Defiant stand for jobs and communities
Bosses locked out by their workers
By Charlie Kimber
WORKERS at Kvaerner Energy engineering in Clydebank have shown that it is possible to stand up and fight against redundancies and job insecurity. The 270 workers barred senior management from their plant on Monday of last week in protest at the total failure of the bosses to give any guarantees for the future.
The work-in ended a week later. Unfortunately no real concessions have been secured. But further talks are scheduled for next week, and workers say they may take action again if they don't get what they want. Alan, a GMB union member at the plant, said to Socialist Worker, "Why should our lives be determined by a few men in suits sitting in their plush chairs in a boardroom?
"I've worked here on and off over ten years. I've poured my life into that plant, and I don't see why it should all be tossed away." Kvaerner is selling the business to Texas Group, a Manchester-based company. Workers wanted to be sure that their jobs were safe, and that the present terms and conditions would be honoured.
When management refused to sit down and talk, the workers took action. They barricaded the entrances to the plant with forklift trucks. Robbie Robertson, the GMB union convenor at Kvaerner, told Socialist Worker, "There is a very simple reason for our stand-we want work. We do not accept that the future should be unemployment and more devastation for this area. We faced a choice. We could have just waited and watched while events went on outside our control, or we could have taken some form of action. I am very glad we took action. We started the work-in because we are committed to making a future for ourselves, our families and our children. We are not asking for much. Skilled workers here take home �200 a week, so it's no great job. But it is what we have, and we are not going away."
The work-in electrified the local area. There was a dynamism and defiant resolve among the workers. "We feel strong, united, and with a special sort of respect for each other," says David, one of the workers. Every worker knows that closure would be a terrible blow. "It's the end of any bit of security in my life," says one.
"Every day you read about jobs going. I'll not get another job at 47, and that means it's curtains on a proper life for me," says another. John Ferguson has worked at the yard for 25 years. He has a disabled son whose care depends on his father's income from this job. John is not prepared to see his life wrecked and his child's future put in jeopardy. He says, "The loss of this place could devastate Clydebank. There are people of all ages working here. This has always been a big family place, so we have always had a very strong bond. Everybody looks out for each other. "We need some assurances about the future." At a support rally last week many workers were angry that New Labour has abandoned them to their fate.
"You're on your own to sink or swim. The people at the top can move their money about without any thought for the workers who made them that money in the first place," says Brian. Alan adds, "Mr Blair and his crew live in a different world to the rest of us. They speak as if we could all go off and walk into another job. What do they think we're going to? It'll be a minimum wage job at best, with no union and no pension. They should stop pandering to the bankers and the managers, and start supporting people like us, the working people of the country."
Many of the workers have spent time in the Clyde shipyards. They and their families have seen closure before and do not want to go down that road again. "We will take our case to the streets if necessary," says Robbie Robertson. "We are saying to our MPs, councillors and members of the Scottish Parliament that they should start supporting the working class again at this crucial time."
Solidarity across city
LOCAL TRADE unionists joined the plant's workers and their families in a 350-strong rally outside Kvaerner Energy last week. They came to pledge their support for a fightback, and to offer solidarity. Jan Cleife, the vice-president of the local association of the teachers' EIS union, was there with a delegation from the schools around the plant. "Many of our pupils are dependent on this place for employment," she told Socialist Worker. "It is seen as one of the few places around here where there are good jobs with a future, with a skill that can offer hope. "Already children become demoralised because they see their horizons being narrowed by job losses and the decline of the area. "It will be a disaster if Kvaerner closes or contracts."
A Royal Mail worker said, "Kvaerner workers have helped us in our campaign to keep the local post office open. We are repaying that solidarity. "It was great to see somebody fighting and not just giving up when they are under the cosh."
Iain, a bus driver, came to the rally at the end of his shift. "There should be more of this sort of thing," he says. "I'm very worried about the future. "We've got a Labour government in Westminster and a Labour-led Scottish Parliament, but I don't feel that working people are getting any sort of a look in. These companies just use people and then throw them away when they've sucked them dry-and the government lets them get away with it."
Former shipyard worker Tom McKendrick was cheered when he said, "These people are fighting for a basic right, for dignity and community, and respect for ourselves." Clydebank exists because of the shipyards and the industries that formed round them. There has been a major engineering works on the Kvaerner site for 120 years-John Brown's, then Trafalgar House, then Kvaerner. At last week's rally hundreds of people lit candles to show their support for the work-in. They want to see this fight succeed, and are ready to stand together to defend themselves from the harsh dictates of international firms.
Hope amid the gloom
"THIS IS our community and it is precious to us. I look at my kids, and I know that they are worth fighting for. Thank goodness these men stood up and took a stand. Too many people have shrugged their shoulders and seen plants close. I think there should be a response like this every time a job is threatened."
- MARGARET, wife of one of the workers