Shelly Asquith’s TU-esday round-up: Turning the tide on casualisation

Shelly Asquith

Spotlight on Cammell Laird

In my last column, I mentioned the ballot result from the workers at Cammell Laird in Birkenhead. The battle is now on to save 291 livelihoods at the shipyard, representing 40% of the total workforce.

Unite and the GMB, the two unions representing the workers, have launched a joint campaign: ‘turning the tide on casualisation’. There is fear that the long game for the bosses is to replace a permanent workforce with casual, agency labour.

The skilled workers, who build and maintain ships, are fighting off the threat of job losses scheduled for March 2019. Cammell Laird boasts 190 years in operation and has recently won significant new contracts. The announcement of job cuts by Cammell Laird came days after it landed a £619m deal to maintain Royal Navy ships.

The strike operation itself is sophisticated. On Friday at 3pm, hundreds walked out together as the overtime ban – which stretches for ten weeks until February 2019 – started. Fitters and welders at the plant began their strike yesterday at 7am, followed by plumbers today, with riggers tomorrow, cleaners and machinists on Thursday and electricians and quality control workers on Friday. These staggered strikes mean that every day for the next three weeks, an integral function of the shipyard will cease operation.

The solidarity and support from local Labour Party members has been exemplary. It was particularly moving to watch the enormous support from local activists and Labour members as the workers walked out for the first time on Friday. Delegates to Labour’s North West Regional conference raised £250 towards the fighting fund, and Unite members at BAE donated £3,000. The latter sends a significant message of worker solidarity to the two employers, since it is BAE that has a teaming agreement to build the aforementioned Royal Navy ships with Cammell Laird.

The workers have received support from many Labour MPs, with Justin Madders and Dan Carden raising the issue in the chamber and visiting the picket line. As for the local MP for Birkenhead, Frank Field – he is nowhere to be seen. Long thought to have been in cahoots with Cammell Laird management in opposition to workers taking action at the site, Field has come under fire from local supporters for ‘regurgitating’ the company line.

This strike comes as Appledore shipyard in Devon recently announced closure, risking 200 jobs. If Cammell Laird jobs go too, it will be yet another huge blow for an industry that has long been one of the UK’s industrial strengths.

As Unite regional officer Ross Quinn said, “bosses should be in no doubt of the determination of the workforce”. Every inch of public support boosts the strike, and Cammell Laird workers need the power of the movement behind them. If you can, please:

Visit the picket
Picket lines are active from 7am until 5pm every day.

Donate to the strike
Workers are calling for donations to their fighting fund – give what you can.

Add your name
to the 4,700-strong petition calling for no compulsory redundancies.

Spread the word
Workers were previously threatened with disciplinary action for mentioning the job cuts plan on social media. Help push back by tweeting using #TurningTheTideOnCasualisation and sharing stories, photos and videos from the strike.

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