MEDIA REPORTS from Northern Ireland over the last week have been about the sectarian Orange bigots marching at Drumcree and in Belfast. But a different kind of march took place there last Saturday which didn't receive any media coverage in Britain. It gave a glimpse of the alternative to sectarianism.
Around 100 people marched in solidarity with 24 airport security workers-Catholic and Protestant-who were sacked last month for daring to strike against poverty wages. These low paid workers have now started 24-hour pickets outside Belfast International Airport.
The last march held down the road outside the airport was two years ago in support of the sectarian bigotry at Drumcree. But as Derek, one of the sacked workers, said, 'All of us-Protestant, Catholic, no matter what community we come from-are workers uniting against a profiteering firm.'
'Drumcree is all about divisions, but my division is with the boss, not with people from a different background,' says another worker, who is from a Loyalist background. 'We have all been treated the same by this firm, we've all lost our jobs and we need to stand together to win them back.'
The dispute has brought together Catholic and Protestant workers who usually wouldn't speak to each other during July-the highpoint of the Orange marching season-except to trade insults. The International Consultants on Targeted Security sacked the workers after claiming their strike against low pay was illegal under the anti trade union laws.
Disgracefully, officials in the workers' TGWU union repudiated the action and informed the bosses that it was illegal. This was despite previously giving workers a legal go-ahead for the action.
The security firm sacked two shop stewards and 22 other workers out of the 44 who had been on the picket line. TGWU shop steward Madan Gupta explained the background of the dispute: 'We were sacked because we struck against low pay. We had no sick pay, no benefits and no rights. The company were bringing in new workers on new contracts, but with less pay. They told us we would get zero, but they are boasting about their profits. Last year they made a 44 percent profit. We are saying if workers stick together, whatever their religion or background, then we can take on the bosses.'
'We were picked off because we were the people who stood up to management,' said sacked worker Beverley. 'After 11 September you would think security would be paramount. But management just take shortcuts. There's insufficient staffing levels, and a lack of proper training.'
Tony McGuire, a firefighter in the FBU union, joined the demonstration in solidarity with the airport workers. He said, 'We have to mobilise support against this disgraceful sacking of 24 workers. The FBU knows only too well that you can't allow the bosses to get away with sacking striking workers. The strike weapon is the only thing that separates workers from being slaves.'
The TGWU official Den Fearney offered the union's full support at the march rally. He acknowledged that workers were angry at the way the union had treated them.
TGWU general secretary Bill Morris also says the union is behind the workers. TGWU leaders now need to put those words into action and throw the union's considerable resources into building solidarity for the dispute.
Send donations and messages of support to Gordon McNeill, 25 Summerfield Street, Ballymena BT43 7DP, or phone 07719 574 338.