‘WE WILL NOT GIVE UP UNTIL WE WIN!’ –Lakhinder Saran tells Gate Gourmet rally

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A section of the 200-strong audience at the rally
A section of the 200-strong audience at the rally

TWO HUNDRED youth and workers took part in a rally and celebration of five years of the sacked Gate Gourmet workers’ struggle in Southall, west London, on Saturday.

The rally was followed by a meal for everyone specially cooked by the sacked workers, who were all dismissed in a day and thrown off the premises at Gate Gourmet next to Heathrow on 10 August 2005, in a move that was described at the time as an action of ‘gangster capitalism’.

After the meal, there was an evening of music and dance, which featured the sounds of DJ Nisar, the Raunka Punjab Diyan dancers, the Ministry of Dhol, Latifa, Angel Dances and the Panjabi Centre Jago Group, who got everyone up dancing.

A collection for the ongoing struggle of the sacked workers raised £677.00.

Leading sacked Gate Gourmet worker Lakhinder Saran said: ‘Thankyou for coming to our Fifth Anniversary Rally.

‘On August 10, 2005, we were all sacked and replaced with cheap labour.

‘But we are still fighting, still strong and determined to win.

‘This is now happening to other workers all over the country.

‘This Christmas there will be at least 50,000 casual workers working in the big stores.

‘The government and employers want to cut labour costs.

‘Gate Gourmet had a Survival Plan to cut costs and introduce cheap labour.

‘We did not accept the Survival Plan and threw it out twice.

‘They sacked all of us, even those on holiday and who were off sick.

‘TGWU General Secretary Tony Woodley did not fight for us,’ she said, adding that the union leaders ‘were more concerned with helping the company’s Survival Plan than with helping their members keep their jobs.

‘That morning they were all absent.

‘They left the workers at the plant to fight alone, leaderless.

‘We picketed for over a year at Heathrow.

‘Tony Woodley promised: we were all sacked and we would all return to together.

‘But they had already made a deal with the bosses behind our backs for 144 compulsory sackings and also attacking our trade union and legal rights,’ she said, referring to the notorious ‘Compromise Agreement’ between the union leaders and Gate Gourmet.

Lakhinder said that if the sacked workers had not stood firm and rejected the Compromise Agreement, then ‘there would have been no tribunal cases’.

She said that one of those who won their tribunal case was one of the union officials at Gate Gourmet, Mr Dhillon, ‘who did not carry out his own advice’ to sign the Compromise Agreement.

She added: ‘We are angry at our trade union leaders who did not help us, but helped the bosses.

‘Workers want union leaders who fight for them.

‘We don’t want them to say yes to us and yes to serving the bosses at the same time. We want Woodley to resign.’

She told the rally: ‘We have been forced to proceed with legal action against these leaders for not carrying out their duty of care for their members.

‘We want to see union leaders who stand up and fight for their members.

‘We will not give up until we win.’

Anna Athow, a member of the BMA Council, speaking in a personal capacity, said British Airways had directly employed the people making the in-flight meals in the past, but then outsourced the work ‘for cheapness’ and Gate Gourmet’s owners Texas Pacific sacked the workforce, in order to bring in cheap labour.

She said that a similar threat was hanging over the ambulance staff at the South London Healthcare Trust.

She said that the trust wants to ‘outsource’ their work to a company called Savoy Ventures.

‘They want to reduce the workforce, dock London Weighting, remove their final salary pension and harmonise wages downwards,’ she warned.

She added: ‘We’re now getting healthcare for profit with big private companies coming in to do public sector work.

‘Now you’ve got a Tory-Lib Dem coalition back and their plan is to completely privatise the NHS.

‘They plan to denationalise the hospital network and destroy what we won in 1948, handing it over to multinationals and venture capitalists so it can be “liberated’’ to make profits for shareholders.

‘This is being done under the guise of GP Commissioning and the GPs will be given the blame for the closure of hospitals and the withdrawal of treatment on a massive scale.

‘If ever there was a reason for a general strike to bring down the coalition government, then this is it.’

She demanded: ‘The BMA must be recalled to discuss and vote on this.

‘The vast majority of doctors and nurses want nothing to do with privatising the NHS.’

She gave her ‘full support’ to the sacked Gate Gourmet workers and concluded by stating : ‘We need to get rid of capitalism and have a workers’ government and socialism.’

Ben Sprung, London Regional Organiser of the Fire Brigades Union (FBU), said that he attended the Gate Gourmet picket line five years ago at the start of the dispute.

But his first picket line, he said, was when he went with his parents to support the Grunwicks dispute.

He told the rally the 5,000-plus firefighters in London have been told, ‘If we don’t agree to changes in our contract, we’ll be sacked.’

He said: ‘We got a 95 per cent “yes’’ vote in favour of industrial action.

‘A ballot is going on for strike action and we’ll know the result of that on October 14.

‘They want us to work new shifts – to equalise our shifts,’ he explained.’

He added that ‘Equalisation will enable them to say: “Night-time fire cover – we’ll scrap it, because statistically there are less fires at night’’,’ he warned.

‘But that’s when you the public are most in danger!’

He continued: ‘We are an emergency response.

‘This battle as far as we’re concerned is the line in the sand.

‘If it goes through, there’ll be widespread changes in the fire service.

‘Our fire engines are already owned by Asset Co.

‘The private sector coming into the public sector is what costs the most.

‘PFI is like having a mortgage on a credit card.

‘It’s not cost-effective; it’s the opposite.’

He said that firefighters have seen their terms and conditions reduced while the fire service bosses were receiving bumper pay and bonus packages.

Warning against the privatisation of the fire service, he said a privateer like Asset Co was not capable of running the fire service in London if there is a strike.

He concluded: ‘Up until the financial crisis, we were told: deregulate and let the markets run wild and everything would be alright.

‘Now they say clamp down on spending, accept cuts and workers need to take the heat.

‘That’s also a nonsense!’

Paddy O’Regan, News Line Editor, brought the greetings of the News Line to the sacked Gate Gourmet workers and paid tribute to their struggle.

‘It’s an epic struggle,’ he said.

‘They’ve refused to accept their sackings and their betrayal by their union leaders.

‘They’ve fought against the employer and the trade union bureaucracy every minute of the day and warned the working class that their treatment would become the rule.’

He said the Gate Gourmet workers’ warnings are now being confirmed on a mass scale.

‘The employers want workers as casual workers, cheap labour.

‘They’re going pell mell to drive the working class back to the dark ages!

‘Mr Duncan-Smith is going to abolish benefits, every one of them, and make people apply for a universal credit.

‘Of course, in applying for it, several million people can be told that they don’t deserve it!’

He said it was in this situation that the new Labour Party leader Miliband was prepared to step forwards and say that the government ‘should be allowed to stay in office for a whole five years while they slash and bash and take away everything the working class has won’.

He said that five years ago, when the Gate Gourmet struggle began, ‘It was under the Blair-Brown government when the bankers and capitalists were treated as if they were akin to gods.

‘Texas Pacific was able to borrow hundreds of millions from banks to buy companies like Gate Gourmet and repay the debt, and make profits by cutting the workforce with a vengeance.’

He said the dispute was planned a year before the Gate Gourmet workers were all dismissed, but the workers’ union leaders didn’t warn them that this was going to happen.

He said the Gate Gourmet template was now being used to impose mass sackings up and down the country: 26,000 redundancy notices in Birmingham council, 8,500 in Sheffield.

‘It’s the trade union bureaucracy that opened the doors for this to happen by betraying the Gate Gourmet struggle,’ he told the rally.

O’Regan said: ‘The union leaders see their role as getting better relations with management and the government and the workforce – its members – become secondary.’

‘After the mass sackings at Gate Gourmet, Tony Woodley declared, “We all came out together and we will all go back together.”’

Within two weeks of making this statement, Woodley and TUC leader Brendan Barber and TGWU national officer Brendan Gold had sold the workers out.

At a meeting with Gate Gourmet, attended by TUC General Secretary Brendan Barber, on August 25, the union leaders accepted 700 redundancies and 144 compulsory sackings.

At a further meeting on September 9, they accepted a points system for establishing just who would be compulsorily sacked and who should not.

By September 25, they accepted and signed up for the Compromise Agreement , and completed the betrayal, on January 6, 2006 when they refused to pay any more hardship money to the hundreds of sacked workers who had refused to sign the compromise agreement.

But Gate Gourmet proved to be the ‘music of the future’.

The British Airways bosses are cutting wages and slashing jobs and ‘hundreds of people have been victimised’ in the cabin crew dispute.

O’Regan concluded that today the working class faced a Cameron government that was determined to smash the Welfare State.

The working class however was still led by the same treacherous union leaders of the Woodley-Barber type that were incapable of wining any struggle.

Barber and Co have got to be removed from the leadership of the trade unions.

‘What’s needed is a leadership in the trade unions prepared to use the strength of the working class to defend its basic gains.

‘This means a general strike to bring down the coalition, and to go forward to a workers’ government.

Joshua Ogunleye, national secretary of the Young Socialists, said: ‘I give my compliments and thanks to the Gate Gourmet workers for their determination and fighting spirit.

He added: ‘The struggle of the Gate Gourmet workers for a leadership has inspired the YS and now we’re organising a march across the country to organise young people.’

He continued: ‘The Young Socialists will become a leadership of young people and together with workers will fight for a better future and we will win this struggle.

‘It will mean bringing down this decrepit capitalist system, the banks and the government.

‘We have to go forward and get rid of these crooks and leeches and go forwards to a better society and socialism.’

John McDonnell MP brought greetings to the sacked workers and said ‘I saw the premiere of “Made in Dagenham’’ last week.

‘There were Visteon workers there because Ford stole their pensions.

‘They gave us all Ford hats with “Fraud’’ on and Bob Hoskins wore one in a BBC interview.’

He said that he thought the reason such films were being made was because there was a ‘change of climate’.

He forecast: ‘People will have had enough and will stand up and fight.

He concluded: ‘No cuts’ and that this was what he was going to demonstrate at the Tory Party conference for.

‘And if it means defying the anti-union laws, we defy them.’

Parmjit Bains, one of the leaders of the Gate Gourmet sacked workers, closed the rally, saying: ‘Gate Gourmet bosses showed the way to try and survive economic problems.

‘They ruthlessly decided to make cuts.

‘At first they tried to get union agreement with their Survival Plan, but although our union officials made an agreement to accept this plan, we did not!

‘It would have meant redundancies, wage cuts, changes in working conditions which we could not accept.

‘So the employers provoked the situation.

‘They did warn our union officials that they would bring in casual labour on August 10, but these officials ignored it.

‘On that day we found casual workers were bussed in and were doing our jobs in place of us and drivers had been trained to replace our drivers.

‘When we went to the canteen to discuss the situation, union officials told us to stay there until Mr Dhillon, our convenor, arrived.

‘When the management said: you have three minutes to get back to work or you will be backed, union leaders told us to stay where we were and they would sort it out.

‘They should have told us: go back to work while we resolve this matter, but they did not.

‘They got us all sacked! And the afternoon shift were told by union officials not to go in and they were sacked as well.

‘As far as Gate Gourmet were concerned, they were ready for a showdown.’

She said: ‘These are ruthless employers that were determined to drive down wages and reduce the workforce.

‘Since our struggle, Gate Gourmet has cut wages, made people work harder, and have changed union agreements to get cheap labour workers.

‘Now hundreds of employers in this economic crisis want to do the same as Gate Gourmet – reduce wages and make huge cuts.’

She added: ‘We are not afraid of Tony Woodley or Brendan Gold in Unite and we have decided to take them to court for not carrying out their duty of care to their members.

‘We already have one case going through the High Court and now there are 40 other cases following.

‘They have refused to meet us, they have never discussed the hardship that we faced from being sacked.

‘Some lost homes, families broke up and most of our ladies became ill from stress.

‘We joined a trade union because we expect it to fight for its members.

‘We remain members of that union and we say leaders like Tony Woodley should be made to resign.

‘We want leaders that fight for their members, not those who use left words while behind our backs do deals with the bosses.

‘We promise you on our Fifth Anniversary that we will carry this fight forward until we win!’