•  HOME 
  •  BOOKS 
  •  WWP 
  •  DONATE 
  • Loading

Follow workers.org on
Twitter Facebook iGoogle

Mass firing sparks Heathrow walkouts

Published Aug 16, 2005 9:56 PM

The workers at Gate Gourmet, serving British Airways at Heathrow airport in England, were faced with a sharp contract dispute: their employer wanted to cut wages by 25 percent, lay off many full-time workers, replace them with temporary hires, pay straight time for overtime hours and so on.

Heathrow strikers.

Gate Gourmet is a private company based in Switzerland but owned by an American billionaire through a venture capital firm, Texas Pacific. It has 22,000 employees, operates in 29 countries and make 535,000 meals a day for some of the world's largest airlines.

GG workers at Heathrow gathered in the cafeteria for a lunchtime union meeting Aug. 10, but before they finished management got on a loudspeaker and told the 600 in the room, mainly Indian women, that they had been fired for "illegal industrial action." Later the cops showed up and the workers were escorted off the premises.

The management even sent terminations on the same grounds to workers out sick or on vacation. It had already trained scabs, and appeared to be itching to use them.

But the workers beat them to the punch. The ground workers at British Airways walked out in solidarity with their fellow workers at GG the next day.

Both the GG workers and the BA ground crews are represented by the same union--the Transport and General Workers´ Union, called T&G. But since the walkout was completely illegal under British law, the T&G didn't call for the strike.

Some of the employees had worked for British Airways in the 1990s, before GG came on the scene, when BA was doing its own catering. Many of the Indian women had husbands, brothers, cousins, friends and neighbors who worked on the ground crews.

Tara Shah, one of the fired workers, said the company appeared to have miscalculated the opposition. "We are very strong and we are angry. This gives me hope." (India Times)

Another fired employee, Sabajit Sidhu, a mother of two, said the bosses underestimated the resilience of the workers and the ties that unite airport workers of all races, ages, religions and sexes.

"I work for Gate Gourmet but some of my relatives are baggage handlers,"
she said. "I am very proud of the fight we are showing. They treated us

The ground workers were back after a day, but their absence had had a huge effect on BA's operations: 110,000 passengers didn't fly, 10,000 pieces of luggage were lost in the system, and 100 planes and 1,000 staff members wound up all over the globe in unscheduled places.

After four days, stranded passengers were still waiting to get out of London.

The Washington Post estimates that the out-of-pocket cost to BA is around $73 million; the damage to its reputation is incalculable.

The Teamsters and UNITE HERE, who represent 6,000 GG workers in the United States, said in a press release on Aug. 12: "The International Brotherhood of Teamsters and UNITE HERE Union members stand in solidarity with the more than 800 Transport & General Workers (T&G) Union members fired by Gate Gourmet at London Heathrow International Airport. Teamsters and UNITE HERE represent over 6,000 workers at Gate Gourmet in the U.S. Teamsters and UNITE HERE union members will send delegations to Gate Gourmet's U.S. management throughout the country demanding the London workers be rehired immediately."

Whether the courageous workers at GG/Heathrow win a decent contract, their struggle and the solidarity it has gathered have gained worldwide attention.