All Animals Are Equal But Some Are More Equal Than Others
Sean Smyth - 18.11.03
I have been called many things, most of which I have little or no resemblance to: But being a cynic is one that I'll put my hand up to, more so since I had the misfortune to meet the three representatives of the sacked airport workers last August.
April 02 the security staff at Belfast International Airport took official industrial action in their claim for better working conditions. Their employer "ICTS" sacked twenty three of the striking workers after their full-time union official "Joe Mc Cusker of the ATGWU" issued a repudiation notice for reasons known only to himself.
The union under the leadership of Sir Bill Morris and aided by Jimmy Elsby and Ben Kearney who was acting regional secretary and officers McCusker and Condit acted in a way which could only be described as strange. Not only did McCusker repudiate the strike, when the workers were sacked he refused to complete "LD1" forms which would have given the workers a degree of protection and ensured a quick hearing in the labour courts. And instead of putting the full power of the trade union movement in to action to get the sacked workers reinstated they tried to put them in a box and forget about them.
As a member of the Belfast district committee ATGWU I tried to get information on the plight of the sacked workers but the only response was a wall of silence from the bureaucrats and careerists in the ATGWU. I was driving a comrade from the Colombian trade union solidarity campaign to Altergrove to catch a flight back to London. At the airport I happened to ask the police officer on duty if he had heard any thing about the sacked workers. He put me in touch with a security person who give me the home telephone number of Gordon McNeill, one of the sacked workers and a shop steward. I phoned Gordon and introduced my self and arranged for him and the sacked shop stewards to come to the next meeting of the Irish branch of the ATGWU broad left.
At this meeting the three shop stewards told us what had happened. The meeting was shocked but not surprised at the way workers had being mistreated by the bureaucrats and decided to give them our full support and help them organize a picket at the "IBDC" which Bill Morris was attending. The pressure paid off and the union agreed to pay each of the sacked workers strike fund of £47.00 per week and to fight to try and save their jobs. We arranged for a party of the sacked workers to attend the ATGWU national broad left meeting being held in Manchester and advised them how to fight back against the bureaucrats and careerists in the union who were not happy with the fact that they had lost the workers their jobs but now wanted to destroy them financially as well.
I put the sacked workers in touch with the SWP and SP in Belfast who organised street collections for them and highlighted their plight in their party newspapers. Broadcaster and journalist Eamon McCann highlighted their case several times in his column in the Belfast Telegraph as did the Blanket and all of the Belfast newspapers.
The airport campaign lingered on - weeks became months and then for some reason the sacked workers stopped communicating with the broad left. We thought that they had settled with the union quietly, until March 03 when McNeill got in touch with me again asking for advice as the bureaucrats were trying to stop their strike fund and they felt let down by the General Secretary Sir Bill Morris. This escalated when the three shop stewards held a protest in Transport House Belfast calling for the dismissal of the full-time officers McCusker, Condit, Elsby and Kearney, and calling on the union to launch a General Executive Enquire in to the handling of their dispute. This was to become one of the darkest days in the history of the trade union movement. Full-time officer Bill Condit called the PSNI to remove the three sacked workers all of whom were suffering from ill health. Over 18 fully kitted riot cops arrived within minutes and threatened the sacked workers with arrest if they did not leave their own building. For the first time in the history of the trade union movement a union unleashed the forces of capitalism on it's own members … Shame Shame Shame.
In June 03 Tony Woodley was elected as General Secretary. The day after his election victory the GEC were meeting in London and the three shop stewards were outside Transport House to picket the meeting in order to highlight their case. It was at this point that Woodley went outside and asked the three what they were doing. They told him and he invited them inside and held a hour long meeting with them. The three shop stewards told Woodley that they had two demands 1/ a fair fight with ICTS and 2/ a executive enquiry into their case.
The three shop stewards were then invited to Bournemouth for the annual ATGWU conference, where they were greeted with open arms and presented with financial donations from many of the regions there.
Late July/early August the union went to the airport hoping to provoke the airport authorities and escalate the dispute. In Mid-August 03 ICTS asked the union for formal talks to try and end the long running dispute, however they refused to negotiate with the three sacked stewards directly. But the union invited the three stewards to attend but in a another room so they could be kept up to date with negotiations as they happened.
However a cretin member of one the socialists parties in Ireland - not the SWP - began to interfere in the dispute. This well intended idiot sold the three shop stewards - who in my opinion where still very politically and industrially naïve - a pup telling them not to believe the broad left; and that if they sued the union the company and the airport that they would get hundreds of thousands of pounds each.
It was after this unwarranted interference that the three stewards refused to send any representative to the talks and Bowyer and McNeill began to make impossible demands which made it impossible for the union to negotiate. I personally talked to McNeill the day and night before the talks with the employers. I asked him to be realistic and inquired what he would settle for. But he wouldn't listen. When I ask what about the other workers he said "fuck them I am only concerned with myself.' I told him that he was being unrealistic and very unfair to the other twenty one sacked workers and those still employed in the airport and that the negotiations were doomed to failure because of his and Bowyer's intransigence.
The meeting went ahead and "ICTS" made an offer to settle the dispute, which the union took back to the sacked workers. The three shop stewards dismissed the proposed settlement and decided to separate from the other workers and sue the union the company and the airport. The union called the other workers to a meeting to report on the meeting, but as agreement could have been reached the dispute was wound up and is now set to go to tribunal.
However in September the sacked workers sent an e-mail to Downtown Radio telling their news desk that they were going to take over Transport House as they were angry that the union had stopped their strike money of £47 per week. However when they went to Transport House they were invited inside and were given a fair hearing. They demanded that the strike fund be paid to all twenty-three sacked workers immediately 'despite the fact that fourteen of them had found new employment within weeks of being sacked and had being fraudulently claiming the strike fund and that they were now in the process of suing the union.'
I was then contacted by a leading member of the Socialist Party and asked what had happened. They called me back the next day and claimed that the airport workers were denying my version and claiming that the union were shafting them. I was then contacted by Bowyer and Gupta and during one of the conversions with Bowyer I asked him what would they settle for. He said that he and McNeill would go away for X amount. I asked what about Gupta and the rest. He said that Gupta doesn't need the money and would be happier if McCusker and Condit were sacked and that the rest of the workers would settle for a four figure sum each.
So as it stands. The sacked workers from Belfast International Airport are back where they started from when I first met them - on their own and without a friend in the trade union movement. First the workers were shafted by 'ICTS and the ATGWU's bureaucrats and careerists'; and now the workers have been shafted by 'their shop stewards and that idiot, from that so-called socialist party.'
To the so-called socialist who advised the shop stewards - who at the start of this saga were gullible naive workers who believed that their union official was on their side - I say 'shame on you.' YUou took advantage of workers in plight, workers who were unable to make rational decisions because they were so full of hatred and mistrust. For your own party's political gains, your interference has lead to the bureaucrats and careerists behind the plight of the airport workers getting off the hook, and will no doubt lead to more workers being shafted by these so called trade unionists. Watch how McCusker handles the forthcoming dispute in Translink. He will never be seen nor heard on TV or radio and will shaft the workers rather than shaft the company.
To the sacked airport workers I wish you well and good luck in court. As for the two shop stewards the words of George Orwell's Animal Farm come to mind:
An uproar of voices was coming from the farmhouse. They rushed back and looked through the window again. Yes, a violent quarrel was in progress. There were shouting, banging on the table, sharp suspicious glances, furious denials. The source of the trouble appeared to be that Napoleon and Mr Pilkington had each played an ace of spades simultaneously. Twelve voices were shouting in anger, and they were all alike. No question, now, what had happened to the faces of the pigs? The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again, but already it was impossible to say which was the which.
As for myself I have decided not to seek re-election to the district committee. For while the ATGWU employs this scum and the two scumbag scabs in Belfast - Hodges and Henderson - who have helped the scum bureaucrats and careerists masquerading as trade unionists with their pathetic attack on innocent workers, my integrity no longer permits me to contribute anything towards the union.