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Peter Hadden

Shorts dispute not over yet

(December 2003)

From Socialist Voice, No. 63, December 2003.
Transcribed and marked up by Ciaran Crossey.

Management at Shorts were taken aback by the solidarity and determination shown by Shorts workers in their week long shut down of the plant. Workers are now in no mood to accept a pay freeze, especially as the company has just announced a 600% increase in profits.

For years the union organisation in the factory has been under attack. Shop stewards have been derecognised, victimised and placed on redundancy lists. Bombardier management thought the unions were so weakened that they could intimidate and cajole the workforce into accepting a four year pay deal, beginning with a pay freeze, a worsening of conditions especially with the introduction of the “dead man” afternoon shift, and the prospect of more redundancies.

But their suspension of works for taking part in a work to rule backfired. It led to an angry occupation of the plant and ensured that the strike was completely solid among AMICUS and T&GWU members. The pressure for this action came from below, not from the union officials who reluctantly had to put themselves at the head of the strike. Within the factory these officials, because of their record, are not trusted. One Shorts worker, an AMICUS member, told Socialist Voice:

“When our official tried to speak he was constantly bombarded with shouts of ’Liar’, and ’Pinocchio’ from members who are worried there will be another sell-out. ”

The mood of the works was to stay out to sort out all the issues in dispute once and for all. Management responded by going to the courts to restrict the number of pickets. Although the unions agreed to comply the reduction of the picket lines to six people did not dent the solidarity of the action.

The company had no choice but to partially retreat. They agreed to withdraw the new shift patterns, although they will come back with this proposal in negotiations. They also gave a guarantee of no redundancies before next March.

The works have accepted these terms and gone back to work. They have won a partial victory and have shown what determined action can achieve. But the overall dispute is not over. The central issue of the pay deal has not been dealt with, nor are the other issues finally resolved. Bombardier has been switching production to its Montreal plant and a longer term run down of the Belfast operation is possible.

Further action may well be necessary to achieve a decent pay settlement, to defend working practices and also to prevent any attempt to switch production.

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