LOBBYING THE UNISON national executive last Saturday
TRADE UNION members have plenty to be angry with New Labour about. Labour is pushing ahead with Private Finance Initiative schemes, while Labour councils continue with cuts and privatisations. New Labour pledged to introduce "fairness at work", yet workers such as TGWU members at Heathrow's Sky Chefs are still fighting after being sacked for taking legal strike action. You might hope that trade union leaders would be organising over these issues. Instead the leaders of Britain's biggest trade unions are determined not to rock the boat. Instead of turning their fire on the government and bosses, leaders of two key unions are waging a war on activists within their unions. Bill Morris of the TGWU has launched a witch hunt against socialists in the union. Among those targeted is Jimmy Nolan, a leader of the Liverpool dockers whose three year struggle inspired workers everywhere. Rodney Bickerstaffe, head of Britain's biggest union, UNISON, is persecuting activists who have stood up against New Labour policies.
"WE DIDN'T do anything wrong. Why should we be afraid? Why should we be the ones running scared?" These were the angry words of a Lufthansa Sky Chefs worker on the picket line at Heathrow airport last week. Nearly 300 catering workers were sacked five months ago for taking a one day legal strike when their employers tried to make them work twice as hard for less money. "Our boss seems to get away with everything while we cannot even get other jobs at the airport," says one worker. "Our references say we were sacked for gross misconduct. How can a one day legal strike be gross misconduct?"
Sky Chefs workers demand their union leaders act
The workers are maintaining a 24 hour picket outside the Lufthansa Sky Chefs office at Heathrow. They are still angry and determined but are growing increasingly frustrated with the behaviour of their own union leaders. "The union is not doing enough. Bill Morris needs a rocket up his arse," says one worker. His workmate agrees: "Morris could have threatened a walkout across the airport. The threat alone would have frightened Sky Chefs to death."
The workers are getting some strike pay from the TGWU. Union officials say there is little else they can do but concentrate on winning international support. The union is soon to announce a campaign to boycott the Lufthansa airline that owns Sky Chefs. But Sky Chefs supplies inflight meals to some of the world's biggest airlines. Each of these airlines is staffed by thousands of TGWU members across Heathrow who have the power to bring them all to a standstill.
Whilst Morris sits on his hands over Sky Chefs, he is taking a more active role in a witch hunt of Jimmy Nolan. Jimmy was at the forefront of the Liverpool dockers' heroic fight. But now Jimmy is under attack for backing and attending a conference in Liverpool last year to set up an alternative Broad Left grouping inside the union. Bill Morris has declared this an "organisation within an organisation". Jimmy faces a disciplinary hearing and could be removed from all his positions in the union. Others face the same for simply attending the conference.
It is an attack on the left and an attempt to silence critics of the union leadership. Why is the Liverpool conference condemned whilst the existing Broad Left, which has many members on the union's general executive committee, is not? TGWU members should pass motions condemning this witch hunt.
MASS PICKET Monday 3 May Assemble 12 noon to 4pm, Fagg's Road picket line off A30, opp Green Man pub (Hatton Cross tube).
UP TO 100 UNISON members lobbied the union's national executive committee meeting in London last Saturday. They were livid that:
UNISON leaders know bitterness with New Labour is building and are determined to keep the lid on it. They are also determined that when struggle does occur it will remain firmly under their control. So they are targeting UNISON branches and activists who they see as encouraging resistance today.
Saturday's lobby of the national executive was followed by a meeting attended by people from dozens of UNISON branches. They launched a campaign and agreed the key was to put the pressure on UNISON leaders to start fighting the attacks union members face. A statement to UNISON leaders along these lines is winning wide support. A broadsheet will be produced.
Birmingham council UNISON branch was suspended by the union's leaders on 18 March. A series of ridiculous grounds for this action were given. Allegations of "misuse of union funds" mean putting on transport for members to last year's lobby of the Labour conference. "Not following national executive instructions" amounts to refusing to cancel the branch's annual general meeting which the union leaders wanted to prevent taking place.
The real crime of Birmingham in UNISON leaders' eyes is that it has stood up against the Tory policies of the city's New Labour council. In a disgusting twist UNISON officials seem to be cooperating with the local press to launch a McCarthy style smear campaign. "Fear Over Union Death Threats," ran the headline in the Birmingham Evening Mail last Wednesday. National UNISON official Phil Lenton claimed that "witnesses" in the union's investigation into Birmingham were facing what the paper described as "a campaign of terror". All the allegations are lies designed to cover the real purpose of the union leaders' attack.
UNISON members in Sheffield were shocked last week when their union branch office was raided by regional union officials. This was the latest move by UNISON leaders against Sheffield branch and its elected officers. The recent housing benefits workers' strike was sabotaged by union officials, who worked hard to prevent it, did nothing to help it and fought to get it called off.
UNISON leaders have now cancelled the results of elections for union branch officers in Sheffield, and are trying to prevent the branch sending delegates to the union conference. They are attacking branch secretary Annette Carey and four other local union activists.
UNISON leaders are still pressing ahead with disciplinary threats against union officers at London's UCLH hospitals. Last month the union leaders sabotaged the strike against privatisation at the hospitals. Now they are targeting UCLH UNISON branch secretary Candy Udwin and branch chair Dave Carr. Their crime, apart from being SWP members, was to issue leaflets attacking privatisation in the NHS!
UNISON member Roddy Slorach had a council disciplinary hearing on Tuesday. He received a final written warning. The city's Labour council had suspended him for daring to fax a leaflet from work about a broad based meeting against the war in the Balkans. Roddy's suspension came the day the election campaign for the Scottish Parliament began, in which he is standing as an SWP candidate.
The council is after Roddy because of the leading role he played in a successful unofficial, strike last year. Local UNISON officials have fuelled a disgusting press witch hunt against him and the Socialist Workers Party. The council has now also said it will discipline 27 of Roddy's workmates who walked out when he was suspended. An open letter in defence of Roddy won wide support. Scores of UNISON members, including Scottish executive member Mick McGahey, added their names, as did people ranging from Euro MP Hugh Kerr to the author Angus Calder.