Over 100 workers in the test area at Rolls Royce’s Bristol plant were to begin a snap ballot for official strike action this week after management turned down an appeal for the reinstatement of their union convenor, Jerry Hicks.
In a sign of bosses’ desperation to uphold the victimisation, they attempted to introduce new charges at the appeal that concluded on Monday — a clear breach of procedure.
But Bristol Rolls workers, who have already put pressure on the company through unofficial action, are tapping into a rising tide of solidarity in this key battle for trade union rights.
They have received over 500 pledges of support from across the trade union movement.
For the first time in many years an emergency meeting of Amicus union convenors and stewards representing workers in the aerospace and shipbuilding industries took place on Wednesday of last week.
It voted unanimously to back the fight at Rolls. A representative from the Shorts engineering firm in Belfast underlined the seriousness of the battle.
After a convenor was victimised from that workplace the number of stewards was reduced from 18 to four and hard won agreements were ripped up by management.
Jerry is not only convenor of the test area. He is also deputy chair of the joint union committee at Rolls Royce in Bristol and polled the highest vote in the aerospace and shipbuilding sector when he ran for the Amicus national executive.
The fight for his reinstatement has national implications across the engineering industry and beyond.
Neil Sheehan, a leading activist in the union and the secretary of the convenors’ committee across BAE Systems, has told Rolls workers that BAE stewards not only back the fight, but are organising collections across all sites.
That was also one of the measures unanimously agreed at last Wednesday’s meeting. Others are an official newsletter and petition, invites to Rolls stewards to address other sites and a delegation of union representatives from across the industry to travel to Bristol on the first day of strike action.
The meeting also agreed to send a letter to the aerospace employers body highlighting the possible repercussions of the sacking.
The day after that meeting Rolls announced half yearly profits of £269 million, a 54 percent increase. Ian Waddell, Amicus’s national officer for aerospace, says, “Rolls Royce are scapegoating an individual for poor industrial relations on the site of their own making.
“It’s difficult to see the dismissal as anything other than a cynical ploy to attack workers and the union to enable them to maximise already record profits.”
He pledged the full support of the union at a meeting with test area workers in Bristol before representing Jerry at his appeal. “The company wants to fatally weaken union organisation in anticipation of even greater profits in the future,” says Jerry.
“We’ve been through all the internal procedures and won the war of words at every hearing. Now it is down to a battle determined by trade union action and solidarity.”
The Bristol test area workers are to ballot first and could be on strike from 17 August. Other manual sections at the site have already repeatedly voted at mass meetings for an official ballot too.
Stewards across Rolls are now looking to maximise the action they can take. The company will certainly have earmarked a sum of money to deal with the dispute.
But it has a full order book, which makes it vulnerable to action that halts production and deliveries of jet engines.
It was just such action, including solidarity from other sites, that won a dispute two months ago in the test area.
“We are taking this very seriously,” says Eddie Holder, works union convenor at the Smiths plant in Cheltenham. “As a convenor myself I ask, ‘Who’s going to be next?’
“Ten years ago Jerry and the stewards from Rolls Royce Bristol gave us tremendous support in our successful battle to reinstate our sacked convenor.
“We are offering all the support we can now. And as the dispute develops the national executive could issue a call for wider action.”
“The support we have received so far has really boosted us,” says Jon Locke, a Bristol test area steward.
“Now, as we move to this new phase, we are looking maximise it. This is a fight we are determined to win.”
Bombard Rolls Royce with messages of protest. Rolls Royce International, 65 Buckingham Gate, London, SW1E 6AT, phone 020 7222 9020, or fax 020 7227 9178.
Download a collection sheet from the SWP website at www.swp.org.uk/res.php?resource=industrial and take it around your workplace and fellow trade unionists. The Amicus website at www.amicustheunion.org.uk will also be updated with campaign material.