Two fitters in the test areas at the Rolls Royce Bristol plant were escorted off the site on Monday night last week for allegedly sleeping while on the job.
They were suspended on full pay pending an investigation.
Paying workers on suspension is not a generous act. It’s often a ploy by the employer to weaken support by encouraging workers to wait for the outcome of a disciplinary.
A sham investigation followed by a kangaroo court too often leads to a sacking, wages gone, pensions destroyed, lives and families in ruins.
To ballot would take forever as the union officials agonise over whether members’ home addresses are in order. Meanwhile your workmates have gone. And at that point it’s 100 times harder to win.
The company knows it and the laws are designed with that in mind. So we knew our response had to be immediate.
Within an hour the rest of the night shift in that area took a vote and walked out.
Within 24 hours the whole of the test areas had also walked. By now over 100 manual workers were out in support.
An emergency meeting of the union committee for the whole site passed a motion to support the two fitters and the test areas action.
A leaflet was distributed across the main factory and sent to other Rolls Royce sites.
Also within 24 hours the Amicus union issued a repudiation of our action.
At the start of each shift everyone gathered for an update. Each time we talked things through, including the repudiation, and voted to continue the action.
But now the walkout became a walk-in — an occupation under the gaze of management and the sun, which had also come out in support of us.
By Thursday morning, three days into the dispute, others had downed tools. Sections in the main factory held impromptu meetings in company time to pledge their support and their stewards came to the picket line to tell us.
Workers at the Glasgow plant told management they would would not carry out our work if it was redirected.
In white collar areas people were also helping. In one case they turned work away only to be asked by us “please get it back, unload it, put it in dispute, and effectively impound it”. Possession is nine tenths of our law.
It was now that the company began to twitch. At 2.15pm on Thursday the threat of sacking was lifted and replaced with a lesser action.
Seldom are things as cut and dried as you want them to be, but we had won the victory we had struck for.
The test areas are strong and well organised, with a tradition of standing up for ourselves and supporting others.
Amicus had swiftly provided the company with a repudiation, so staying within the anti-union laws brought in by the Tories and still here under New Labour.
But the union’s policy passed in Brighton last month is to repeal all those laws.
We have given a lead in achieving that. Now it’s time for the national union to get on with it.
Were Rolls Royce going to sack our mates? Yes. Did they? No. Was it because they got nice, or because we, with help, gave them a bloody nose?
You decide, but here’s a clue — they’re not nice.
The two fitters, their families, shop stewards, union members and myself want to thank everyone who helped us. They know who they are.