‘I congratulate all the sacked workers who are standing up and fighting for their rights,’ said locked out Gate Gourmet worker Harbinder Singh to loud applause yesterday.
He was addressing a mass rally after a march by more than 1,000 locked out workers and supporters through Southall to demand official backing for the Gate Gourmet struggle by their union, the TGWU.
‘Gate Gourmet – shame, shame!’, ‘We want justice!’, ‘T&G – shame, shame!’, ‘Tony Woodley – go, go!’, ‘We want our jobs back!’, and ‘No slavery!’ they shouted.
The march brought Southall to a standstill, as local shoppers stopped to applaud, to shake the locked out workers’ hands, while motorists sounded their horns.
Led by the Gate Gourmet banner, there were banners and delegations of trade unionists from London and other parts of the country, including Hounslow local government UNISON, Ealing Trades Council, Hammersmith UNISON, Hillingdon Hospital strikers, the News Line/All Trades Unions Alliance, and Respect, the Unity Coalition.
Members and officials of the FBU, RMT, PCS, TGWU and the GMB trade unions joined in the demonstration.
Harbinder Singh, the first of 17 speakers at the rally, said: ‘Thanks to the people who have come from abroad, from here and there, to join the rally. And thanks to News Line who have supported us since day one.
‘On August 10th 2005, the dispute started,’ he said, when the company brought in 130 agency staff, at the same time as trying to reduce wages and cut other benefits.
‘For eight to ten hours we were locked in the cafeteria. They are treating us like it’s the 19th century.’
He continued: ‘The union is just looking for an agreement with the company. But there are many hidden points in the “Compromise Agreement”. The union did not ask us, they did not tell us these hidden points.
‘I’m not looking for £4,000, I’m looking for my rights and I will fight until I get justice,’ he concluded to loud applause.
Danny Faith brought greetings on behalf of the national executive of the GMB.
He condemned the Labour government for going to war against Iraq, ‘in the name of human rights – yet just down the road there are workers who don’t have the right to strike, go to the toilet or to even speak to their shop steward.’
He pledged to be with the Gate Gourmet workers until they won all their demands.
Jack Jankiewicz from Southall FBU said: ‘One of the injustices is the fact that the TGWU will not recognise this as an official dispute to get your jobs back on the original terms and conditions – how can trade unionists remain unaided without their jobs by their own union?’
Respect MP George Galloway saluted the ‘noble cause of the Gate Gourmet workers’, adding ‘we will be with you until victory.’
He added that the Gate Gourmet workers were being treated like ‘19th century coolie labour and we will not stand for that.’
Locked out Gate Gourmet worker Mrs Gruwal told the rally: ‘The conditions in there are not acceptable, that’s why a lot of people won’t sign those papers.’
She added: ‘They use and abuse the law the way they want it. We will fight to the end, we are not slaves for them!’
Richard Lugg, Hounslow UNISON said his branch would stand by the strikers until they win: ‘The agreement the TGWU leadership is putting forward is not a compromise agreement, it is a miserable surrender of your rights.’
Paddy O’Regan, News Line editor, brought greetings to the rally from the News Line and the Workers Revolutionary Party.
He said: ‘This is a rally of a dispute that’s on its way to victory.
‘And it’s the TGWU leaders around Woodley who are frustrated, because they are trying to turn the TGWU into a company union and give Gate Gourmet a sweetheart deal.’
The TUC congress had voted to support any action within the law to win the Gate gourmet dispute: ‘So there is no reason other unions can’t support the Gate Gourmet workers.’
He said it was a question of mobilising to defeat Woodley and the TGWU leadership and put an end to the ‘complete betrayal’ of the Compromise Agreement, which signs away all the tribunal and legal rights to take the company to court.
Parmjit Bains another Gate Gourmet worker said: ‘If we sign that deal, it means we are giving up all our rights to the company.’