THOUSANDS OF workers walked out of shipyards along the River Tyne on Monday in a magnificent solidarity strike in support of sacked workmates. 'We did not ask for this,' said Tom Murray, a shop steward for the sacked workers. 'But we are delighted at this much appreciated show of solidarity.'
Monday's solidarity strikes involved over 2,000 workers. They were sparked off when sacked workers picketed the gates at the giant Swan Hunter shipyard in Wallsend, just along the Tyne from Newcastle. The pickets were some of the 100 or so workers sacked by the C&D contracting firm for daring to demand equal pay with full time staff. The pickets leafleted full time workers at Swan Hunter early on Monday morning. Inside the giant shipyard no work was started. Instead workers held meetings.
Soon thousands of them poured out of the gates, striking in solidarity with their sacked colleagues. Within hours workers at the Amec yard in Wallsend also downed tools and walked out. Ken Rogan is a sheet metal worker in the Amicus union and a shop steward for the sacked C&D workers. He told Socialist Worker, 'There are just under 100 of us, joiners, sheet metal workers and insulators employed by C&D, most at Swan Hunter but some at Amec. We are in three different unions, Amicus, Ucatt and the GMB, and our demands are simple. Five years ago we got the same rate as core workers in the yards. Since then there has been a pay agreement signed covering the core workers at the yards on the Tyne, but we are excluded. Now we get £1.95 an hour less than the yard rate.'
This can mean non core workers get up to £5,000 a year less than the core workforce. C&D workers persistently asked for meetings to address this grievance, but got nowhere. 'The men were fed up so they decided to stage a stoppage,' explains Ken. 'We stopped work on Thursday 28 August until Monday 1 September. We went back and each day for the rest of the week if there wasn't a move to talks we walked out. At the end of the week C&D just sacked us all. We didn't picket at first, hoping talks would sort it out. But the best we got was last week when we were told we 'might' get 15p an hour more if we went back to working normally. That didn't go down too well. Let's just say the meeting we discussed it at was more than slightly heated! Basically we were being told we could go back to work but only with our tails between our legs. So we decided to picket on Monday and give out leaflets to the core workers explaining what had happened and asking for moral support.'
The C&D workers' initial action and the solidarity stoppages along the river on Monday were unofficial, and in defiance of the anti-union laws. But the workers' action shows precisely how bullyboy bosses-and the anti-union laws they hide behind-can be taken on.
The yard walkouts produced a flurry of meetings involving the ACAS arbitration body. On Tuesday the core workforce went back. A mass meeting of the C&D workers was due on Wednesday.