“This is a meeting of solidarity” declared Ronnie Job, chairing the meeting jointly called by the Linamar Shop Stewards Committee and Swansea Trades Council in support of sacked Linamar convenor and Socialist Party member, Rob Williams. “When we celebrate the very best tradition of trade unionism coming together to support one of our own”.
And what a marvellous meeting it was. Hundreds of workers coming together to reassert the fighting traditions of the British working class on Wednesday 13 May 2009 in Swansea. Older workers said the meeting reminded them of the miners’ meetings in the 80s. Angry, determined and confident, the meeting was preparing for action.
250 workers crowded into a large hotel ballroom in Swansea city centre bringing together the best of the labour movement in South Wales and the fresh experience of struggle of car workers from all over southern England. A coach-load of Visteon workers from Enfield and Basildon had travelled down to join ex-Visteon workers in Swansea as well as delegations from Ford Bridgend, Honda in Swindon, the RMT in Wales and the South West, the CWU, PCS, the UCU and other unions.
Rob Williams has been illegally sacked by Linamar for the crime of being a trade union convenor who represented his members. Andy Richards, UNITE regional secretary, thought the sacking was the most vicious attack on trade unionism he had ever seen, worse even than the notorious Friction Dynamix sackings in Caernarfon, when at least the company pretended to work within the law. Linamar boss, Brian Wade, had boasted in a meeting with UNITE that breaking the Employment Act had been “costed in”.
But Linamar management have been shocked by the response. “They wanted a wake tonight and they have got a rally.” Rob observed. “We have had hundreds of emails from all over the world. I’d like to thank those who stopped me getting the sack on April 28th and especially the stewards in Linamar who have stayed solid. Not one has run for cover.
“I think the Linamar bosses misunderstood. When I said I was standing shoulder to shoulder with the sacked Visteon workers in Belfast, Enfield and Basildon I didn’t actually mean getting sacked!”
And now it is becoming clear why Linamar needed Rob Williams out of the way. Adrian “Chicken” Evans, Deputy Convenor at Linamar explained, “When Linamar took over the plant last July they promised to retain the terms and conditions. But within six weeks they have sacked the convenor and tried to change the terms and conditions. It’s no good for us if that plant is working on minimum wage conditions. We have no choice – if we don’t fight, they’ll take our terms and conditions.”
What is at stake is not just the convenor at Linamar but a wider attack on the trade union movement in Britain. Alec Thraves, speaking as a UNITE member and secretary of Socialist Party Wales, pointed out, “If this tin-pot company gets away with sacking the convenor in one of the best organised workplaces in Wales, the other companies will be queuing up to attack stewards and union organisation. Linamar is not just attacking its Swansea workforce. It is attacking UNITE. Our message to Linamar is ‘You have taken on the wrong union and the wrong convenor.'”
Linamar workers are fighting back. They are balloting for strike action in defence of their convenor and their union. And the struggle will take place within the anti-union laws and outside them. As Rob Williams explained, “If we allow the law to decide how we wage this struggle and we lose then they will hunt us down. Who will want to be a convenor or a shop steward or even a trade union member?”
Rob made it clear that Linamar workers anticipate the support of the rest of the movement. “We are asking for financial support and then for more practical action. We won’t rule any action in or any action out. If we take action then we will come up against the anti-union laws but we should remember, once workers broke the law to be members of a trade union”
Jerry Hicks, who introduced himself as the “proud, sacked convenor of Rolls Royce, bringing solidarity from the workplace from which I was sacked” pointed out that “all the actions at Enfield, Basildon and Lindsey Oil Refinery were illegal and all won victories. Now there’s a lesson there.”
And the meeting was inspired by the marvellous struggle of Visteon workers at Belfast, Enfield and Basildon who won huge concessions from Visteon and Fords by illegally occupying their plants. Frank Jepson, UNITE convenor at Visteon Basildon, showed how much the viewpoint of Visteon workers had changed in a few weeks: “We will take their money but we won’t go away. They have created a monster. We are determined to stop it ever happening again – no more governments sucking up to big business. No more trade union officials working with the employers. We fought Visteon and won.”
Kevin Nolan, UNITE convenor at Visteon Enfield got the loudest cheer of the night when he attacked the Labour government: “Tony Blair said he would improve employment laws for workers and I, like many others, honestly believed he would, but he lied. And all it meant was that it was cheaper to get rid of UK workers. UNITE gives this Labour government £13 million. I wouldn’t give them a penny.”
Rob Williams had pointed out the state of employment law after 12 years of this Labour government: “When they sacked me they called the police to take me off the site, but the only ones breaking the law was Wade and the company. The workers could have been sacked for walking off the line to stop the company from breaking the law. It’s a disgrace.”
Corrupt MPs and self-sacrificing union convenors
Alec Thraves contrasted the self-sacrificing attitude of union convenors like Rob Williams with the self-serving corruption of the pro-capitalist MPs. “After weeks of MPs taking expenses for Kit Kats, swimming pools and pet food, isn’t it refreshing so see a union leader who won’t be paid off. Wade offered a blank cheque to Rob. He might think he can sack Rob but he knows he can’t buy him”.
Rob explained how his background has shaped his ideas, describing how he discussed and debated with his grandfather, Glyn Williams, President of the South Wales area of the National Union of Mineworkers and a Labour Party member for 75 years. “He was a moderate because he thought we were more civilised than in the 1920s and 30s. He thought we would never return to the time when he was sacked and blacklisted for being a union man. Now, after all these years, his grandson is sacked for being a trade union convenor after 12 years of a Labour government.”
The meeting ended with a call to rally outside the plant. The movement is stirring. Linamar workers are not on their own.
There will be a protest outside the plant on Sunday. We will be meeting in Elba Crescent off Fabian Way, Swansea at 12noon. Bring your banners.