By Chris Hickey
TUC congress expressed “profound anger” at the dismissal of Gate Gourmet airline-catering workers at Heathrow Airport, who were sacked by their employers simply in order to replace them all by agency workers on worse pay and conditions.
It called on the Government “…to permit lawful supportive action, simplify balloting procedures, protect strikers from dismissal, and bar the replacement of workers in dispute; and also to seek implementation urgently of the European Union temporary agency worker directive.”
The TUC General Council had previously endorsed a letter with similar demands signed by Brendan Barber (TUC), Tony Woodley (TGWU), Dave Prentis (UNISON), Derek Simpson (Amicus), Paul Kenny (GMB) and sent to the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, Alan Johnson. The Blair/Brown Government has said openly that it has no intention of granting any of these demands.
Meanwhile the Gate Gourmet workers are still locked out. If there is to be a better outcome than some redundancy payments for them, then solidarity action will have to be the key. It was solidarity action by other workers at Heathrow that placed British Airways under the cosh and led it to insist that Gate Gourmet had to settle the dispute. But then the TGWU leaders urged those Heathrow workers back to work.
The solidarity action was unlawful? Of course it was. All solidarity action is unlawful under the Tory laws. But if now — when even the old Labour right-winger Roy Hattersley is writing that “Gate Gourmet employees, and people like them, have no chance of a fair deal unless they receive help from friends. Secondary action is more than necessary. It is right” (Guardian, 19 September), when the nature of the industry means that solidarity action can be effective very quickly — if now is not the time to defy and break those laws, when will be?
And if the trade union movement does not dare do what is necessary to win the Gate Gourmet workers their jobs back, how can all the union leaders' words about organising the unorganised, and reaching out to the most exploited workers, be other than a mockery?
The TGWU is taking a motion with the TUC demands to the Labour Party conference which starts in Brighton on 25 September. It should be strongly supported — at the same time as we fight for the union leaders to stand up for full repeal of those anti-union laws (which is, after all, official TUC policy) and to act now in support of the Gate Gourmet workers.
The trade union leaders’ “outrage” at the treatment of the Gate Gourmet workers means nothing if they refuse to declare war on a Blair/Brown regime that is so rotten that it backs the legal right of bosses to plot against, and sack, their workforces. Gate Gourmet must be the rallying call for an alternative, and true, labour movement voice in politics.
In the meantime the sacked Gate Gourmet workers are still locked out and being denied state benefits: that is the real, dirty, down-to-earth meaning of Blair and Brown’s “flexible labour market.”
For the TGWU Woodley has stated, “we are in active discussions, we are talking, and we are trying to make progress but with [Gate Gourmet management] having switched a gear on so many occasions I wouldn't like to get my hopes up”. Gate Gourmet, however, has been claiming agreement with the TGWU on selection for redundancy on an enhanced package.
It has said that it might be willing selectively to take back some of the sacked workers. It has vowed never to reemploy those it regards as “militants” and “troublemakers” of — and that is a lot of people. Newspapers have reported that some 700 staff, 300 sacked workers and 400 of those still working, have volunteered to take the package.