North Wales workers take on union-busting boss
'If we tolerate this who will be next?'
By Sam Ashman
"THIS IS a serious business. We're fighting for our rights and our jobs. This man's a dictator." That's what a worker at Dynamex Friction Dynamics in North Wales says, where 108 TGWU members have been locked out by their union-busting boss.
The workers' fight is very similar to that of William Cook's foundry workers in Sheffield. The might of the TGWU, the second biggest union in the country, could win Dynamex workers' jobs back. But the TGWU, like the AEEU at Cook's, is obsessed with "playing it by the book". The workers were locked out after taking official strike action over a range of attacks from their employer, Craig Smith.
Even before the dispute Smith announced 24 redundancies, including the TGWU branch secretary and chair. The workers had a strategy of one week on all-out strike followed by one week back at work. "Then, when we got back to work after the first week, the gates were locked and we were refused entry back into the plant. We were told we had been 'allocated' holiday. Then we got another letter saying we were being 'allocated' holiday next week as well. Let's face it, we're locked out. That's why we've got a 24-hour picket line."
Management went to talks at the arbitration service ACAS. But they then issued a vicious ultimatum-you can come back to work if you sign away your rights, accept union derecognition, a review of pay and conditions, and a no-strike agreement. Meanwhile Smith has taken on casual workers to try to keep production running.
But he has cut their pay by 15 percent. He is hiding behind his "holiday" trick to say he is not in breach of the law that says workers cannot be sacked and replaced during the first eight weeks of an official dispute. The factory makes brakes and clutches, mainly for industrial use in factories. Over half of production is sent abroad.
But that means TGWU members handle Dynamex's work right along the supply chain-from the lorry drivers who deliver goods to dock workers at the port. The TGWU should use that power to tell its membership of over a million to refuse to touch any work to do with Dynamex.
Such blacking is against the anti-union laws. And TGWU officials say, above all, that workers must stay within the law. Then they will have a chance to claim unfair dismissal at an employment tribunal.
What about fighting to win the workers' jobs back, and to stop derecognition and pay cuts? Striker Pat says, "I'm 57 years old. I've been here 18 years. What other work am I going to get now?" Similarly Gary says, "How am I going to feed three kids on the minimum wage jobs they've got in the job centre?" Behind the scenes the TGWU is also telling the strike committee not to worry, that the "wheels are in motion" to make this a big national issue.
The strikers must not be fobbed off. They should demand TGWU officials are on the picket line every day, making the dispute a big election issue, trying to stop the lorries going in, and making Smith squirm. Workers are getting massive local support for their 24-hour picket. "People are bringing us Kentucky Fried Chicken and Coke. One pub landlord brought down a load of bacon butties, crisps and a crate of beer," says a picket. Step up the solidarity!
- Messages of support and donations to Barry Williams, TGWU Branch Secretary, 33 Llys Y Foel, Caernarfon, Gwynedd, North Wales.
THE STORY of the Dynamex factory is a familiar one. "This place used to be Turner and Newell, then it was Ferodo," says a worker. "It used to be a well paid factory. People with qualifications came to work here. Then Craig Smith from the US bought it lock, stock and barrel. It has really deteriorated. Working conditions have got worse. It's all about shovelling money into his own pocket. People's jobs don't matter to him."
All the local politicians except the Tories have visited the picket line. But many of the strikers doubt their motives. "If there wasn't an election on they wouldn't be here," said Gary as the Welsh secretary Paul Murphy waltzed up to the picket line last week.
Striker David Elwyn Jones says, "I think nothing of Tony Blair. The law is ridiculous in this country. The bosses couldn't do this in France or Germany. We're not even supposed to stop the scabs when they go in shouting and swearing at us, giving us two fingers. "Look at how they change, these people. Prescott was hilarious in Rhyl when he punched that bloke. But he's changed. So has Rhodri Morgan. What's happening in St Helens is disgusting."
Another says, "All through the years we've had to fight for everything we've ever got. Now it's like going back to the 19th century when the slate quarry owners locked out the workers just up the road from here. It is like the tradition is still carrying on, but we're in the 21st century now. Plaid Cymru have done nothing for us in 27 years as our MP. By nature I'm a Labour voter, but I'm not a Blairite, so what do I do? It's like being disenfranchised."