The entire manual workforce at Rolls Royce’s Patchway site in Bristol walked out this morning (Thursday, 21 July) following the sacking of their deputy plant convenor, Jerry Hicks.
They took the decision to down tools there and then by a unanimous show of hands at a mass meeting held on the factory gates. With only a handful of votes against the mass meeting decided to put maximum pressure on the aerospace multinational by voting to “stay out for as long as it takes” to win reinstatement.
This afternoon an emergency meeting of stewards and convenors from all five of Rolls Royce’s sites in Britain was taking place in Bristol, near the Patchway plant.
They were to discuss spreading the fight to reinstate Jerry, a key union representative, to the other sites.
A similar meeting on Friday of last week already pledged support for workers at the Bristol site. It had been addressed by two stewards from Jerry’s section, the test area, which has refused to return to work since Jerry was suspended on Wednesday of last week.
This is now a decisive battle over the right of trade unionists to elect their representatives rather than have them chosen by management.
“If management get away with sacking Jerry, it will be open season on every steward across Rolls Royce,” says John Locke, a test area steward in Bristol.
“And it won’t just be Rolls. Other employers, especially in engineering, will draw the conclusion that they can victimise union reps and get away with it. We are asking for the fullest possible support throughout our union, Amicus, and throughout the whole trade union movement.
“This is a battle we cannot afford to lose.”
At several mass meetings over the last seven days, including on Thursday of last week when there was a 24 hour walkout, workers were adamant that only by taking immediate action is it possible to stop this major attack on the union by Rolls Royce management.
They did that six weeks ago and won reinstatement for two sacked fitters in the test area. Management have now blamed Jerry for that collective action by the workforce.
Union activists are clear that bosses also want to get rid of Jerry and weaken the union before a new Rolls factory is built, which will be central to the company making projected profits of £1 billion in five years time.
Other trade unionists in the area already understand who critical this battle is. That’s why this morning there were banners and representatives from the NUT teachers’ union, Unison, the Fire Brigades Union, the postal workers, the nearby Airbus plant and others.
Kevin Beazer, regional secretary of the CWU postal workers’ union, told the mass meeting, “Over the last 21 years we have not lost a CWU official to management victimisation.
“That’s because the workforce have been prepared to take immediate action to defend them.”
The Amicus union has already said it will ballot for official strike action over the sacking and will represent Jerry at the highest level at any appeal. But a ballot will take weeks and management will use that time to defuse workers anger and go on the offensive.
In walking out Rolls Royce workers in Bristol, just like postal workers in Northampton recently, have called management’s bluff and refused to go down the legal timetable that has seen so many good union activists sacked over the last two decades.
They now need the maximum support, not only from across the Rolls Royce combine, but from every union official and activist in Britain.
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