By Stan Crooke
Pickets were out in force at Marshalls Aerospace in Cambridge last Tuesday 15 March as fitters — members of Amicus — staged a 24-hour strike in a dispute over regrading.
A gap of £7,000 a year separates fitters in the factory from the grade above them. Negotiations about regrading have been dragging on for four years. In early 2003 management promised that a deal would be done by July of that year.
But July came and went with no deal in sight. This lack of progress had much to do with the cosy relationship which Marshalls management enjoyed with certain union officials at the time.
When the then convenor retired last year, for example, Marshalls promptly appointed him head of a recruitment agency which it owns. The agency recruits sub-contract labour, mainly Filipinos, to work at Marshalls. The ex-convenor’s new salary as a glorified in-house gangmaster was substantially more than that paid by Marshalls to the members whom he had been supposed to be representing.
In a ballot held last month, 96% of Amicus members backed strike action. (Out of 180 fitters, two were non-union, and 10 were TGWU members. The TGWU did not ballot its members, on the grounds that it would have been “too expensive” to ballot such a small number of workers.)
On the eve of the strike management told the press that two last-minute offers had been made to Amicus, and that they were waiting for a response from the union.
In fact, the “last-minute” offers had been made — and rejected — a fortnight earlier.
Support for last Tuesday’s strike — the first strike at Marshalls in 24 years — was solid amongst the Amicus fitters. Around 150 of the strikers took part in the picketing in the course of the day.
Other local trade unionists and the local Trades Council also turned up to the picket line to demonstrate support for the strikers.
If no agreement is reached this week, further strike action is planned for 22–23 March, and 30–31 March. Given the solid support for last Tuesday’s strike, Marshalls would be better off throwing in the towel now. And a victory for the fitters would put other sections of the workforce in a stronger position to demand better rates of pay as well.