Saturday, 17 May 2008

UNITE in shame

I took this photo yesterday morning on the way to work but I see this evening that this protester (Gordon McNeill ) is still encamped on the canopy of Transport House. This dispute has been ongoing for a 6 years and started when a number of workers were wrongfully dismissed from their jobs at Aldergrove airport ......

According to The World Socialist Web Site:

After six years and repeated hunger strikes by two former shop stewards, a group of workers sacked from Belfast’s International Airport have finally extracted compensation from the Amalgamated Transport and General Workers Union (ATGWU) for the legal fees expended in pursuance of their claims of wrongful dismissal. Still contested is the workers’ other demand for the ATGWU to mount an inquiry into its own role in setting up the workers to be sacked in the first place.

The ATGWU is known in the UK as the Transport and General Workers Union (TGWU) and operates in Britain, Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic. It has recently merged with the Amicus union to form Unite, an organisation with around 2.8 million members.
In May 2002, 114 security staff at Belfast International Airport took strike action in pursuit of a wage rise. The workers were earning £5.20 an hour, forcing many of them to work 60 or 70 hours a week to bring home a living wage. The strikes began after six months of negotiations between the ATGWU and International Consultants on Targeted Security (ICTS), which ended with a proposed 18-pence-an-hour pay rise. The workers were demanding £6.00 an hour.

Workers planned a series of four-hour stoppages, which would cause significant disruption to the main commercial airport in Northern Ireland. After the first of these, the company sacked 23 of those involved, including shop stewards Gordon McNeill and Madan Gupta.
The workers were sacked for taking unofficial strike action. They had been assured by regional ATGWU official Joe McCusker that their strike, supported by an official union ballot and a 97 percent majority of the staff, with the company warned in advance of the action, was officially backed by the union. But it soon emerged that the ATGWU had repudiated the strike.

Repudiation of an unofficial strike is required by the anti-union laws introduced by the Thatcher government. But the ATGWU went far beyond its draconian requirements. McCusker passed letters of repudiation, signed by then-TGWU leader Bill Morris, to ICTS, in a secret meeting in a pub near the airport. None of the workers were informed of the meeting between ICTS and the officials and of the repudiation of their dispute—until they were sacked. more:

An article on The Socialist web site: Belfast Airport workers win historic court victory - But struggle for justice continues

and indymedia ireland has a scathing report on Cops sent in to arrest protesting Belfast airport workers and an update here:

Alan in Belfast covered this on 8th April 2008 with his post about how Sacked ICTS airport security workers renew hunger strike action ... in protest at their union Unite (TGWU) rather than their former employer with what appears to be an anonymous comment from somebody at the TGWU (or UNITE as it is now known).

A statement from Sacked Belfast Airport Workers can be read here: which explains that:-

Last September a hunger strike and rooftop protest at Transport House was called off only after Tony Woodley, Unite General Secretary, agreed that the workers’ demands would be met within seven days.

He agreed that the union would pay the £200,000 in legal costs arising from the long court battle which the workers had to fight against ICTS without any support from their union. The workers won this battle, securing last August a landmark legal decision that found they had been sacked because of their trade union opinion and socialist political beliefs.

Tony Woodley also committed the union to pay the costs of defending this decision against any appeal by ICTS. He also promised that the union would pay damages to cover the financial and other hardship these workers have suffered. This was in recognition of the fact that, as was proven in court, senior union officials colluded with ICTS to have 24 of their members, including all their shop stewards sacked. Irish regional secretary, Jimmy Kelly, also made these commitments.

Not one of the commitments made last August has been met.

Frankly I find it very worrying, not to say despicable, that, as the airport workers state in one of their leaflets,

'Our union official, backed by the leadership of the union, colluded with our employer, ICTS, to have 24 of us sacked.'

What is more despicable is the fact that the news media seems to be ignoring this story totally. A union that does not support its members and, by all accounts, actively colludes to have its members sacked beggars belief and should not be denied the bad press it so richly deserves.