The good news is that Gordon McNeill is out of hospital and back into the fray. This marks the latest development in the saga of the sacked airport workers, a slow-burning dispute that’s sparked into life a few times recently.
The background, very briefly, is this. Way back in 2002 twenty-three workers at Belfast International Airport were sacked for taking part in strike action. They filed a claim with the Industrial Tribunal for unfair dismissal against the employer, ICTS, and further alleged discrimination against four shop stewards on account of their socialist political beliefs. Last year, they won their case and were awarded substantial damages.
The ongoing dispute relates to the workers’ beef with their union, most having belonged to the ATGWU (now part of UNITE). There’s a lot of bad blood dating back to the union’s repudiation of the original strike, and it’s been stoked up further by the union’s performance since. The main thrust of the current dispute is the workers’ demand for the union to pay their legal costs, as well as a promise by Tony Woodley that they would be compensated for mismanagement of the dispute. Hence the barracking of UNITE regional secretary Jimmy Kelly at the Belfast May Day parade, and hence the hunger strike by shop stewards Gordon McNeill, Madan Gupta and Chris Bowyer, which is aimed at scandalising the union into moving in the workers’ direction.
It’s a dispiriting story all around. Mismanagement of an industrial dispute by the bureaucracy is, of course, nothing new. What’s even more depressing is Mick O’Reilly and Jimmy Kelly, two of Ireland’s most prominent trade union leftists, behaving in no way differently from the bureaucracy as a whole. (Not to mention Jimmy’s erstwhile comrades, who have somehow managed to avoid any public criticism of the UNITE leadership.) And so the struggle goes on.
Anyway, this is a good cause well worth supporting, and readers should feel free to pass on the word. You can get regular updates at the airport workers’ dedicated blog, and it’s also worth paying a visit to the Socialist Party, whose work around the issue has been exemplary. This in-depth article by the SP’s Peter Hadden gives further details.