n September 1995 neither the sacked workers or their employers or their union officials could have believed that the struggle would still be raging 4 years later. The persistence and tenacity of these heroic strikers has won the hearts and minds of workers, men and women, black and white, young and old, across Britain and beyond. Lalkar readers will be familiar with the obstacles that have been put in their path by employers, unions, etc., and with the abilities of these strikers’, mainly Asian women, to overcome them. Recent months have been no different with a successful defeat of Granada’s challenge, but with the UNISON Conference voting against a Hillingdon motion.
Granada Challenge Defeated
In July the attempt by Granada to challenge the Industrial Tribunal (IT) ruling made last year was thrown out. The Tribunal ruled, in October last year, that the strikers should be re-engaged at Hillingdon Hospital within 6 months. The 1998 Tribunal had stated that it was practicable to re-engage the strikers since the hospital had a considerable turnover of jobs, however Granada challenged this ruling at an appeal hearing which took place in May this year, thus delaying events – a return to work and the £11,300 compensation payments to each striker. Following the latest IT finding (throwing out Granada’s challenge) the company has been instructed to pay further compensation and re-employ the strikers.
The Davis Service Group, of which Pall Mall was a subsidiary, had previously agreed with Granada that it would pay any compensation resulting from tribunal rulings. The amount now to be paid has to be negotiated. UNISON officials should be moving quickly to resolve the financial and employment situation for those who have endured nearly 4 years of hardship. No confidence can be placed in UNISON to do this given their delaying, obstructing and betraying tactics at various stages in the dispute.
UNISON Conference 1999
If UNISON had been seen to be on the side of these low-paid workers throughout the strike, there would not have been priority resolutions condemning the NEC of UNISON at their June Conference in Brighton this year. Since the 1998 Conference had overwhelmingly carried a motion pledging the union to restore the strikers to full UNISON membership, pay strike pay to the Hillingdon strikers, and immediately open negotiations with Granada to ensure re-instatement of the workers, it might have been expected that the issue would have been resolved by now.
Instead UNISON members throughout the country proposed and prioritised motions condemning their NEC for not implementing the 1998 Conference decision. In particular, in the 6 months since the IT decision of October 1998 UNISON do not appear to have either spoken to Granada or even restored the strikers to full UNISON membership of their branch. In spite of strong criticism of the NEC’s failure to follow the 1998 Conference decision the delegates voted 2 to 1 against motion
177 which condemned the NEC’s failure to implement the previous Hillingdon resolution. Dave Prentis, UNISON Deputy General Secretary, opposing the motion, attempted to hide behind the success of the October IT ruling. He claimed the IT was successful solely because of the UNISON lawyers’ involvement, By this dishonest claim, and ignoring the persistent struggle of the Hillingdon strikers, he succeeded in getting the delegates to reject Motion 177.
UNISON leaders who find plenty of time to mix with business leaders, “in partnership” of course, Labour politicians and Granada representatives on the so-called ‘Low Pay Commission’, seem to have not been able to get round to talking to Granada about the Hillingdon dispute. The only conclusion that can be drawn is that the UNISON NEC is more concerned with running the union as a business than with using its considerable influence and resources (it is the largest union in Britain) to support the plight of its low-paid members.
The Hillingdon dispute has continued to highlight the achievements that can be won by the fighting determination of workers in unions like UNISON and should continue to encourage others to take up issues in their unions and follow them through persistently, since, as the attacks on workers by the Labour government bite even harder, branches and members throughout the country can begin to forge links and prevent the TU leaders like Rodney Bickerstaffe from ignoring its members while they quietly draw their fat pay cheques.
The strikers are still outside Hillingdon Hospital and surviving in physical conditions that contrast starkly with the privileges of their ‘leaders’, they are still in need of your support – money, letters of solidarity, publicity, etc. Their warmth, enthusiasm and comradeship also contrasts dramatically with anything that their careerist ’leaders’ can contemplate as they stab workers in the back. As Malkiat Bilkhu always says
“This struggle is not our struggle, it is the struggle of the whole working class”.
Send money & messages to HHS, c/o 27 Townsend Way, Northwood, Middx. HA6 1TG or telephone Malkiat on 0956-135311]