Swansea Rally in Support of Rob Williams

13th May 2009

Report by Geoff Jones

In Swansea's biggest Trade Union meeting for years, over 200 trade unionists crowded into the Dolphin Hotel on Wednesday.

Sacked Visteon workers had journeyed from Basildon and Enfield as had workers from Fords, Honda and other workplaces to support Rob Williams the illegally sacked UNITE Convenor at Swansea's Linamar factory. Trade Unionists not just from UNITE but also from other unions including the GMB, RMT, UNISON, PCS, NUJ showed their recognition that the sacking of Rob, if unchallenged, would signal the start of an open offensive on trade union activists across the whole of British industry.

The facts of the case are simple. On April 28 Rob was called into the management office at no notice and summarily sacked without any reason. When Rob's workmates resisted attempts to remove Rob from the premises, the sacking was suspended for a week.

But in discussion with Tony Woodley (UNITE General Secretary) Linamar's management refused to rescind the sacking. When it was pointed out that the sacking was illegal, the reply was "This has been costed". The conclusion is simple. Linamar, an anti-trade union firm, wants to cut the pay and conditions of workers at the Swansea factory. They have calculated that any fines and compensation they might be forced to pay would be cheap at the price of increasing the exploitation of their workers. Already management have announced that they are reneging on agreements made when they took the plant over last July and are looking to break contracts and pensions entitlements.

Frank Jepson from the Basildon Visteon factory showed the link between Rob's sacking and the closure of Visteon plants. By going into receivership Visteon hoped to avoid paying redundancy pay and paying pension entitlements. The sit-in by the workers, with which Rob had been involved had forced management back. Although the factories were not reopened, workers would receive their full entitlements -- a victory for militant action.

Other speakers gave examples from their own industries of the gathering offensive, an offensive not seriously recognised by the leaderships of most Trade Unions and passively supported by the New Labour government. The overwhelming feeling was that Trade Unions which bankrolled New Labour should demand action, or hold on to their cash.

Much bigger companies will be looking at the union's response to Linamar's action as they look to protect their profits by trying to slash wages and pensions and make the workers pay for their crisis.

In replying to the discussion and thanking the meeting for its support, Rob drew the parallel between his situation and that of his grandfather blacklisted from the mines 70 years ago for union activity. Workers have to fight back. Thanks to Tory laws, supported by new Labour, many of the steps we may have to take in this struggle may well be illegal. But trade union rights have always had to be won via "illegal" action. If we have to break the law to safeguard our living standards and those of our families, then so be it.

A hardship fund has been set up in anticipation of a hard struggle. The next stage in the campaign is the ballot of Linamar workers for strike action in support of Rob. There will be a protest outside the factory gates on Sunday 17th We will be meeting in Elba Crescent off Fabian Way at 12noon.

For further updates, see Socialist Party Wales or watch this site.

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