TRADE UNION officials rammed through an appalling deal at Luton airport just as workers were expecting to launch strike action over the Christmas holiday. Members of the TGWU union voted narrowly to accept the deal, by 217 to 179, the week before Christmas.
'It absolutely stinks,' one Luton airport worker said, 'I still find it hard to describe what our union has signed up to. Sure, there are less pay cuts than the company originally demanded. But many of us are still facing a pay cut. Some will lose £2,000 to £4,000. I am going to lose four days leave. We have now got a five-year pay deal, so we've given away our right to negotiate for that time.'
Union leaders threw away two clear votes rejecting management's pay cuts and in favour of strike action. Many workers had less than an hour's notice about the final branch meeting which the officials called to endorse their deal. 'Many people felt that it had just dragged on and on, and that the union was saying there would be no fight. It's little wonder there was a narrow vote to accept,' says the Luton worker.
A large section of the workforce has been there a long time and can get substantial amounts of redundancy money. But they voted with newer workers to strike when everyone thought the union was serious about taking on what it called 'a third-rate management'. Workers started talking reluctantly about applying for voluntary redundancy only when their officials surrendered.
Some union activists are convinced the TGWU was desperate to settle quickly at Luton airport to avoid a fight there connecting with the struggle to stop the closure of the Vauxhall plant in the town.
Most of the TGWU activists are staying in the job. They now need to build up the kind of grassroots organisation which can turn that bitterness into an effective alternative to their full time officials.