Gate Gourmet, caterer for airline food for British Airways deliberately provoked a walk-out to get rid of workers and maximise profits. This was part of a year long plan revealed in a clandestine document from Gate Gourmet. Workers at Heathrow Airport responded with a magnificent example of unofficial solidarity strikes. 1,000 other airport workers drawn from the same communities as the strikers supported them. For a short while, the strikers looked set to win. But this mass and uncontrolled action was too threatening to the bosses in the Transport and General Workers Union (TGWU). They could not deal with the idea of losing control of the situation and frustratingly for the Gate Gourmet workers, persuaded the solidarity strikers back to work. Now the Gate Gourmet workers look set for a long fight.
Gate Gourmet sacked 670 workers following an unofficial stoppage over the employment of 130 casual staff. They also tried to reduce the pickets to 6 but the strength of community feeling pressurised the high court judges, not normally known for their pro-worker stance, into allowing nearby demonstrations to continue. The strikes stranded up to 100,000 BA passengers, some of them for several days.
This dispute did not just happen overnight; the employers had been planning it for months. In a secret internal briefing Gate Gourmet declared the following:
"Recruit, train and security check drivers. Announce intention to trade union, provoking unofficial industrial action from staff. Dismiss current workforce. Replace with new staff."
A steering committee of GG managers cited the top risk as "potential for wider Heathrow based disruption". But it would be worth the risk because of annual pension savings of up to £7 million.
Gate Gourmets new company, Versa Logistics, hires workers for lower wages and clearly exists to undercut the striking workers wages so saving the company money. The secret document tells of their plans to destabilise the work force and maximise profits. Among the threats listed were: "No redundancy packages, no leaving early, no extra pay for extra work, random drug testing, no smoking, eating or drinking in cabs."
The plan also advises how to sack staff. It reads: "Immediate dismissal without legal protection. Collect ID cards, airside passes, locker keys. HR to issue dismissal letters, extra security presence. Security to escort dismissed staff from the premises."
Under the heading "Can we replace employees?" the document lists details of agencies that could recruit staff from Eastern Europe.
Who are Gate Gourmet?
Texas Pacific Group owns Gate Gourmet. Its owner, Mr Bonderman has built an estimated £6 billion fortune by buying nearly bankrupt companies and turning them round. He is also chairman of Ryanair, the budget airline which doesn’t offer in-flight catering.
GG made a £26 million loss last year and is forecast to lose £25 million this year. It obviously needs to save some money if Mr Bonderman is to continue his obscene profiteering.
Support for the strikers.
As part of the plan, Gate Gourmet is recruiting cheap labour from outside the UK using specialist agencies.
Gate Gourmet is currently under pressure from all sides. Financially it is making huge losses. The company, which has headquarters in the States and Zurich, Switzerland, also is locked in labour disputes in the United States, where it is trying to cut $42 million a year in costs. This summer, unions representing Gate Gourmet employees successfully sued to have their health benefits reinstated after the company said it would eliminate them. The British Government and BA need them to settle to maintain BA’s position in the airline market. The budget companies are snapping at their heals.
This is the strongest card the workers have. They must spread the strike throughout the airport. All discussions must be in the open at mass meetings, with no space for the TGWU to maintain control. This will put pressure on BA forcing it to make Gate Gourmet to take the sacked workers back. It also provides a golden opportunity for other workers at Heathrow to raise their own demands to improve their wages and conditions.
We need to support the strikers by contacting the agencies responsible for recruiting scabs and explain to those workers what is at stake for the Gate Gourmet strikers. This example of further casualisation is an attack on the humanity of workers.
Send messages of solidarity to email@example.com