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Victory at Linamar! Rob Williams reinstated
ROB WILLIAMS, the Unite trade union convenor at the Linamar car components factory in Swansea, Wales, has won a stunning victory in his fight for reinstatement.
Rob, who is also a national committee member of the Socialist Party and vice-chair of the National Shop Stewards Network, was unjustifiably sacked on 28 April by management - who see the militant union fighter as a thorn in their side.
Rob is also well known for playing an important solidarity role in the recent Visteon workers' struggle. (Linamar acquired the Swansea Visteon plant in 2008).
Union members at the Swansea plant were due to take all-out strike action in defence of their convenor last Thursday (11 June) but Linamar caved in. Rob explains below how the dispute came about and the solidarity campaign that developed.
"On 28 April I was just about to leave work and happened to be around by the offices when I was asked to have 'a chat' with the HR [human resources] officer and with Brian Wade, the group president, and Rick Nelson, the plant manager. I thought they wanted to discuss the union's ongoing overtime ban but lo and behold Brian Wade told me that they were terminating my employment forthwith.
Taken aback, I replied: 'But I haven't committed any act of gross misconduct.' I was then told to leave the site and that if I didn't leave then they would send for the police!
I made it clear that I wasn't prepared to leave and that I insisted on being represented by my union officials. Then they called the police and five officers arrived. I locked myself in the union office and refused to leave until I was represented.
To their eternal credit the shopfloor walked off the job and surrounded the office to stop me getting arrested. It was a standoff. The union officers came on site. An agreement was reached that if the boys returned to work then talks would start between management and the union and my sacking would be suspended. Reluctantly, my members returned to work.
Over the next two days negotiations took place. It was agreed that the negotiations would be transferred to a meeting in London one week later and the Unite general secretary Tony Woodley would be involved.
However, at that meeting Brian Wade upheld the sacking. Earlier that day the company tried to stop workers taking any action on my behalf. They even removed the door from the union office!
This angered the workers and the union said it would rush through a ballot for strike action to get me reinstated. The ballot was a big success. On an 88% turnout, 88% voted in favour of all-out strike action.
The company thought it was time to take action against me because just prior to this we'd had 150 redundancies, leaving a workforce of about 200 workers. A few of those redundancies were senior stewards. The company must have felt in a stronger position and allied to this was the background of the ongoing economic recession."
"Throughout this period we had regular shop stewards meetings and meetings with the union members outside the plant as well. After the ballot we thoroughly discussed our tactics.
To his credit, Tony Woodley came down to the plant and spoke to the members and that had a big impact on swinging the mood in favour of a strike.
All this was allied to a massive campaign waged outside the plant. Not just in Wales but on a national and international basis. There were a huge number of emails both of solidarity with me and emails complaining about my treatment to the company.
We had a public campaign including a massive public meeting in Swansea with over 250 in attendance - probably the biggest trade union meeting in the area since the 1984-85 miners' strike.
Speaking at that meeting alongside me were two Visteon convenors: Frank Jepson from Basildon, and Kevin Nolan from Enfield. Adrian my deputy spoke, the regional secretary of Unite, and Alec Thraves, the secretary of the Socialist Party in Wales. It was a fantastic meeting which gave a lot of confidence to the members in the plant.
We also organised a lunchtime meeting outside the plant on the following Sunday and despite the torrential rain over 150 turned up. We set up a hardship fund and in just five or six weeks the fund was nearing £10,000.
We were fully prepared to start the all out strike. I reckon that we would have had 250 or more trade unionists on the picket line on the first strike day. We had workers coming down to support us, including RMT transport union members, Honda workers from Swindon and Visteon workers. On the Saturday I think we would have had a massive demo in Swansea. The official trade union movement had mobilised in support."
Rob will be speaking at the National Shop Stewards Network in London on Saturday 27 June
Lessons for worker militants
Alec Thraves, secretary of the Socialist Party in Wales, explains what lessons can be drawn from Rob's case for workers facing similar struggles.
THERE ARE a number of factors that contributed to Rob's reinstatement and the union victory. Firstly, there was the determination of the union members. They refused to be intimidated by management and were prepared to take all-out strike action. Of course huge credit must go to the shop stewards - six stewards in the plant and a senior convenor. They all stood firm. Special credit must go to Rob's deputy, Adrian.
The union also knew that the Ford plant in Kansas City, USA, was desperate for the components that Linamar manufactures - the power take-off unit. Unite financed a trip for Rob and a union national officer to go to Kansas City to link up with the auto workers' union there.
In the last six or seven years the union in Linamar has developed solidarity with other workers - firefighters, postal workers, rail workers, civil servants, local government workers, etc. And that investment, so to speak, of genuine class solidarity meant that they reaped the benefits of that solidarity in the dispute.
At the present time, with the crisis in the car industry, taking action isn't easy but the starting point must be what is necessary to retain jobs and keep plants open and to keep reasonable standards of living. The Visteon workers could have simply walked away when their plants went into administration but they chose not to do that.
The construction workers on the power stations - starting in Lindsey oil refinery and finishing with Milford Haven - had to take unofficial action to win their struggle and now there is an official ballot taking place.
Every struggle is different but that means tailoring the particular action to the circumstance. Ultimately, in a plant that doesn't have a product in demand or is threatened with closure for other reasons then workers may have to go down the road of occupation like the Visteon workers.
This victory has given workers confidence. It shows that the trade union movement can take action and win. The union should be shouting this from the rooftops. We know that it's a difficult period for struggle but that means that we have to be more serious, more determined, or the alternative is that we lose and we lose big time.
How trade unionists are discriminated against
THIS STRIKE has raised serious issues for the workers' movement. Firstly, regarding the anti-trade union laws - especially in relation to unofficial action. On 28 April the only people who had broken the law was the company and yet the police were able to come on site and threaten to arrest Rob. His members took action to defend him which could have been construed as unofficial action and they could have lost their jobs.
Another issue is the employment laws. Companies can brazenly break the law, knowingly break their disciplinary procedures and yet no tribunal can force an employer to reinstate someone even if the company has been found guilty. The employment laws for workers are a joke.
Rob applied for 'interim relief' which means that he would be paid for the period between his sacking and the tribunal. And yet the company didn't contest this. Was this because their legal advisers concluded that they didn't have a case?
The anti-union laws raise the issue of the unions' political link with New Labour. After 12 years of Labour governments nothing has been done to reverse these discriminatory laws.