WORKERS DEMAND NEW LEADERSHIP IN UNIONS – ‘We are fighting our own union leaders as well as the bosses!’

A section of the WRP and YS contingent on Tuesday’s May Day demonstration in London
A section of the WRP and YS contingent on Tuesday’s May Day demonstration in London

UP to 5,000 people marched through central London yesterday on the TUC May Day demonstration.

The PCS trade union was on 24-hour strike against mass sackings in the civil service, while the NHS trade unions organised lunchtime industrial action around the country.

On the London march, the 200 strong WRP and YS contingent contained Gate Gourmet locked-out workers, Chagos Islanders, trade unionists and youth.

Chants of ‘Victory to the Gate Gourmet workers! Jobs back now!’, ‘Chagos Islanders will return to Diego Garcia! It’s their right!’ rang out for the duration of the march, along with ‘Victory to the Iraqi resistance! Troops out now!’, ‘Defend our hospitals! Occupy now!’, ‘We won’t pay tuition fees! Education must be free!’, ‘Victory to Palestine! End Zionism now!’, ‘What do we want? Socialism! When we do want it? Now!’

Many trade unionists spoke to News Line during the course of the march.

Gate Gourmet locked-out worker, Jaswinder Kumar, said: ‘Of course, we are still fighting for victory.

‘We were all unfairly dismissed and then we were betrayed by our union leaders.

‘They let the company pick and choose who they had back.

‘They accepted the 144 compulsory redundancies – in fact, more than that, they behaved in a way no trade union leader should ever behave.

‘Trade union leaders should support and fight for their members, not stab them in the back. We want Woodley out.’

Anna Mayer, a London GMB regional organiser, said: ‘The GMB is determined to resist the venture capitalists who super-exploit the workers.

‘Any employer has a duty of care to look after their workers.

‘The Gate Gourmet workers were treated unfairly and with no respect.’

Dave Knight, Waltham Forest local government UNISON branch secretary, said: ‘We are big supporters of the campaign to save Whipps Cross hospital.

‘We are appalled at the threat to downgrade it from being a general hospital and close the A&E.

‘I would support anything to support the hospital closing, including occupation.

‘I would welcome news about the Council of Action which I hear has been formed to unite the struggles to defend hospitals and other services in the area.’

He added: ‘We support the Gate Gourmet workers in their campaign for justice.

‘The problem we’ve got in the trade unions is that so many of the leaders are tied up with furthering their own careers in the Labour Party and they betray their members.

‘There is a lot said about member-led unions, but we want that to be a reality.

‘Whenever we are forced into a battle, we find ourselves fighting just as much against our own union leaders as against the bosses.’

Striking PCS member and civil servant at Ofsted, Oz Isik, said: ‘We are fighting compulsory redundancies and fighting for the good of the whole union, not just our branch.’

Fellow Ofsted PCS member, Dimimitris Solomonidis, added: ‘The TUC should have made today a national strike to defend public services. I absolutely believe that.’

There was a number of trade union banners on the march, national and regional banners from the PCS, UCATT, TGWU (Region One), RMT London Engineering Branch, Finsbury Park RMT, Greenwich NHS Not For Sale campaign, NUT, GMB London Region, as well as the banners of the locked-out Gate Gourmet Workers, which read: ‘Justice for the sacked Gate Gourmet Workers’ and ‘Gate Gourmet Workers – Sack Tony Woodley’.

The Chagos Islanders Community Association banner read: ‘We will return to Diego Garcia – It’s our right’.

The Workers Revolutionary Party banner read: ‘End cheap labour – defend the NHS and education – end the occupation of Palestine – kick out Brown-Blair – for a workers government and socialism’.

Other banners read: ‘Palestine – end the occupation’, ‘US and British troops out of Iraq’, ‘Down with Imperialism’, ‘Kick privateers out of the NHS’, ‘No closures, no sackings’.

Up to 200 youth and workers attended the Workers Revolutionary Party and Young Socialists May Day meeting in central London, following the TUC May Day march yesterday.

Chairman Sheila Torrance said: ‘The trade union leadership didn’t make an effort for this May Day march. There were not many trade union banners on the march from the whole of London.

‘This government is a bosses’ government. Hundreds of thousands won’t vote Labour in the council elections this Thursday.

‘It’s very important a new leadership is built which will take on the government and the state.’

Bill Rogers, chair of Chingford ASLEF and secretary of the North East London Council of Action, spoke.

He said: ‘It was a very lively march.

‘The trade union leaders are paralysed.

‘Today 270,000 workers are out on strike in the civil service.

‘Blair and Brown have declared war on all the public services.

‘In the last few weeks junior doctors have taken to the streets.

‘Last weekend, the teachers, lecturers and students demonstrated against the loss of English for Speakers of Other Languages courses.

‘They’re now charging £800 per course and lecturers are threatened with redundancy.’

He said: ‘Sixty hospitals are being reconfigured.

‘UNISON and the RCN members are going for strike action.

‘Official inflation is around five per cent and they were only given a 1.9 per cent pay rise. It’s a pay cut for half a million workers.’

He added: ‘In Britain the working class is moving forward, forcing the trade unions to organise ballots for strikes.

‘Once the movement takes off, they won’t be able to control it and it will spread into a fight for jobs and services.

‘Chingford ASLEF branch voted to start a Council of Action. We realised that something more had to be done to defend the NHS than petitions and protests.

‘What is needed is an organisation to campaign for occupations of hospitals.

‘We established a Council of Action to defend all local services by any means necessary.’

Nash Campbell, Young Socialists National Committee, said: ‘The war in Iraq was an illegal war.

‘The people in Iraq just want the British and US occupation to get out.

‘The government is destroying lives here as well.

‘It’s impossible for young people to survive. All the time police are arresting them for no reason.’

He said that this government had said ‘education, education, education’, but ‘now you need £3,000 to go to university. It’s not fair on the working class, we have not got the money.

‘That’s why the YS protests and demands a socialist system.’

He said the YS stood alongside the Chagos Islanders and Gate Gourmet workers and fights to defend the NHS.

He concluded: ‘As we said on the march: What do we want? Socialism. When do we want it? Now.’

Anna Athow, BMA consultants committee, speaking in a personal capacity, said: ‘The NHS came into being in 1948 and was called socialised medicine because it was funded by taxation and provided health care for the whole population, free at the point of need, and it’s publicly provided.

‘Today this Labour government is destroying the NHS and smashing up the Welfare State and the NHS is being rapidly changed into a publicly-funded, but privately-provided service.

‘If these attacks are allowed to continue, we’ll end up with patients being charged.’

She said: ‘This so-called care in the community is a euphamism for no care or privatised care.

‘What are the unions doing? Precious little.

‘However, the mood at the RCN conference this year was quite different and nurses voted to rescind their no-strike policy.

‘Likewise, at UNISON’s health conference they voted for strike action over pay.

‘This enormous anger has to be channeled into getting some real trade union and building a new leadership in the unions.’

A speaker from the Gate Gourmet locked-out workers struggle, Lakhinder Saran also addressed the meeting and outlined the history of the dispute.

She added: ‘We have been locked out now for 21 months, from August 10, 2005.

‘We picketed for over a year at Heathrow.

‘In less than a month, TGWU officials made a deal with the bosses for a compromise agreement.

‘We refused to sign it. The union threatened us to sign and stopped our hardship money, but still we stood firm.

‘We are in the middle of our employment tribunal.

‘This tribunal is deciding for Gate Gourmet, which was run by venture capitalists Texas Pacific.

‘As a result, a number of our cases have been thrown out by the tribunal, as it ruled that we took unofficial action in August 2005.

‘But our struggle is still continuing.

‘Our employment tribunal is still continuing. We are determined not to give up.

‘We must throw out leaders like Woodley and replace them with new leaders who will fight for their members.

‘We urge you to support us.’

Rob Bolton, chair South Central No.1 CWU, said: ‘I’ve never seen a situation like this in 28 years at the post office.

‘This government was elected by workers ten years ago and they hoped it would put an end to attacks on the public services.

‘The last Tory government attempted to privatise the GPO but there was such opposition they cried off.

‘This government is so intertwined with private industry that they are carrying on where the last government left off.’

Hengride Permal, from the Chagos Islanders Community Association, said: ‘The Chagossian people were kicked out from our islands without our belongings, forced on a boat and deported to Mauritius.

‘Since then we have been fighting for our rights and we are still fighting today.

‘The case went to court and we have a ruling that we have the right to go back home and that it was illegal what the British government did to us.

‘The British government is leasing our islands for a US military base.

‘The British government has appealed the ruling twice and the third ruling is going to be in May.

‘Thankyou everybody for the support of the WRP and the support from trade unions.

‘We still need more support and we will go back home and we will need your help.’

WRP general secretary Frank Sweeney said: ‘May Day is international workers day.

‘We do have to send Revolutionary Greetings to workers the world over in Iraq, Afghanistan, Palestine, Lebanon, Somalia. They are fighting against against imperialism.

‘The victory of Hezbollah against Israel was a huge blow against imperialism.

‘The Palestinians voted for Hamas and immediately the US and Europe imposed a boycott to stop food aid and tried to force the Palestinians to repudiate Hamas.

‘But they have endured.’

The US is not the power it used to be.

‘Congress has admitted that it has lost the war in Iraq.

‘There is a huge slump with closing car plants, a collapsing housing market and sliding dollar.

‘In this country, the situation is even more revolutionary. Blair is going. The working class have had enough.

‘What is developing is a revolutionary struggle.’