'Enough is enough'
Heathrow strike gains momentum as Unite stages car rally
Reading time: 6 min
The strike by Unite members at Heathrow Airport continues to gain momentum on their second day of strike action today (December 14) against the imposition of permanent pay cuts which will see their wages slashed by 25 per cent.
Unite staged a car rally event at Bedfont Football Club to coincide with the second of several 24-hour stoppages, which drew a groundswell of support. Unite Heathrow reps and activists spoke at the rally, alongside local Heathrow-area Labour MPs including John McDonnell, James Murray and Seema Malhotra, among others.
The speakers praised the tenacity of the striking workers, including firefighters, engineers, campus security, baggage operations, central terminal operations and landside and airside operations, in their fight to save their livelihoods.
They’re taking a stand against Heathrow Airport Limited’s (HAL) decision to fire and rehire its 4,000 employees on vastly inferior contracts, with workers facing permanent pay cuts up to £8000 a year.
Addressing the striking workers, Labour MP Seema Malhotra (pictured below) said, “This is about fairness, this is about social justice. And that’s why we have stood with you – because the rights that you fight for are the rights for you, and for your families, but they also are the rights of the next generation of workers.”
Unite chair for Heathrow fire services Don O’Brien (pictured below), who is also part of the negotiating committee, slammed Heathrow bosses’ intransigence, after the union had brought various proposals to the negotiating table which were all rejected out of hand.
“We were just met with brick walls,” he said. “So we were forced to take this strike action, with a heavy heart.”
Don told the rally of the various messages of solidarity that they’ve received, not just at home but internationally as well.
“It really does strengthen our resolve to see such solidarity from as far away as Uganda,” he added.
Labour MP and former shadow chancellor John McDonnell (pictured below) likewise highlighted HAL’s exploitative tactics – and its real mission to use the pandemic as a smokescreen for its sinister plans.
“When the pandemic happened, Heathrow Airport Limited (HAL) saw it disgracefully as an opportunity to fulfil the strategy they had for years of cutting wages, undermining terms of employment and reducing job numbers,” McDonnell noted. “They saw this [crisis] and they just didn’t want it to go to waste.
“No matter how long it lasts or how tough it’s been, we know this pandemic is temporary and we will get through it – and aviation will come back,” he added. “But what they’re trying to do is use a temporary problem that we have to inflict permanent cuts in wages and undermine terms of employment. That’s exploitation.”
Unite London and Eastern regional committee chair Jim Kelly (pictured below) highlighted the gaping disparity between the fortunes of Heathrow bosses and shareholders and the workers who are being expected to bear the burden of the current crisis.
“The CEO of HAL earns £4.2m a year,” he pointed out. “He gave himself a 100 per cent pay rise in 2018 and now they’re saying our members need to take a 25 per cent cut in their wages. It’s not on.
“It’s great to see Unite fighting back against these draconian attacks on terms and conditions,” Jim added.
Speaking to UniteLIVE after the rally, Heathrow engineer Gary said this was his first time ever taking part in a strike.
“It’s not something I ever imagined myself doing, especially for such a big company like Heathrow Airport Limited but I just felt that enough is enough – they’ve treated us really badly.
“What’s the company going to do in a few years’ time when passenger numbers are back up to capacity?” he added. “Their income will go up but our wages will remain low. This doesn’t have to be permanent cut.”
Gary said he was especially heartened by the messages of solidarity and support which have poured in from around the globe – UniteLIVE highlighted some of these messages last week.
“It made me feel really good that there are so many workers from countries all over the world supporting us,” he said. “Hopefully people around the world will see what we’re doing here and take inspiration from our fight to stand up for their rights and livelihoods too.”
The Heathrow strikes will continue this week, with a further two 24-hour stoppages on Thursday (December 17) and Friday (December 18), just as the airport becomes busier in the lead up to pre-Christmas travel.
Unite has warned that despite Heathrow airport continuing to operate during the strikes, management has failed to provide details of its contingency plans and questions remain about safety.
Unite regional co-ordinating officer Wayne King said workers will be ramping up strike action this week after HAL “has refused to withdraw its decision to brutally fire and rehire its loyal staff”.
“The airports success was built on its workforce, who have continued to ensure it operates throughout the pandemic, on occasion risking their health.
“HAL has repaid them by conducting the most brutal fire and rehire operation ever seen in the UK.
“HAL would rather pay millions on arranging for contingencies during the strike then agree a fair deal for its loyal workforce,” he added. “HAL is using Covid as cover to force through long-held plans to cuts workers’ pay. This is about greed not need. If this was related to the pandemic, HAL would be looking for temporary pay cuts.”
If you missed our Facebook Live coverage of the Heathrow car rally today, you can re-watch it here.
By UniteLIVE team
Pics by Mark Thomas