The Gate Gourmet workers struggle hit the world news as the struggle that shook British Airways, The American catering company Gate Gourmet and Tony Blair’s government. For the first time in 25 years workers belonging to T & G, Britain ’s largest trade union, challenged the Anti-Trade Union laws by showing solidarity action with fellow workers.
T & G has 25000 members at Heathrow and over 1 million in the UK . The BA baggage handlers at Heathrow, infuriated with the barbaric treatment of fellow workers by Gate Gourmet, went on strike for two days in solidarity with the sacked Gate Gourmet workers at Heathrow. T & G at first applauded the brave action of the baggage handlers and later quickly asked them to withdraw the solidarity action, as it was ‘illegal’ in light of the Anti-Trade union laws passed by Margaret Thatcher and continued by Tony Blair’s labour government.
With such a huge membership, why did T & G not use its muscle and proper tactics to build further solidarity actions to create favourable situations to win this decisive battle?
Tony Blair’s government has been in power for 8 years. It has refused to repeal the Anti-Trade union laws and again categorically stated at the recent party conference that it will not repeal these laws. It is clear that the Labour government serves big corporations and the financial oligarchy. It relies on the Trade unions to rescue it during elections under the false pretence that it is pro -working class. The unholy alliance between some sections of trade unions, The Labour party and big business work together to keep the working people in check whilst giving monopoly companies a free hand to exploit them to maximise profits. This is being reflected in the tacit support by some sections of trade unions and Tony Blair’s government for Gate Gourmet and British Airways at the expense of the workers.
The Gate Gourmet workers received thunderous applause during their Anti-War march on September 24 th. Their sacrifices and courage in the long drawn struggle symbolised the fierce resistance put by them against the exploitation of workers by ruthless companies like Gate Gourmet, Their struggle became a focal point for the British working class to challenge the hated Anti-trade union laws and turn things around in their favour. The Anti- War protest symbolised the opposition to Big business exploiting the cheap labour and resources of the people of Iraq and Afghanistan . Tony Blair’s government is committed to serving needs of big business and Oil companies .
Likewise it continues to strengthen the hands of big corporations to exploit the working people at home. The Gate Gourmet workers struggle symbolised the opposition to exploitation of cheap labour and resources of the working people of Britain by Monopoly companies. The times are calling for the working people to break with allusions that the Labour party stands for their interests. The Anti- War movement has given rise to Respect as being the alternative to Labour in the electoral arena.
Picture: Gate Gourmet workers at protest rally at Trafalgar Sqare .
Led by an activist of IWA (GB) London . Respect (Ealing Southall)
The Gate Gourmet support groups set up in Southall and London mobilised all kinds of support giving media coverage, trade union support and much needed financial support. The support group united working class organisations, progressive organisations and the wider community Organisations throughout the UK and in many countries expressed full support for this historic struggle. With so much support and being led by the largest union, why was it not possible to win complete victory?
The recent agreement struck between the union and Gate Gourmet has left the workers in a state of alarm, confusion and disappointment. Out of 650-sacked workers, 144 still do not know what fate awaits them. The remainder are still not clear about exact nature of terms for redundancy payment or clear terms for being allowed to return to work. The constant demand of the workers was for reinstatement of all sacked workers. Why did the union strike an agreement without proper consultations with all the sacked workers?
Throughout the struggle workers have complained of being left in the dark. There has been a severe lack of democracy at the workplace. Workers have not been given enough time to discuss proposals and give their input. Union officials make recommendations for workers to accept proposal without sufficient time for discussion. Mass meetings have been rare and even then suffer from lack of thorough discussion by the membership. Decisions flow from top downwards instead of from below upwards. The working people need to build the unions as fighting bodies serving their interests. Union officials must be made accountable to the membership. All negotiations and agreements must take place with full involvement of members. Strengthening democracy at the workplace can only help to ensure unity and victory.
Workers are hit hard economically as they only receive fifty pounds a week. Expenses and mortgage commitments are a nightmare. Why did the union not give more financial support?
With such a huge membership, even fifty pence per week per member as a levy to support this decisive struggle could boost financial support. Why are attempts not being made to restore the traditions of financial solidarity between fellow workers?
There have been many instances of some union officials opposing efforts at media coverage. The pretext given was that workers might make wrong statements. Surely statements can be prepared so that all workers speak in unison. It is difficult getting media coverage for struggles of working people as media magnates control the mainstream media. Why not utilise all possibilities of coverage to get maximum support?
The pretext given by union officials is that they must protect the unions from union busting by big companies and the Anti- Trade union laws. All efforts at union busting must be opposed. Unions will be better positioned to oppose union busting by becoming fighting organisation of their members and strengthening democracy at the workplace. This will ensure confidence of members in their unions and united efforts to challenge all efforts to weaken the trade unions. Union busting becomes facilitated if union officials do not remain loyal to the interests of the membership .
Union officials issued a statement that the struggle is over. The sacked Gate Gourmet workers are still on the picket line awaiting clarity on the agreement and on the fate of 144 fellow workers. The workers are continuing the struggle until they receive justice. There have been suggestions that workers should set up rank and file action committees at the workplace to ensure decision making filters from below upwards and mobilise maximum support by working directly with independent support groups.
The Gate Gourmet workers struggle has triggered a movement. The movement to strengthen democracy at the workplace transform trade unions into loyal fighting organisations of the working people and demand an end to the hated Anti-Trade union laws. The tide is bound to turn in favour of the working people.