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From The Socialist newspaper, 11 August 2005

Justice for Heathrow's Gate Gourmet workers

IT IS now nearly two weeks since 800 Gate Gourmet workers were sacked at three minutesí notice on 10 August.
Bill Mullins, Socialist Party Industrial Organiser, assesses the dispute so far.

Not since Victorian times have we seen such a ruthless use of "bossesí power" by this American owned and managed company. The cold brutality shown by this union-busting company to its workforce almost beggars belief and has shocked even the usually "business-friendly" media.

The Daily Mirrorís 15 August "exclusive" gave a glimpse of this managementís real attitude of to its workers. Far from being a "resource" that is vital to the company the workers are looked on as something that should be exploited, lied to and then casually disposed of.

In its war-like planning (that is an undeclared war against its own employees) the Mirror revealed that Gate Gourmet had laid down a meticulous day-by-day plan to be carried through over a 15-week period. The plan aimed to provoke the workers into action, then sack them (saving millions in redundancy pay and pension rights) and then employ even cheaper labour brought in especially from abroad.

Billionaire owner

Gate Gourmetís owners are Texas Pacific. Its billionaire owner David Bonderman meticulously checked weekly that the "plan" was being carried out. It wasnít until Gate Gourmet lost the Virgin Airlines contract that the whole thing was speeded up and ended with the lock-out on 10 August.

The sacking of the workers - including workers who were on sick leave or on holiday - and who were members of the Transport and General Workersí Union (TGWU) - prompted a spontaneous walkout in solidarity by 1,000 baggage handlers and other staff who were TGWU members at British Airways, Heathrow.

This magnificent show of working-class unity shown by BA workers in Heathrow has not unfortunately been matched by the union leadership who "repudiated" the action and forced the workers at Heathrow to go back to work.

By doing this the union threw away its best card. What will make the callous owners of Gate Gourmet retreat and reinstate the sacked workers now?

Immense courage

This is not to belittle the attempts of the workers, who have shown immense courage, as they appear in their hundreds day after day on the picket line and outside the factory on the famous "grassy knoll" which they have made their own.

This dispute can still be won if real leadership is given and the enormous strength of the union is used to its full. The TGWU has 30,000 members in Heathrow and in its hinterland of suppliers and services around the airport.

This is real strength. It was clearly shown that even when a small number of these workers took action - as did the baggage handlers - it caused enormous disruption and even more important hit the pockets and profits of BA and other airport users.

The union should give a clear and public warning to Gate Gourmet and BA that if the workers are not reinstated immediately then the union will call upon all its members in the airport to take strike action until it does so.

Same treatment awaits all Heathrow workers

BA workers in Heathrow are only too aware that waiting round the corner for them is the same treatment that has been dished out to Gate Gourmet workers.

Tony Woodley in an article in The Guardian called for secondary action to be made legal. Unfortunately in the same article he once again repudiated the actions of the baggage handlers. Instead he calls for the right to take action in support of another group of workers to be "subject to the same regulations on balloting and notice which regulate other disputes at present".

In other word the baggage handlers would have had to go through a month of legalistic ballots and form-filling before they could have supported the sacked Gate Gourmet workers.

It was only the immediate action by the BA workers that brought to whole thing to a head and was picked up by the press in the first place. Without that the Gate Gourmet sackings would not have been noticed by anybody except those most affected.

At the time of going to press, talks with Gate Gourmet and the union have formally ended with no re-instatement. It is perhaps possible that BA - to ensure its continued supply of meals - will pressurise the Gate Gourmet bosses to make concessions, but donít hold your breath.

Gate Gourmet are busy mobilising agency labour throughout London to come and fill the jobs of the sacked workforce. The union has only a limited amount of time. Tony Woodley, instead of relying on the bosses of BA, should rely on the strength of the union membership at Heathrow.

We say:

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In The Socialist 11 August 2005:

Defend democratic rights

Trade unions must mobilise against terrorism, racism and war

Dewsbury: Uniting and organising against racism

60 years after Hiroshima: Nuclear proliferation makes socialist change more urgent

Justice for Heathrow's Gate Gourmet workers

No hospital closures

Journalists on all-out strike

Firefighters defend life-saving services

Royal Mail announce redundancies

Northern Ireland after the IRA statement: Why the 'peace process' continues to flounder

Greek workers resist neo-liberal attacks

Union split reflects crisis in US labour


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