GMB union political officer Neil Smith

In the last two years our political work has paid dividends in this region with successful campaigns to, save jobs and stop closures such as Bombardier, ABC council and Harland Wolff in Northern Ireland and Cammell Laird on Merseyside to name just a few.

1 July 2020

It is now around 100 days since lockdown and the health and safety along with the lives of our members and the public has been the major battle for us. The aftermath in economic terms now needs to be brought into focus as we face a major new challenge. Redundancies.

In tackling the threat of cut backs by employers and government, we need to use all options to try and avoid redundancies at every opportunity.

We have our industrial muscle, calling on workplace organisation and solidarity to stand our ground. The legal threat if the employer attempts to ignore employment laws on consultation and selection processes. And the political influence we have in our nations and regions. Politicians in our parliaments, assemblies and at local authority level need to be ready to respond to our demand for support.

The development of political influence is an important part of any fight against job cuts.

We need to be confident that when we call for support then elected representatives are right beside us, on picket lines and in debating chambers. The arguments about losing jobs and the impact on families and the local economy need to be made well in advance of threatened closures for example. We need to engage and build support of a political base, an idea that maybe easier in some areas than others, but all politicians need to show their backing to save constituents’ jobs or face the wrath of the voters at the ballot box.

In the last two years our political work has paid dividends in this region with successful campaigns to, save jobs and stop closures such as Bombardier, ABC council and Harland Wolff in Northern Ireland and Cammell Laird on Merseyside to name just a few.

The shipyard campaigns were similar with skilled jobs and the community at risk. In August 2019 in Birkenhead, Cammell Laird were demanding 291 job redundancies despite our knowledge that orders were in the pipeline. It was nothing short of a cost cutting exercise and a casualisation of most of the workforce, using cheaper labour. Our campaign moved quickly to develop local support with the union officers meeting with Local Labour constituency parties and with local authority leaders including Phil Davies, Steve Rotheram and Joe Anderson. By this time the members were heading for the picket lines and after nine days of strike action Joe Anderson and his colleagues persuaded the company directors to put together a task force to explore every route to finding a solution.

The swift action of the joint unions with GMB Officer Albie McGuigan to the fore, led to an outcome of no compulsory redundancies and a fully restored workforce doing what they should have been doing all along, making ships.

Denise Walker our senior officer in Ireland led a similar approach of joint union action in the form of a walkout and engagement with politicians across Belfast delivering continuity of shipbuilding at Harland & Wollf. This was a particularly difficult time because of the absence of the local assembly at Stormont. However every effort was made to get the local politicians involved and leading Labour Party MPs like Shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Tony Lloyd and deputy leader John McDonald MP were invited into support the successful campaign. Belfast City Council were engaged with all party involvement in setting up a task force with the unions and local DUP MP Gavin Robinson. While the NI Labour Party held a public meeting on the issue to raise the community awareness. Drawing on our Political influence in NI also paid dividends in the fight to retain leisure services under local authority control in Armagh, Bambridge and Craigavon and more recently Nicola Mallon SDLP who is Minister for Infrastructure has worked with our reps and officers around Translink services. Political support backs our industrial campaigns and we need to put it to use as part of our armoury as we face up to imminent redundancy threats.

Each region should be building capacity for cross party support wherever possible, reaching out to our politicians, to educate them on why every job counts. Political officers, regional secretaries, national officers and reps all need to have some political clout behind them before entering into consultation on possible job cuts or closures.

Standard letters templated and ready to go out to politicians seeking their support should be created in advance. Site, office and factory visits to their local employment sources should be encouraged. From our point of view we also need a clear understanding on who among local employers will work with us, not just impose cuts without seeking alternatives to job losses. A list of good and bad employers will help us identify where more effort is required.

Political support behind any dispute is always to be welcomed, adding to media coverage to help pile pressure on intransigent employers. Photo opportunities are also required and an MP or Mayor on a picket line is good copy for newspapers or online sites. Every option should be used in the fight for jobs and there is no time like now.

Neil Smith

Regional Political Officer

GMB Trade Union