Shop stewards at British Airways (BA) held a meeting on Thursday morning last week. It was addressed by T&G general secretary Tony Woodley and other officials who informed them of the mass sackings at Gate Gourmet.
News spread rapidly through BA’s operations. Within two hours BA ground staff had taken the brave decision to stop work in sympathy with their fellow union members.
One suggestion in some of the media was that the solidarity action was the result of Asian family ties.
In fact, the BA workers who took action are largely white.
One Gate Gourmet worker explained, “I’m Cornish and a lot of my workmates here are Punjabi. But we’re brothers.
“We are in the same union branch as the BA workers. So that makes them our brothers too. You can call that a family connection if you like.”
The secondary action was illegal under the Tory anti-union laws, which New Labour has maintained.
BA took legal action against the T&G and officials, in accordance with the anti-union laws, formally repudiated the action on Friday.
But Brendan Gold, T&G national secretary for aviation, told a rally of Gate Gourmet workers that day, to rapturous cheers, “Is it any surprise that workers will want to take action in solidarity with other workers?”
Late on Friday the action was called off. It had forced the union-busters at Gate Gourmet, representatives of its parent company Texas Pacific and BA into talks with the union about reinstating the sacked workers.
Gate Gourmet workers rightly saw that as a major step forward. Those talks were continuing as Socialist Worker went to press amid mounting concern that Gate Gourmet was simply playing for time.
Had the solidarity action continued beyond Friday it is likely that an already rattled BA management would have been forced to resolve the dispute last weekend.
There was pressure on the union from a media and political campaign to halt the action. However, trade unionists across Britain were rallying to the side of the BA and Gate Gourmet workers.
As it stood on Tuesday, the union was preparing to continue the battle.
The solid protests by the sacked workers succeeded in shaming half a dozen drivers who had been working to come out and join them on Sunday.
BA flights were taking off this week with only tea, coffee and water aboard. On the sacked workers’ picket lines curries, samosas, pakora and Indian sweets were available.
Some workers were discussing getting solidarity action back on if Gate Gourmet did not give in quickly. One driver said, “It’s them or us. Either we go down or they do.”
What is Gate Gourmet?
Gate Gourmet is one of the largest providers of in-flight food in the world. It had a turnover of £1.05 billion last year. It has deployed union-busting tactics in the US.
In 2002 it was taken over by US venture capitalist Texas Pacific Group, which owns Burger King. Billionaire David Bonderman set this up.
He spent $7 million on his 60th birthday party. Gate Gourmet catering staff at Heathrow earn £12,000 a year basic. Drivers are on £16,000.
The chief executive of Gate Gourmet UK is millionaire Eric Born, who lives in a £750,000 luxury home in Henley-on-Thames.
Records show Born is the sole director of Versa Logistics, the agency he set up eight months ago which is now supplying scab labour to his company.
“Gate Gourmet said, ‘We cannot work with this community’,” says one Asian woman. “What do you think that means when most of the workforce is Asian.”
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