Around 400 people marched through Southall, west London, last Sunday calling for justice for the sacked Gate Gourmet workers. Around a quarter of those at the protest were themselves sacked workers.
The march will come as a surprise to many trade unionists who believed that the dispute was over. For a few weeks in August it won international publicity because of solidarity from Heathrow airport workers, which brought British Airways to a halt.
In September a mass meeting reluctantly accepted what workers were told was a “compromise agreement”. But, as the full details of this deal have become clear, it has fallen apart.
Around 150 workers found that they were expected to accept compulsory redundancy and to sign away all their rights to take legal action against the company in exchange for a few thousand pounds.
In addition they had to pledge that they would never seek work at Gate Gourmet or “any of its associated or affiliated companies” — which many believe covers the whole of the airport. Only a fraction of those who were urged to sign have agreed to do so.
“This is not a battle about compensation — we want our jobs back,” sacked worker Parmjit Bains told Socialist Worker. “Why should we sell our rights and our dignity?
“We want the trade unions to stand with us and win this dispute. The company is giving jobs to agency workers at the same time that it is declaring redundancies.”
In August the workers, most of them Asian and mostly women, were the toast of the union movement. Their proudest boast was that they were members of the T&G union and could feel massive support from other workers.
But now many of them are deeply bitter about the way their trade union leaders have acted. “In the summer our union said we had a very strong case and that justice was on our side. We heard very warm words from the TUC conference and at the Labour Party conference.
“Why are we now told that our case is too weak to take further?” Parmjit said.
Chanan, another sacked worker, added, “A few days before Christmas the T&G is going to end our £52 a week hardship money. We are asking for the hardship money to continue, for the union to give us food and a shelter for picketing, and for the T&G to make the dispute an official issue to take up in the wider union movement.”
At the rally after the march Respect MP George Galloway said, “Respect was with you on the first day of this dispute and we will be with you until the end.
“Under Tony Blair the billionaires have all the rights and the workers have no rights. After three landslide Labour election results the anti-union laws that Margaret Thatcher brought in, and which Labour MPs campaigned against, are still in place.
“Unless we change those laws Gate Gourmet will not be the last such dispute. We are faced with a situation like 19th century coolie labour in the British Empire. We will not stand for that in 2005.”
Danny Faith from the GMB union contrasted the government’s supposed concern for rights in Iraq with the reality of it taking away rights in Britain. He called on all unions to maintain the campaign for justice.
Other speakers backing the Gate Gourmet workers’ fight included members of the FBU, CWU and Unison unions and Hounslow Labour councillor Parmod Kad.
The final speaker, Balwindar Rana from the sacked workers’ support group, said that it was up to everyone to oppose Gate Gourmet’s attempt to impose slave labour.
The sacked workers lobbied the T&G executive on Tuesday this week calling for continued support. With major battles looming at Heathrow airport, it is vital that the Gate Gourmet workers are not abandoned.
Send donations payable to Gate Gourmet dispute fund club, c/o 20 Penine Way, Hayes, UB3 5LL.