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Weakness invites aggression
THE TGWU is under threat of its funds being "sequestrated" as a result of the strike by baggage handlers in support of Gate Gourmet workers last August.
The Independent says that British Airways (BA) bosses are preparing to dismiss two shop stewards for the "unlawful strikes" and that the union can be liable for the £45 million which BA claims it lost due to the action.
It is clear that the new BA boss Willy Walsh, fresh from his battles with the workforce of Aer Lingus, is doing his best to put the fear of god into the TGWU leadership. He is said to be preparing to sack the two shop stewards for their involvement in the strike. Unnamed sources at Westminster say that Tony Woodley himself "encouraged" the unofficial strike and therefore the union is liable for BA's losses.
The union's response is to deny the allegation and say that the union disassociated itself from the strike at the time.
The union's repudiation of the strike has not made the bosses grateful. Instead they are using the occasion to further damage the union organisation in Heathrow, especially as the bosses prepare for redundancies when they move into the new terminal five.
Woodley's initial response on the TV at the time of the baggage handlers' walkout was not to repudiate it but to point to the illegal actions of Gate Gourmet management in sacking his members at three minutes notice. It was only later that Brendan Gold, the national TGWU officer for airport workers, came out and condemned the strikers.
Weakness invites aggression and in this case by going along with Gold, Woodley and the TGWU have put themselves at a disadvantage.
As we said at the time, Woodley's initial reaction was correct but should have been followed up with a threat to bring all of Heathrow out on strike immediately, if the Gate Gourmet bosses didn't reinstate the sacked workers.
Now with the twin threat of sacking and the possible attack on union funds, Woodley should make it clear that the union will respond with immediate action.
If the BA bosses move to take the union's funds, the TGWU should call upon its members to defend the union, at the same time making a call for the TUC to organise a one-day general strike against an attack on the very existence of one of the biggest unions in the country.
If the union seeks to mollify Willy Walsh then this will only encourage him to go on the offensive, including dismissing the shop stewards and who knows what else.
At Gate Gourmet, the union has agreed a deal that means that over 140 workers named by management are to be made compulsorily redundant as well as accepting hundreds more going voluntarily. The boss's appetite is growing with the eating. The union has to say now to Willy Walsh and BA: "So far and no further."
Call an all-out Heathrow strike if the shop stewards are sacked.
Defend the union from sequestration.
For a one-day general strike of all unions in support of the TGWU.
In The Socialist 1 December 2005: