The following article is from the Solidarity Bulletin, paper of the Anarcho-Syndicalist Federation. Is was based on an interview by ASF members with two of the sacked ICTS workers, Brian Summerfield and Malcom Spencer.
The dispute arose with their employer ICTS over pay and conditions, but quickly became much more complicated. The security staff were originally working on a number of different pay scales, but they wanted a single rate for all workers. And they wanted it badly- 97% voted for industrial action in April. The paperwork was done, the strikes were sanctioned and things were all set to kick off. As a result, negotiations between management, shop stewards and labour relations began, and strike action was suspended for the duration of the talks. This ended on Mon 13th May, when the management failed to contact the union.
On the advice of union lawyers in London, the strikes restarted the next day at 4 am. ICTS deemed the strike illegal, and managed to obtain a letter of repudiation from ATGWU union official Joe McClusker agreeing with them. Workers arriving to for the evening shift joined the picket after a two day rest period, only to be told by ICTS manager Clifford Duncan that the strike they knew to be legal wasn't. Three days later, 24 "randomly selected" workers were handed suspension letters and after a disciplinary hearing three days after that were sacked.
"It was the union that got us sacked in the first place, we were very badly let down," claimed one of the workers, but he qualified this- pledging respect for the shop stewards who had worked hard to get union backing since then. They met Bill Morris, the union secretary, who admitted liability and promised to throw all resources behind the campaign to have the men and women reinstated.
"What I would like to know is what method was used to 'randomly' select us. Who was the independent witness and where are they? How random can it be if a married couple were selected for dismissal. There's more chance of me winning the lottery. And I don't play the lottery!" said Brian Summerfield, whose wife Valerie was also sacked.
With 44 workers, the odds of two particular workers being sacked at random from in a set of 24 are 3.4 to 1, making it indeed statistically quite unlikely. The feeling amongst the dismissed is that the mass sackings were in fact tactical, and that TBI (the parent company of ICTS) are driving much of the management's decisions.
At a time when the powers that be are keen to emphasise the role that airport security has to play in providing security for passengers and other ordinary citizens, it is particularly sickening to see the bosses show where their real interests lie. When safety takes a back seat to strikebreaking, everyone suffers. There has been a great grassroots response to their struggle, even if the union bureaucracy got off to the mother of all bad starts.
The workers are realistic about their chances. At the appeal ICTS training officer Alec Bradley claimed they were already training 29 new staff to take their place. Further to this is the problem that every industrial dispute like this throws up- management never admit that they were in the wrong. Nevertheless, they will not go quietly and the fightback in this wrongful dismissal dispute is only just beginning.
You can get a copy of Solidarity Bulletin from ASF, PO Box 505, Belfast, BT12 6BQ, N Ireland
This edition is No71 published in July 2002