HUNDREDS OF workers and supporters have occupied the Appledore shipyard in North Devon. They stopped the receivers from entering the threatened yard. Nine steel bollards, usually used to support the hulls of ships, blockade the yard's entrance. Banners read 'No Surrender'.
Hundreds turned out to support the workers on Monday of this week. People had heard over the weekend that the company was close to being handed over to the receivers. One worker has worked at Appledore, Britain's largest commercial shipyard, since 1968.
He told me, 'I've only got a couple of years to go but it's the younger ones who are going to lose out on their pensions. It's also all the other small businesses in the locality which will be affected.' Some 550 jobs are on the line. The impact on an already depressed local economy will be massive.
Horace Ford, the TGWU shop steward, said, 'This is the last throw of the dice. The anxiety for the workforce has been intense. It's been like Death Row these last few months, constantly being brought to the brink and then given another reprieve. We have to fight to defend our jobs-otherwise we might as well roll over and die. They've been stringing us along for months now, saying that a new contract is close to being signed. The local economy is already struggling with Dartington Crystal in serious financial trouble and on a three-day week. Another local engineering firm, Selkirk, which makes stainless steel chimneys, has shed many jobs. We have yet to be paid for last week's work. I don't think we will be.'
The workers are angry and frustrated at being treated so badly. There is no guarantee that workers will get their proper back pay and pension provision. Their determined action has shown that they are not willing to pay the price for management's failure.
Leaders of all the major unions involved have backed the sit-in. They should be going all-out to get support from across Britain and keep these jobs.
To find out how to support the Appledore sit-in go to http://work-in.blogspot.com/
TONY BLAIR boasted at the conference about the government's tough treatment of refugees. That includes locking up refugees in detention centres. But a report by its chief inspectors of prisons last week ruled the Harmondsworth centre, near Heathrow is an 'essentially unsafe place for detainees and staff'.
It warned small fires could get out of control as there is no sprinkler system. The Fire Brigades Union blamed the lack of fire safety at Yarls Wood detention centre in Bedfordshire for the fire last year.
The press reported the 'manhunt' of ten refugees who fled the regime at Lindholme detention centre near Doncaster last week. The detainees have not committed any crime. Many have not had their case for asylum heard.
Where is democracy?
TOP-UP fees was another major political debate the party leadership tried to avoid at the conference. The chair picked 14 delegates to speak in the debate on education. Most did not even mention top-up fees. Only one delegate devoted his speech to attacking top-up fees, and voiced the anger of millions across Britain.
'I left school 20 years ago. I was lucky enough to be able to go into higher education. Many of my peers were not so lucky because they lacked the financial support from their families,' said Tim Cheetham from Barnsley central. 'If we continue to shift the burden of funding onto the student and their family it will serve as a bar to higher education.
'How many more will be forced to ask, 'Can I afford it? How and when will I pay for it? Where will the money come from?' The answer, I hope, will be better than university top-up fees. I'm committed to the target of getting 50 percent of students in higher education. But would our Labour ancestors think very much if the 50 percent is determined by background and not academic potential? Premium rate education has no place in any future that is truly 'fair for all'.'
'Democracy' inside New Labour meant that the delegates were not allowed to vote specifically over tuition fees.
A DELEGATE who works in Brent East lifted the lid on one of the reasons why Labour lost its parliamentary seat in the area last month. Jackie Peacock, from the Labour Housing Group, said, 'It has the highest level of houses in multiple occupancy. The people living there are six times more likely to die earlier. There are 20,000 such tenants in Brent. Is that decent homes? Over 54.5 percent have no fire detection systems-75.2 percent of the homes are officially unfit for human habitation. A third of the potential electorate live in these homes. One in three in these homes move every year-most do not do it voluntarily.'
'Give us justice'
WORKERS FROM the Kalamazoo Computer Group were part of a pension protest outside Labour's conference. They told Socialist Worker their story. 'We worked for Kalamazoo for around 40 years. Our final salary pension scheme promised us three quarters of our final salary at the age of 65. They said it was guaranteed. But then we were taken over by a different group and when this company folded our pensions were frozen.
The scheme was underfunded because the executors took a pension holiday. We have lost 50 percent of our pensions. It is theft and we think the government should shoulder some of the blame for what has happened to us.'