The fight to reinstate Jerry Hicks is on. He is the deputy plant convenor sacked from Rolls Royce’s Bristol site.
And it is a battle that no trade unionist in Britain, above all in the engineering union Amicus, can afford to lose.
The senior Amicus union rep was sacked on Wednesday of last week, triggering a walkout by the Patchway plant’s 1,000-strong manual workforce on the Thursday and Friday.
Such action has not been seen in the engineering industry in response to the victimisation of union officials for many years.
Jerry’s own section—the test area, where he is convenor—had already walked out on the Wednesday of the previous week when he was suspended by management just after returning from three weeks leave.
The charges he faces are the result of a successful fight to defend two test area workers from the sack six weeks ago.
In an inspiring display of solidarity the 100 test area workers voted repeatedly at mass meetings to stay out all the way to Tuesday of this week.
“The decisions were taken by the members, democratically at mass meetings where everyone’s concerns could be raised,” says Jerry. “There’s no doubt it has put pressure on management.
“Managers hired private companies to send letters round to workers’ homes on Friday and Saturday of last week. They were an attempt to divide the workforce, and undermine support for the union and for me.
“They warned the action was illegal. But the whole tone of the letters did not indicate a confident company.”
“We’re getting a huge level of support,” says test area steward Jon Locke. “There have been unanimous calls for a strike ballot at mass meetings of the whole Bristol site.
“This is a fight for the future of the union and our right to elect the representatives we want. The lesson of previous battles is that we have to put the maximum pressure on immediately, not wait for tribunals and the like.”
An Amicus full time officer attended the test area mass meeting on Monday and agreed to move straight to a ballot for strike action.
The rest of the Bristol site is set to follow, with calls for action at Rolls Royce’s other plants in Coventry, Derby, Barnoldswick, Glasgow and East Kilbride.
Meetings of the “combine committee” of convenors and shop stewards from across Rolls Royce have already agreed to back the reinstatement fight, organise a levy of union members, and hold mass meetings for Bristol stewards to address.
The first such meetings were expected to take place by the end of this week.
Representatives of the committee met top Rolls Royce management on Monday of this week and warned them of an escalation in the dispute if Jerry is not reinstated.
An emergency meeting of Amicus representatives from across the aerospace and ship building industries was due to take place on Wednesday of this week to discuss widening the solidarity.
Jerry topped the poll in this sector of the union in elections to the Amicus national executive.
“This is an attack on the whole union,” test area worker Bob Green told Socialist Worker when news of the sacking broke. “We’ve got to respond not just here, but as a whole union.”
The level of support flooding into the Bristol site is an indication not only that other trade unionists understand the seriousness of the attack, but also that there is a basis for the kind of solidarity that can encourage Rolls Royce workers to take the action needed to win.
By the start of this week over £10,000 had been sent in to the fighting fund, with collections taking place from the Fujitsu plant in Manchester, through TNT drivers to teachers, council workers and other trade unionists across the Bristol area.
Stewards had also received over 400 messages of support. “The support is absolutely vital to winning this dispute, as win we will,” says Jerry.
“Every Rolls Royce worker needs to feel that they have the backing of the entire trade union movement.”
Central to the whole dispute, and to Jerry’s victimisation, are the anti-union laws brought in by the Tories and maintained by New Labour. Every major union and the TUC have policy calling for their repeal.
A majority of MPs in parliament are supported by one or other union. “Now’s the time for policies passed at conferences to mean something,” says Jerry. “A huge amount is at stake for my own union and every other.”
Rolls bosses are vulnerable to serious strike action. A wave of solidarity from other trade unionists will help that happen.
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