘Post workers are under enormous pressure from management.’
He said: ‘This is not modernisation, this is slash and burn tactics by Royal Mail to break the union and the workforce to get cheap labour, ready for privatisation.’
He paid tribute to the struggle of the Gate Gourmet workers and said the postal workers faced similar problems with the Unite leadership as the Gate Gourmet workers have done.
He said: ‘Managers, who are in Unite, are crossing our picket lines.’
He said postal workers wanted to fight to defend their jobs, but their leaders are trying to avoid a struggle with the government.
Bill Rogers of Chingford Aslef and North-East London Council of Action secretary, told the Gate Gourmet sacked workers: ‘We support your struggle, fighting against sackings and the rotten trade union leadership of Woodley, Simpson and throughout the whole unions.
‘They have no backbone.
‘We’ve been on strike at National Express over a zero per cent pay offer.’
He said the employer had upped the offer to 3.5 per cent but with huge strings.
He added that the union leaders had wanted to accept but the workers refused and the company dropped the strings.
He added: ‘we’ve also been fighting to stop the cuts at Chase Farm Hospital in Enfield.
‘We formed the North East London Council of Action. We’ve held pickets and demonstrations.’
He added: ‘We call on the TUC and the BMA to defend the NHS.
‘If it comes down to it, we are prepared to occupy Chase Farm.
‘Take the example of the Gate Gourmet workers, they won’t give in.’
News Line Editor Paddy O’Regan brought greetings to the rally, saying: ‘We’ve been supporting the Gate Gourmet struggle for four years.
‘We are full of admiration for the courage and determination these workers have shown.
‘They would not let Texas Pacific trample on them and they would not let Woodley and the TGWU leaders trample on them.
‘They have fought this trade union leadership to a standstill.’
He said the same union leaders were betraying the struggle at GM Luton, where they are refusing to fight to defend over one thousand jobs and the tens of thousands that depend on them.
‘They are refusing to fight for the nationalisation of the GM plants in the UK, and are telling workers to put their trust in Peter Mandelson.
‘They have reduced a huge trade union like Unite to being a powerless body that can do nothing to defend jobs.
‘This is why the Unite leaders have to go.
‘This why the Gate Gourmet struggle to call Woodley to account and bring forward new fighting leaders in Unite, is so important.’
He continued that the impact of the struggle of the Gate Gourmet workers was one that went throughout the trade union movement.
He said: ‘It was not just Brendan Gold who signed the agreement with Gate Gourmet on August 25th to sack 140 workers compulsorily at Gate Gourmet, to achieve 700 redundancies in all, and also to implement the company’s Survival Plan. It was co-signed by the TUC General Secretary Brendan Barber.
‘Barber was thanked publicly by Gate Gourmet on its website for the way that he had made the talks successful.
‘Barber’s signature is also on the notorious Compromise Agreement.
‘There is something rotten at the top of the trade union movement, and it has got to be cut out’, declared O’Regan.
‘They are the modern Blair school of trade union leaders who believe that the trade union leader’s job is to give the boss what he wants, and to get the workers to agree with it by one way or another.’
‘The union leaders knew almost one month before that 130 replacement workers were coming in on August 10. They were informed again a week before it happened, but they did not tell the workers. They kept quiet.
‘The union leaders wanted to go along with the survival plan from the start. But the workers voted down Texas Pacific’s proposals in May 2005 and then in June 2005 voted down the Texas Pacific-TGWU joint position!
‘On August 10th the Gate Gourmet workers came to work and walked into an ambush.
‘On the night before, the shop stewards’ leaders had got the permission of the management to have a meeting at Hillingdon on the same day.
‘What kind of union leadership is this, that absents itself from the plant on the day when they know that their members are going to walk into a well prepared ambush.’
He added that when he heard that the workers were in the canteen, National Secretary Brendan Gold sent the convenor into the plant to tell the management that the workers would not leave the canteen till the threat to sack them was withdrawn.
‘The convenor Dhillon held no meeting with the workers in the canteen to explain the management’s position.
‘The workforce was then sacked, without having an opportunity to decide to return to their workplaces.
‘The employment tribunal decided that it was the refusal of the union leaders to tell the workers to leave the canteen that was responsible for the situation where Gate Gourmet sacked 800 people.’
O’Regan said that after the August 25th sell-out deal, the TGWU leader Woodley tried to cover over the situation by moving an emergency resolution at the September TUC Congress calling for the Congress to take every legal action to win the Gate Gourmet struggle.
‘He said that he was willing to go to jail.
‘He did not tell the Congress that the workers had already been sold out by him and Barber.
‘The TUC called no action’ said O’Regan. He contrasted this with the way that the Irish TUC, in December 2005, called a 100,000 strong national demonstration to win back the sacked Irish Ferry workers’ jobs. This action was successful, the jobs were won back.
‘The TUC could have called such a demonstration that would have seen millions march.
‘But the leaders did not do it. They had already sold the struggle out’, said O’Regan.
He went on to warn: ‘We’re going into a very serious situation. Liberal leader Clegg has already called for “savage cuts”.
‘Education Minister Balls has already said that he will cut £2bn off the education budget.
‘We have a crisis with £1.2 trillion handed over to the banks, with the workers expected to pay for it.
‘Savage cuts are being pledged by Clegg who is putting himself forward to be in the national government that will emerge after the next general election, to carry out the same role as the 1931 national government.
‘In this situation we need leaders who will fight, and fight to win.
‘Leaders like Woodley, Simpson and Barber have to be put out of the movement,’ he told the rally.
‘We must organise the working class so that it is stronger than the government and we must not hesitate to bring it down and go forward to a workers’ government that will expropriate the capitalists and bring in socialism.
‘Bankrupt capitalism has to go’ declared O’Regan.
He concluded: ‘We need a new leadership in the trade unions.
‘These Gate Gourmet sacked workers have shown the way.
‘They have shaken the Woodley-Simpson leadership.
‘We need a new leadership that won’t let the working class be taken by surprise and which will put an end to the capitalist madhouse, and go forward to socialism.’
Local Labour MP John McDonnell told the meeting: ‘It wasn’t just the bravery of the Gate Gourmet workers – it was an object lesson of how the courage of people can confront the bosses and capitalism.
‘You are an inspiration.’
He said the only way for workers is ‘to defy the union leaders’ who hide behind Tory and Labour anti-union laws.
He cited the strike by prison officers who defied the law, Lindsey construction workers who broke the law to protect their jobs, and praise the Visteon workers for occupying.
McDonnell said: ‘We are going into a heightened period of struggle.
‘We are expected to pay for the crisis, the bankers won’t.’
He said all the parties want to make cuts.
‘We can either respond with pacifism or fight back, that’s the lesson of Gate Gourmet. They inspire others.’
He urged: ‘Don’t be picked off one by one, there should be a general strike.
‘An injury to one is an injury to all.’
He concluded: ‘The unions must become more accountable.
‘Thank Gate Gourmet workers in teaching this lesson.
‘Your inspiration will not be wasted.’
Sacked Gate Gourmet worker Lakhinder Saran was the final speaker and closed the rally saying: ‘We will not give up till we win.
‘Gate Gourmet was taken over by Texas Pacific in America.
‘They brought in casual staff. The union leaders knew but didn’t tell us.
‘We waited in the canteen for Mr Dhillon. The union said “stay in the canteen” the bosses said “go back to work”.
‘Then they sacked people by megaphone – all shifts both inside and outside.
‘Many of us lost their homes.
‘We tried to talk to union officials but they refused to talk to us.
‘They did not carry out their duty of care.
‘Forty cases are being prepared by solicitors.
‘We are not fighting for ourselves, but for all workers in struggle. We have to fight to win.’
The collection was £930.80