'IT'S TIME for ordinary men and women to stand up and be counted. We are struggling for every worker against the employers in Britain and Ireland.' That is the message from Gordon McNeill, a shop steward in the TGWU union at Belfast International Airport. Gordon and 23 other security workers have been sacked for striking against poverty wages.
They are now involved in a crucial battle to win their jobs back, and every trade unionist in Britain and Ireland should get behind them. The workers went on strike on 14 May, after they had voted by 87 percent in an official TGWU ballot.
The workers had been given the legal go-ahead by their TGWU union officials. But on the second day of action the union officials issued a repudiation notice to the employers and the two shop stewards, Gordon McNeill and Madan Gupta, saying the strike was illegal. The employers, the International Consultants on Targeted Security, then sacked the shop stewards and 22 security workers.
They claimed the union had failed to renotify them of the strike under the anti trade union laws. The security company was founded in 1982 by Israeli businessmen, including Israeli military commanders and Israeli intelligence and security agents. Gordon McNeill explains why the workers won't go quietly: 'We were fighting to achieve the same pay as porters and other workers at the airport. We had no sickness pay, no overtime pay and worked terrible shifts. It was basic exploitation, pure and simple. We've had 30 years of violence in Northern Ireland. But now multinational bosses think they can come here and exploit us-and we'll roll over and take it, and accept whatever wages they want to pay. We are saying that's not acceptable, and we're going to fight. It's time for ordinary workers to reclaim their unions. We are the union, and we think we should stand firm and make the union strong again.'
A delegation of the sacked workers met with TGWU general secretary Bill Morris on Thursday of last week. He promised the workers that he would put the full resources of the union at the workers' request.
'Bill Morris told us that this was an important test case,' says Gordon McNeill. Morris agreed to back a mass rally at Belfast International Airport this Saturday, 6 July.
The union is calling on other unions to back the rally. 'We've had fantastic support from bus workers and other workers in Belfast,' reports Gordon McNeill.
The strike has united the mixed Protestant, Catholic and Asian workers. As Gordon McNeill says, 'At this time of year during the marching season, when there is so much sectarian violence, we've got an important message. 'Rather than fight each other over religion, we say we should be fighting against the bosses, fighting for jobs, and standing together against our common enemy rather than fighting over territory.'
Send donations and messages of support to Gordon McNeill, 25 Summerfield Street, Ballymena BT43 7DP, or phone 07719 574 338.