building alliances against cuts and privatisation of public services

by Gregor Gall

There is an old anarchist saying: ‘No matter who you vote for, the government still gets in’. The result of the 2010 general election puts a new complexion on this old saying for no matter which of the mainstream parties was elected to government, the result would lead to the same outcome in regard of cuts in public services and further privatisation of these.

In the election, three parties only differed on when, where and how much on these two central issues. The elephant in the room of the 2010 election was neo-liberalism. It was never discussed, being the unspoken and unacknowledged baseline upon which all the three parties operated.

Continue reading “building alliances against cuts and privatisation of public services”

british airways staff voting again on strike action

Today came the news that the Unite union has lost its High Court action to try and overturn British Airways’ attacks on staff. Yet after BA’s court injunction stopping a Christmas strike, a new ballot for action continues, as Gregor Gall reports.

Unite, and its cabin crew branch, BASSA, are currently locked in a truly titanic battle with BA. Unite is reballoting for strike action, with the result due on 22nd February.

The litany of what BA has engaged in to break the cabin crew’s will to resist has got longer and longer. Since the New Year, this has included recruiting strike-breakers from existing employees, threatening to end benefits of strikers and encouraging the establishment of a yellow union, the Professional Cabin Crew Council. Continue reading “british airways staff voting again on strike action”

british airways injunction flies in the face of democracy

by Gregor Gall
professor of industrial relations at the University of Hertfordshire

The High Court decision to grant British Airways an injunction against Unite’s 12-day strike, was as Unite said, “a disgraceful day for democracy”. The will of 92.5% on an 80% turnout of 12,000 workers was struck down in a single moment by a solitary judge.

mass meeting of BA staff: their collective decision was trampled on by the courts

Although employer applications for injunctions are well down on the mid- to late 1980s, in 2009, there were 10 other injunctions applied for by employers, with another 14 in the previous three years to this. Continue reading “british airways injunction flies in the face of democracy”

BA strike: on a wing and a prayer?

by Gregor Gall

It seems like the ultimate kamikaze action: mutually assured destruction. The company you work for is already in a huge amount of trouble, posting a £401m loss last year, a lot more this year, running a massive pension deficit and you decide to press the nuclear button by going on strike for 12 days at the busiest time of the year.

If you wanted to engineer the bankruptcy of your employer, put yourself on the dole early in the New Year and without much in the way of a redundancy deal, this seems to be the perfect way to do it. In a monopoly service this would not necessarily matter but we know passengers will choose another airline in order to get to their destination. And they won’t always come back either.

So the decision by 92% of those who voted “yes” for strike action on an 80% turnout is completely crazy, right? Continue reading “BA strike: on a wing and a prayer?”

no postal peace without an all-out strike

by Gregor Gall

Have you noticed your post isn’t arriving as regularly as it usually does? Have you noticed there are many days when you expected to get post but didn’t get a thing?


For a strike involving tens of thousands of workers and affecting millions of householders and businesses, debate about the current postal dispute is worryingly absent from the political arena. Neither Royal Mail nor the government is keen to say anything, whether good, bad or indifferent, about it. There is a wall of almost impenetrable silence. Indeed, the Communication Workers Union (CWU) has accused the government of “going on strike” by refusing to do or say anything. The reason, the CWU alleges, is that the government is still smarting from having lost its battle to partially privatise Royal Mail earlier this year after a union-led rebellion. Continue reading “no postal peace without an all-out strike”

resisting redundancy and recession: appraising the tactic of occupation

by Gregor Gall

In times of recession and restructuring, the occupation or sit-in tactic is potentially a powerful tool when workers are faced with redundancy because it provides leverage that strikes often cannot. Yet, since late 2007 when the global downturn began, we have witnessed very few examples of occupation – certainly far fewer than might have been expected given the depth and extent of recession.


So to date the numerical roll call of occupations has been: Australia (2), Britain (7), Canada (4), Eire (7), France (28) and the US (1). It is worth bearing in mind the relative context of the size of the labour forces of each of these countries. Respectively, these are 11m, 31m, 18m, 2m, 28m, and 153m. Continue reading “resisting redundancy and recession: appraising the tactic of occupation”

engineering construction strikes: days of defiance

by Gregor Gall, professor of industrial relations, University of Hertfordshire

It’s the dispute that just won’t go away. For the third time this year, thousands of engineering construction workers have gone on unofficial strike, fighting for the right to work. This time round the dispute escalated dramatically unlike before, with the mass sacking of some 647 strike workers by the two of contractors working for Total, the Lindsey refinery operator.

On June 11, some 1200 contractors at Lindsey walked out unofficially after a contractor gave notice of redundancies to 51 workers while another contractor on the same site was looking for 60 workers to fill vacancies. This broke the agreement that settled their earlier strike in February this year which compelled vacant work to be made available to those under threat from redundancy. The contractors and Total stated this was not the case. Continue reading “engineering construction strikes: days of defiance”

again on ‘revive flying pickets and spread the actions’

Chris Kane replies to Gregor Gall’s critique of his article in issue 5 of The Commune.

Gregor’s response to my article is a welcome contribution to the debate on how we respond to the recession on the industrial front. I feel however Gregor misses an old point Marx made when developing his own philosophy of revolution – that the ‘philosophers have interpreted the world, in various ways. The point however is to change it’. In that sense my article was not only an assessment of the current situation but an argument of what should be done to change it. Continue reading “again on ‘revive flying pickets and spread the actions’”

still the same old story: two swallows don’t make a summer

Gregor Gall replies to Chris Kane’s piece in issue 5 of The Commune

It’s not uncommon on the left for commentators to herald that a clutch of instances form an observable trend. Desperation, frustration, desire and hope can be dangerous things.

Writing on the Guardian’s website CommentisFree on 26 May 2009, Seumas Milne penned a piece called ‘Return of the strike’ ). Putting two and two together, it’s not hard to argue that he got five despite his caveat on France. The tone of his piece was that ‘something significant is going on’. His evidence (concerning strikes) was the two engineering construction workers’ strike (in Janunary/February and May 2009) and the Visteon occupations (at Belfast and Enfield).

And from the Commune website, Chris Kane in a piece called ‘Revive flying pickets and spread the actions’  of 24 May 2009, and using exactly the same examples argued:

“We have seen the revival of unofficial strikes during the Lindsey oil refinery dispute… We have also seen a whole string of workplace occupations, the most recent being at the Ford Visteon plants in Belfast and London.” Continue reading “still the same old story: two swallows don’t make a summer”

lessons of the oil refinery wildcat strikes

by Professor Gregor Gall, University of Hertfordshire


The engineering construction workers’ strike has been the most significant instance of workers’ resistance to the recession and its effects so far. Its significance is not just to be found in that it was a strike taking place in a recession – when conventional wisdom suggest workers do not strike because of their weakened labour market position. Rather, its significance is to also be found in the militant and successful collective action which took place and the dynamics of this which were driven primarily by the grassroots. It threw up critical issues of workers’ collective leverage, how labour markets operate, xenophobia, neo-liberalism and state regulation of labour.

Origins and Background

Redundancy notices were issued in late 2008 at Lindsey oil refinery for Shaws’ workforce after Shaws lost part of a Total contract at the site. Just before Christmas holiday, Shaws’ shop stewards were informed this work had been contracted to IREM, an Italian non-union company. Stewards explained to members that IREM would employ its own core (non-union) Portuguese and Italian workforce so the redundant workers would not be re-employed on the contract. This precipitated meetings with IREM to press the case for re-employment. Stewards were also told that IREM would pay the national rate for the job but this was met with suspicion.   Continue reading “lessons of the oil refinery wildcat strikes”

‘british jobs for british workers’?

by Gregor Gall

Construction workers’ anger against the employment of foreign labourers has boiled over. The revolt that started on Wednesday this week in Lincolnshire at the Lindsey oil refinery, then spread north to other parts of Humber and Tees, and has now reach Scotland and Wales. Around 3,000 workers have walked out on unofficial strike and they have been joined by several thousand other unemployed construction workers in protests at various construction sites.

This is the first sign of a robust, collective response by workers to the economic downturn, and it is clear that this spreading solidarity and sympathy action has been driven by the membership. In a growing economy, the employment of foreign labour for workers is not necessarily a problem for existing workers, so long as the extra labour is a supplement rather than an alternative and on the same wages and conditions as those of existing workers. Continue reading “‘british jobs for british workers’?”

occupation, occupation, occupation

Workers at Republic Windows and Doors in Chicago won a large pay-off this week after an occupation of the factory where they worked. Gregor Gall argues that in the current economic climate, occupations should play a major role in the fight against mass redundancies.

A recession is well and truly here if you look at the newspapers and see the daily tally of redundancies and closures. Indeed, ITN has begun doing its daily count on its late evening bulletin – just as it did in the grim 1980s.  

Most economic analysts believe the recession will be long and deep, not short and slight. So there is agreement that the number of unemployed will be between 2m-3m by sometime next year unless there is a fight to stop redundancies.

It is not just the redundancies and closures that cause untold misery but the way in which they are carried out in terms of notification and compensation result in further heartache.

Faced with mass redundancies and plant closures, how should workers and unions best respond?

Continue reading “occupation, occupation, occupation”