Saturday, December 20, 2003

Respect for the law

Britain's longest strike ended this week. The workers at a factory in Caernarvon, Friction Dynamics UK, that makes brakes, clutches and other vehicle parts, went on a one-week strike in April, 2001 over changes to their shifts introduced at a time when their wages had been static for 4 years and were going to be cut by 15%. Although the workers agreed to call in ACAS mediation, the management failed to turn up. After 8 weeks the management sacked all 86 strikers - this was legal under the Employment Act once a strike reaches 8 weeks. They were replaced by people recruited from Jobcentres (apparently the Employment Service saw nothing wrong in acting as a strikebreaker agency), and went to an industrial tribunal claiming unfair dismissal. For a start, it took a year for the case to come up, but that wasn't all. In the meantime one of the scabs was seriously hurt working with a machine missing a guard - he lost all the fingers on one hand, and was not compensated because Dynamics had somehow omitted to tell their public-liability insurers that 86 out of 103 workers had been sacked and replaced.

And that was it. The TGWU dug in for a long struggle and they kept picketing, lobbying, demoing and the rest of the armoury of protest. Finally, in August this year, the courts ruled that they had all been unfairly dismissed. But no compensation ever appeared - the American owner, Craig Smith (here's a link to some interesting information on this character) put the firm into administration, then got a new firm called Dynamex Friction which he owned to buy its assets, appointing the former manager of the plant as chief executive.

Why is it that conservatives are obsessed with "respect for the law" when the people they idolise most have all the respect for the law of goats? Smith may or may not have broken the law with his latest trick - the lawyers will decide that - but he has demonstrated utter contempt for it. The picket, by the way, is coming to an end now because the struggle will go on in the courts.

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