Gate Gourmet – solidarity action is vital

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Gate Gourmet – solidarity action is vital

Gate Gourmet workers on the picket line - solidarity action is vitalTHE
BATTLE for the re-instatement of the 800 sacked Gate Gourmet workers is
proving to be a defining moment in the class struggle in Britain.

The events around and leading up to the sackings on 10 August have
revealed in the most brutal way how far the bosses went to get their
way. Arrogantly assuming that the workers would be left in isolation
after they sacked them, they prepared their ground for many months to
provoke the workers into action.

Their cold-hearted calculation was that sackings for taking
"illegal action" could save themselves millions in redundancy
payments and pensions contributions.

Gate Gourmet’s British operation is but one-fifth of the total
worldwide workforce of 21,400 for this US-owned company. The same
company was already engaged in anti-union strike-breaking activities in
the USA and Germany. Its billionaire owner David Bonderman engaged a
team of lawyers and managers to implement the "plan" to sack
the workers as revealed by the Daily Mirror "exclusive" on 15

But the "secondary solidarity" action by baggage handlers
and other Heathrow workers took them and British Airways by surprise.
This was almost completely new in the elements making up modern
industrial relations in Britain, not seen since the 1980s at the time of
the miners’ strikes.

The Heathrow workers’ action was not only "illegal" because
they didn’t ballot beforehand but also "illegal" because the
present anti-union laws say workers in one company cannot go on strike
for workers in another company.

Divisive tactic

British Airways (BA) ‘privatised’ Gate Gourmet in 1997 when it
divested itself of the company to concentrate on its "core
business". This ill-concealed attempt to divide worker from worker
used both Tory and New Labour anti-union laws.

But BA still had control over Gate Gourmet as its main supplier for
airline meals. The ultimate responsibility for all that happened lies
with BA boss Rod Eddington. BA has consistently squeezed Gate Gourmet
over the years to reduce its costs by reducing the cash given to Gate
Gourmet for the contract to supply meals.

This is common practice whether in a hospital that puts out cleaning
to the lowest bidder or anywhere else that the scourge of privatisation
is happening.

This is not to let the freebooters of Gate Gourmet’s owners, Texas
Pacific, off the hook – they were willing participants and tried to pass
on the ‘squeeze’ to their own workers by means of job and wage cuts.

The division between supplier and user companies in the world of
capitalism is gossamer thin. The banks and big monopolies are
inextricably linked to the world of Texas Pacific. The bosses carry out
many tricks and deals to protect their own incomes and profits.

Tony Woodley, general secretary of the Transport and General Workers
Union (TGWU), has come across on TV and radio as intent on winning the
battle for his sacked members. He warned BA that if they try to
victimise any TGWU member in Heathrow for their role in the 11 August
solidarity action then the TGWU "could ballot all its 19,500
members at Heathrow." (Observer 21 August).

He also said on 22 August that "the repercussions on BA and
indeed people using BA, particularly their Indian travellers and their
flights to India will be severely affected if they (Gate Gourmet) don’t
do the right thing" and re-instate the sacked workers. But more
than good intentions are needed to win this battle.

Anti-union laws

Sacked Gate Gourmet workersTHE
HIGH Court’s scandalous judgment that the pickets aren’t even allowed to
speak to the scabs that try and cross the picket lines is not a
"victory for the union" as Brendan Gold, the TGWU’s national
aviation officer declared, but another infringement of basic working
class democratic rights.

Even under the existing stringent laws it was supposed to be entirely
legitimate for pickets to try to persuade others from crossing their
picket line, now at one fell swoop this judge has changed all that.

Possibly even worse is that the judge also rules that the TGWU is
"accountable" for any ‘illegal action’ taken by workers the
company dismissed two weeks ago. The union is expected to challenge the
ruling in a further High Court hearing.

The law and the courts are completely on the side of the bosses
almost every time they are invoked in an industrial dispute. To rely on
them for anything else is to throw sand in the eyes of the working

Brendan Gold welcomed the judgment saying that "most" of
the workers involved were acting legally and this judgment backed them
up. What does this mean other than that the union won’t support any more
‘illegal’ solidarity action?

To talk of ‘legality’ when a bunch of cowboy managers sack workers by
loudspeaker at three minutes’ notice would be laughable if it wasn’t so

The union leaders should learn the lesson that mass action, legal or
otherwise, is what counts. The bosses will hesitate to use the law
against the union if they mobilise their members in Heathrow in
solidarity with the sacked Gate Gourmet workers.

Sacked Gate Gourmet workersIf
the bosses do go for sequestration, the call must be made for wider
action by the trade union movement as a whole, if necessary of a general
strike character.

Too often in this and other unofficial strikes the union leaders have
"repudiated" the actions of the baggage handlers and others
when they should congratulate them and call for more action.

Heathrow is one of Britain’s strongest trade union-organised
workplaces. The TGWU has thousands more members across the hinterland of
suppliers and services around the airport. Those are the workers whom
the union should rely on to win this battle; anything less is an
abdication of leadership.

By winning the reinstatement of the sacked 800, the TGWU and the
workers will win a famous victory against the onslaught on workers’
rights, jobs and conditions.