Ninety six workers in the test area of Bristol’s Rolls Royce plant have entered their second week of indefinite strike action in confident mood.
Support was growing for a national demonstration called by the Amicus union for Friday of this week to back the strikers and the fight to reinstate sacked union convenor Jerry Hicks.
The campaign against an attempt by a major employer to break union organisation is striking a chord throughout the engineering industry and beyond.
A meeting of T&G and Amicus union stewards across the Bristol factory took place on Thursday of last week and reconfirmed to national union officials that they want a ballot for strike action at the whole factory to proceed. Notification of the ballot was due to be handed to management this week.
On the same Thursday a 200-strong mass meeting of workers at Rolls Royce’s Derby plants heard first hand from Jerry and other test area strikers about what is at stake in the battle.
Derby management refused permission for the meeting to take place. But, as Jerry told the meeting, “If they were confident that we would not get your support they wouldn’t have done that. They would have encouraged you to come to the meeting.”
Derby was the last stop on a tour of Rolls factories in Britain to explain the fight for reinstatement, reinforce support for a national £3 a week levy of union members and lay the basis for further solidarity.
As at the other factories the Derby meeting was a model of democracy and accountability.
“The media image of mass meetings is that they are there for the union to bully the members,” said one Derby worker. “What you’ve just witnessed shows that isn’t true. It was serious, open and friendly. Anyone could have their say.”
One of those who did was Robert Green, who has worked at Rolls’ Bristol plant for 34 years and is one of the test area strikers. He was introduced as not a shop steward or convenor but “just a worker speaking from the heart”.
The meeting quietly urged him on and frequently burst into applause as he outlined why management had victimised an effective union representative. “This is not about money,” he said, “This is about right and wrong.”
Jerry then gave a detailed account of how test area workers had fought successfully to save two fitters’ jobs and how management had seized on that dispute to sack him.
When it came to the meeting opening up to questions and comments one worker asked, “I’ve heard your side of the story, Jerry, but what about the management’s side? How do they justify their actions?”
The considered response led to laughter and cheers as Jerry took apart the case and said, “You’re bemused by it. I’m bemused. Come and join the ranks of the bemused.”
Another worker asked for the details to be put down on paper to be used alongside existing leaflets to counter management propaganda — a suggestion that was immediately taken up.
After the best part of an hour of intense discussion one Derby worker said, “I’ve heard a tremendous speech and clear answers from a gentleman who’s got a lot to lose. You can be sure you’ve got our support in whatever it takes.”
Workers at other Rolls factories may be asked to ballot for action if the company does not move quickly to reinstate Jerry.
The strike in the test area is already having an effect—every aircraft engine at Bristol has to go through the test area before it leaves the factory. Order books are full, but deliveries cannot take place.
The Derby mass meeting gave a snapshot of the kind of workplace democracy and resistance Rolls management wants to snuff out as it looks forward to annual profits of up to £1 billion in the next five years.
“You can see the level of support here,” Steve Wright, works convenor in Derby, told Socialist Worker. “That’s one of the best meetings we’ve had. People are very pleased with the answers they got. This is not a fight we can afford to lose.”
Reinstate Jerry Hicks demonstration, 1pm, Friday 2 September, College Green, Bristol. For transport details go to www.amicustheunion.org.uk