From The Socialist, February 2005.
Transcribed and marked up by Ciaran Crossey.
The 23 airport security workers who were sacked for going on strike in May 2002 have won the first part of their Industrial Tribunal case.
A hearing took place at the end of last year to decide whether or not their strike was legal. Since the pretext used to sack them was that they took part in an illegal strike, the outcome of this hearing really determines whether or not their overall case against the company will be won. In a damning judgement against their employer, security firm ICTS, the Tribunal found that the strike was lawful.
The strike was against the poverty wages paid by ICTS. After an initial stoppage, the T&GWU, agreed to suspend specified days of follow up action to allow for negotiations. When it became clear that ICTS were only playing games, dragging out negotiations in order to avoid strikes, the suspension was lifted.
It was established at the Tribunal that the company were informed by T&GWU official, Joe McCusker, that the strike, due to start in the early hours of Tuesday 14 May, would go ahead. Yet when the workers went out they were met with management threats and later that day got a letter saying that the action was illegal and they could be sacked.
It was also clear at the Tribunal that Joe McCusker, right up to the morning of the action itself, had assured the shop stewards that their action was official. This had been supported by legal advice given by the T&GWU legal director, Fergus Whitty.
Yet when, later that day, the shop stewards tried to contact Joe McCusker about the management threats, they could not get hold of him. Despite repeated calls and messages he remained incommunicado.
In fact the next time the workers heard from him was in the form of a letter repudiating the strike which arrived on Thursday 16th.
ICTS manager, Ben Lewis gave evidence that Joe McCusker arranged a secret meeting in a bar near the airport on the day after the strike and handed the repudiation letter to him – before any of the workers had received it.
After at first denying under oath that there ever was such a meeting, Joe McCusker accepted under cross examination that the meeting did take place, although he could not explain why he had never mentioned it before.
Clearly there are still many unanswered questions about the role of the union throughout this dispute. The company used the strike to sack the shop stewards and try to break union opposition, but the real question is the degree to which T&GWU officials co-operated with this.
Sacked shop steward, Gordon McNeill told The Socialist:
“We are very pleased with this outcome. We have fought over two years to get the facts of what happened established, at great cost to our health.
“The Tribunal finding is not the end of the matter. As soon as we got the result we took copies to the airport and gave it out to let the workers and management know that real trade unionism will be back there.
“We will also be taking it to the T&GWU. The officials who sold us out are still there and we now want a disciplinary inquiry that goes right to the top of the union, including the present and the former general secretary.
“Ordinary workers need to take back the unions from the bureaucrats. We want officials to be elected and to be put on the wages of the members, not the inflated salaries and expenses they now enjoy.”
Last updated: 20.8.2013