There were nearly 100 people on the picket line outside Rolls-Royce's Ansty plant near Coventry last week. The size of the picket was totally illegal according to the anti trade union laws, but nobody cared.
Some pickets got a couple of barbeques going to make butties for breakfast, while others spent their time running into the road in front of lorries to stop them going through the picket line. The strike was against Rolls's decision to axe over 1,000 jobs at the aerospace factory and to transfer work to Bristol, Derby and Canada. The 500 strikers, mainly skilled engineers in the MSF union, are new to taking strike action.
Kevin Conboy, who has worked at Ansty for 13 years, summed up the mood. He said, 'I've never been on strike before. I'm not a militant. But what the company is doing is extreme. It's time to act. This is the first time I have ever seen the workforce so united.'
The company could begin giving out compulsory redundancy notices as early as next month. 'They want to pick and choose who they sack. It's disgusting,' said another picket. Having got a taste of strike action, many workers said they thoroughly enjoyed the experience.
'I've turned back six lorries and a car this morning,' said one engineer proudly. 'It's the first time I've ever been on strike and it's a really good feeling. I woke up this morning with a bit of energy. We are united, we are together. I'm not a staunch militant, but you've got to stand up for your rights and for your job. The company has made a really bad mistake this time.'
Secretaries in the GMB union were also on the picket line. Michelle Hall said, 'I'm supporting the cause. I'm fighting for my job. It stinks what they want to do. The company has shown no loyalty to its staff at all. I've never been on strike before but it's brilliant. Everyone is standing together. It's great fun when we turn the lorries round. We should definitely strike again. I'd go for it-I've got nothing else to lose now.'
Sadly the strikers did not stop staff who are AEEU members at the factory from going into work because that would be illegal. Many AEEU members expressed support for the strike as they went in.
Another strike date has not yet been fixed. Talks are to take place with the company. Meanwhile workers have introduced a strict overtime ban and work to rule, and are boycotting all internal email and telephone calls.
The local Socialist Alliance had a good presence on the picket line, including Dave Nellist, former MP and chair of the National Network of Socialist Alliances 'Rolls is an extremely rich company but the shareholders want to make even more profit,' he said. 'It's important the whole town gets behind this dispute.' A visiting trade unionist from Sierra Leone was also on the picket line. He said, 'I've come with the message that the only way we can fight the global corporate agenda is with global workers' solidarity.'
'We've had a great day. We've shown Rolls-Royce the strength of feeling, and we're pleased with the turnout from other trade unionists who have come to show their support. People have risen to this brilliantly. Like many others at Rolls, this is my first ever strike. People in the labour movement always say that struggle awakens consciousness. It's certainly true here.'
AMANDA RICHARDS, secretary of the MSF group at Rolls Ansty and president of Coventry Trades Council