On Saturday 20 February, a meeting was held in Southall in support of the Skychef workers, who have been picketing the Skychef premises at Hatton Cross round the clock for the last three months, since they were sacked (273 of them) for going on a one-day official strike (see Comrade Adesh’s speech at the Reclaim Our Rights meeting of 2 February, reported elsewhere in this issue). The meeting, organised by the Ealing Southall Constituency Labour Party and the Indian Workers Association (GB), was chaired by Lalkar editor, Harpal Brar.
Comrade Brar opened the meeting by remarking that the meeting had already achieved extraordinary success: it had been announced on 2 February, and the moment the T&GWU heard about it, they called a demonstration to take place on the same day. This was a very good thing for it is high time that trade-union leaders, who get large salaries and extensive perks, put their heads above the parapets, met workers and found out what was taking place. Some 1,500 people had attended the demonstration through the streets of Southall and it was a good militant demonstration – though the difference between the workers and the platform speakers at the demonstration was all too noticeable.
Comrade Brar pointed out that John Monks (General Secretary of the TUC), true to form, had said nothing although he had spoken a lot. Bill Morris, the General Secretary of the T&GWU, committed himself to not letting the Skychef workers down. He was much applauded for this. It is necessary to record this promise of his and see that he keeps it. After all, he made the same promise to the Liverpool Dockers.
Comrade Brar went on to say:
“We cannot do without the unions but we need to get rid of treacherous union leaders who betray the workers they are supposed to represent – people like Rodney Bickerstaffe of Unison, who also told the Hillingdon Hospital workers that the union would not betray them, but nowadays cannot look Malkiat Bilku in the eye.
“The union bureaucrats’ reason for betraying the Liverpool Dockers and the Hillingdon Hospital workers was to ensure that the Labour Party’s chances of winning the 1997 election should not be spoilt. You were told by Labour leaders not to worry, and not to act illegally, because once Labour was elected it would do away with all the anti-union laws. The trade-union movement contributed £100 million over 10 years to Labour’s coffers. If I had spent that amount of money I would expect to see some return – as does the CBI when it bankrolls the Conservative Party – but the trade unions are getting nothing out of Blair. The Labour government has no intention of repealing any of the anti-union legislation.
The Labour Party made few promises to workers before the election, and those few it did make it has reneged on, while keeping all its promises to big business. When we were campaigning on behalf of the Socialist Labour Party at the last general election we told everybody that there was no point in getting rid of the Tories only to get this lot in, and we have been proved right.
“We asked people to vote for the SLP because Labour was only being put into office (a) to get Britain into the European monetary union (which the Conservative Party could not do because it was so deeply divided on the issue), and (b) to attack the welfare system. Now people can see what is taking place. Workers can only win through struggle if they are united, get rid of the rubbish in the leadership of the unions and send people from the grass roots into the leadership.
“The trade union leadership cannot even represent the interests of workers in wage negotiations. They have huge funds invested in imperialist enterprises. The trade unions no longer act as organisations for collective representation of workers but simply provide services for richer workers – holidays and insurance, for instance. Ordinary workers’ problems with housing, pay, etc., they do not get involved with.
“I am not against unions, but I want them to fulfil their proper functions. So long as capital is in control, workers must conduct guerrilla warfare to defend their pay and conditions.
“Nobody would be happier than we would be if Bill Morris led this struggle to victory. Arthur Scargill has pointed out that some of these unions have more members than the Red Army in the Second World War, yet they will not fight. It is not even within their horizons to fight against the anti-trade union laws. If you want to know the views of these people – their real views as opposed to what they say at demonstrations – read the Financial Times
“We were told that it is only the Tories who are enemies of the working class and that people are not aware of how radical Blair’s programme is. They tell us that Labour cannot do anything in one parliament, and are trying to prepare you for the next election. In the meantime the trade-union leaders are disgracefully pinning more hopes on European legislation to protect workers than on mobilising the working people.
“There is nothing wrong with the blood of the British workers if they are given the right conditions and proper leadership. They fought in the General Strike, but were betrayed by the Labour Party and the TUC. The same thing happened to the Great Miners’ Strike. There was shown in those struggles to be a close connection between these people and the state, which was thoroughly exposed by Seumas Milne. It was through this that the miners were defeated.
“Without proper leadership there is no chance of winning. So we do not oppose unions as such. We want to see unions of the strongest kind such as some of the unions in Belgium and Germany. For the moment, however, our unions are weak because they are monopolised by the same people who monopolise the Labour Party.”
After Comrade Brar’s opening remarks, Comrade Adesh from the Skychef workers addressed the meeting, explaining that the dispute at Skychef had arisen because the employers had broken an agreement that they had made with the workers when introducing Cycle Time Reduction to share with them the profits gained from higher productivity. This agreement was broken, with the employers claiming that no extra profits were made. The workers then said that since no extra profits were being made, despite the considerable inconvenience that Cycle Time Reduction represented for them, they would go back to the status quo. The employer refused, as a result of which a 24-hour strike was called, after meticulously following every iota of the procedures laid down in the anti-trade union laws to prevent strikes from being held. No sooner did the workers go on strike than they were all sacked – 273 of them.
Comrade Adesh pointed out that they were suffering because the capitalist class cared nothing for the workers and in their greed for profit were happy to reduce them to the status of slaves. As far as trade-union leaders were concerned, he said, there was no way that the Skychef workers would let anybody betray them.
Comrade Steve Hedley of the RMT, who was sacked after falsely being accused of causing damage to a vehicle whilst on a picket line, and who is fighting along with the RMT to get his job back now that he has been proved innocent, pointed out that if the T&GWU called a strike of all 30,000 airport workers then re-instatement of the Skychef workers would be instant, but this is not something that trade-union leaders are prepared to do. They let strikes drag on, hoping for them to be broken because workers are unable to pay their mortgages or the HP on their cars. They insisted on `respect for the law’, including the anti-trade union laws, because they don’t want their funds sequestered. But what is the use of these funds if they are not used for fighting purposes? Workers cannot win if they respect the laws that are made precisely with a view to preventing them from winning.
The meeting was then addressed by
Comrade Malkiat Bilku
, the leader of the Hillingdon Hospital workers, who have successfully fought their employers to the point that an industrial tribunal thought it prudent to order the employers to re-employ them. The employers, however, have appealed against that decision and in the meantime the Hillingdon workers are still suffering great financial hardship. They are, however, determined to continue the fight until they get their old jobs back on terms and conditions no worse than they were when they were sacked. Comrade Malkiat went into considerable detail about the treachery they had suffered at the hands of the leadership of Unison, and she also recalls that she was rejected for membership by the IWA(Southall), dominated as it is by Piara Khabra, Labour MP for Southall, and his toadies.
The meeting was then opened to contributions from the floor. There was strong support for the idea of forming a local strike support group which would meet weekly and work to support the Skychef workers in every possible way. The point was also made that the more votes the Socialist Labour Party gained in the forthcoming European elections, the more its hand would be strengthened to support workers’ struggles in the way that it would wish to do. Unlike the Labour Party, the Socialist Labour Party is an anti-capitalist party and as such would never betray the working class.
A collection of £143.41 was made for the Skychef workers and handed over to Comrade Adesh there and then.