Kaur and 272 other members of the Transport and General Workers Union (TGWU) at the airline catering firm were locked out in November 1998. The company fired the union members after they went on a one-day strike in protest of changing work practices and pay. The strikers, predominantly from the Indian subcontinent, have sustained a determined fight, including 24-hour pickets at the plant, for 14 months.
A meeting of the strikers on January 27 heard a report from TGWU Civil Aviation leader George Ryde. He reported the union had agreed with the company December 16 to reemploy 25 workers immediately, 50 more within six months, and further jobs to follow within the subsequent year.
Since a majority of strikers now have other jobs, a compensation package of £2 million was offered, which is about £750 for each year of service. Union lawyers told the meeting that legal action scheduled to begin February 1 was unlikely to be successful for the majority of strikers and urged adoption of the "final offer." Workers discussed the proposal for more than three hours and overwhelmingly voted in favor of the course outlined by the union officials. Picket lines were kept up pending the final agreement.
Some workers pointed out that the pact signaled a retreat on the part of the bosses. The plant manager "didn't want anyone back. He thought we'd go away and we didn't. Now he'll take some back. We can't say its perfect, but he's shamed," explained Sidhu, one of the strikers.
Another worker said he thought the whole deal was "like a gun at our heads." Many workers seeking to return to the job said it was unclear whether they would go back with or without seniority rights. The next day the picket lines were larger than usual with many workers demanding an answer on terms for the return to work.
Strike leader Adesh Farmahan explained that since those on the picket line were the ones who had sustained the fight, the strike committee had pressed for an answer from the company. He reported the company responded by making clear that "they were not going to stick with the words of the agreement. This was not reemployment but they would be taking on those who returned as new starters."
With the mood on the picket line overwhelmingly against this, Farmahan explained the union "backed the strikers and went to court February 1," canceling the deal. On the picket line the mood for continuing the fight had stiffened.
"He's made final offers before," said Kaur. "Two days after being sacked he said he wanted to reinstate us, but without the union shop stewards. Then in September he said we could apply for jobs if we were qualified. We'll just stay here till he learns that he can't pick and choose."
Pete Clifford is a member of the Transport and General Workers Union.
Front page (for this issue) | Home | Text-version home