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Peter Hadden

Fight jail threat with workers’ solidarity

(June 1997)

From The Socialist [UK], 13 June 1997.
Transcribed and marked up by Ciaran Crossey.

Four leaders of the eight-week-old strike at the Montupet factory in Belfast face trial and possible imprisonment this week. The four – Dan McMurray, Damien McCluskey, Trevor Morris and Mark Harbinson – face charges of contempt of court, accused by the company of defying a court injunction banning them from the picket line.

All four have said they will be prepared to go to prison rather than submit to the company and the anti-union laws. But in so doing they have reiterated their appeal to other workers to organise solidarity walkouts should they go to jail. The contempt charge was first brought to court two weeks ago but deferred because the summons were not properly served. Then, at a second hearing last week, the judge conceded to a request from barristers representing Montupet to allow these to be served by post.

The call for walkouts has produced a response from the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU), who up until now have largely washed their hands of the dispute. ICTU’s Northern Ireland Officer held private discussions with the company and cobbled together a “deal” which he then tried to sell to the workforce.

This basically amounted to an offer that the 20 men sacked for taking part in the strike would accept £3,000 to sell their jobs. For the 100 or so others who have stayed on strike demanding their reinstatement there would be a choice of going back to work or else taking a sum equal to statutory redundancy entitlement and then being allowed to resign.

The strike committee met Terry Carlin and representatives of the Labour Relations Agency on Sunday 1 June and rejected this package. Yet, two days later, every striker received in the post a copy of the offer plus a letter from Terry Carlin which described it as the “final offer”. Also included was a ballot form and a stamped addressed envelope addressed to ICTU.

A mass meeting on Thursday unanimously rejected this “final offer”. Next day about 30 strikers took the ballot forms to the ICTU offices. The doors were quickly bolted to keep them out so they ripped up the ballots and shoved them through the letter box.

These workers have been abandoned by the trade unions who have been trying to sell them down the river. To win they are depending on the support of other trade unionists, Belfast trades council last week decided to back the setting-up of a local support group.

Messages of support and donations are now urgently needed to sustain morale in this battle against a vicious and vindictive employer.

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