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Keith Narey

Aire Valley Yarns

‘Not animals – but workers fighting for our rights’

(June 1983)

From Militant, No. 656, 24 June 1983, p. 14.
Transcribed by Iain Dalton.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Over 500 people attended a protest march and rally at Aire Valley Yarns last Saturday, 18 June, to protest about the dismissal of 21 Asian workers for trying to join a trade union.

Peter Booth, full-time official of the Transport and General Workers Union, Dyers and Bleachers section, said that these workers were only fighting for the right to belong to a union and that action such as these on behalf of unscrupulous employers never came to the notice of the public. He appealed for support for the 24-hour picket and demanded support from the entire labour and trade union movement.

The shop steward who had been sacked for refusing to take his members out of the union, Liaquat Ali, spoke about the sweat-shop conditions in Aire Valley.

There had been fear of making any complaint and the fear of starting a union, because workers twice before had been sacked for starting a union, but eventually the conditions in Aire Valley forced the men to start a union.

There were no guards on the machines. Workers had to stop spindles by hand. These barbaric conditions resulted in many injuries and in fact these conditions were worse than in factories in Pakistan where some of the workers had previously worked. Workers also, were forced to do a seven-day week or be sacked. The standard flat rate pay was only £1.02 an hour.

On Sunday 12 March Liaquat Ali had given out union cards. On Monday Mr Bedford, the managing director, said that if he didn’t stop he would sack him. Liaquat was told that he had the hour to collect the union cards from his workmates.

Every one of his workmates refused, saying that union was the only right the working class had. The manager responded by saying “it’s my mill, my plant, I’ll run it how I want.” Management refused to see a full-time trade union official.

Bedford then went on to sack Liaquat Ali, immediately overturning a week’s notice that he had been given an hour before. When trying to retrieve his possessions Liaquat was offered £200 to leave the premises immediately but refused. Again, Bedford said. “I don’t have to give reasons for sacking you. I’m the boss. I have the money and the power,” and then threatened to call the police.

When workers turned up for work the next day they were locked out. When they asked management through the office window the management merely sneered back, “no dogs allowed”.

“We are not animals”, said Liaquat Ali. “We must show that we have the power. If we don;t stand up and fight for our rights then we’ll have slave labour in Britain. White and black get together and fight to beat Tebbit’s law.

“We’re here to work – not to strike. But fight for a future or our future generation will ask, ‘why did you leave this mess for us’. Our fathers and grandfathers fought for a union. Support us today. We will support you tomorrow.”

The full-time official then read out messages of support from Rodney Bickerstaffe of NUPE and from local Labour Parties and trade unions.

Pat Wall, introduced to the meeting as the “MP in waiting” for Bradford North received a tremendous round of applause when he said that, “this struggle is not only about the workers at Aire Valley on £1.02 an hour, but also about the thousands of low-paid workers, mainly women and Asians, and about institutionalised racism inside our society.”

He stressed that the trade union movement had not done enough and that we must support the picket every week, with unions taking weeks for their particular union to turn out in support.

He called for mass mobilisation by the TUC to cut off all the supplies and services to this factory and said that as in the case of Grunwicks if gas, electricity, water and telephones were cut-off then the strike would be over in 48-hours. The alternative to such action was all the hours on the picket line, the misery that brought about the poverty of the workers.

The rally ended with a call that we must force our leaders to mobilise. Pat stressed that over the last six years the working class had been hammered, but that we shouldn’t be despondent, that we can still win, if we show a quarter as much grit as the twenty-one strikers who have been out for fourteen weeks.

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Last updated: 19 January 2018