Northern Ireland: Sacked airport workers accuse Unite leadership of issuing “black propaganda and disinformation” to try to discredit them.

Gordon McNeill remains on hunger strike at Transport House – His protest enters the 14th day.

"The Unite leadership’s attempt to blacken my name and then to silence me through injunctions and threats of fines and imprisonment will not succeed." Gordon McNeill.

Sacked airport shop steward, Gordon McNeill, is now entering the 14th day of his hunger strike at Transport House in Belfast. Gordon and his fellow shop stewards, Madan Gupta and Chris Bowyer, are demanding that the union compensate them for the hardship caused when the union leadership conspired with their employer, ICTS, to get them sacked.

The shop stewards are also insisting that any offer of compensation must be without strings. In particular they are not prepared to sign up to the gagging clauses sought by the union.

The Unite leadership have responded, on the one hand, with a court injunction and the threat of fines and imprisonment, and on the other with a campaign of deliberate misinformation to try to discredit the protestors.

A statement from Unite, with comments from General Secretary, Tony Woodley and Irish Regional Secretary, Jimmy Kelly (issued on 28/5/08) claims that the reason that Gordon McNeill is on hunger strike is because he is demanding a million pounds compensation. This is completely untrue and the Unite leadership are fully aware that it is not true.

The shop stewards are not asking for a million pounds, as Tony Woodley and Jimmy Kelly both know. They are seeking a reasonable level of compensation that takes account the hardship the actions of senior union officials have put them through. And they are insistent that any offer must be without strings

Gordon McNeill today commented:

"I am disgusted that the Unite leadership have once again resorted to black propaganda and misinformation in order to discredit myself and my colleagues. As an ordinary union activist who has been blacklisted and out of work for six years because of the actions of my union leadership, I am outraged that these very well paid union officials should try to blacken my name by portraying my protest as "an unprincipled money grab"

"Tony Woodley and Jimmy Kelly well know that the million pound slur sank long ago and their attempt to re-float it just won’t work. The union said they would compensate us and they should.

"But the compensation must be without strings. Unite want us to sign up to a deal that would prevent us from ever speaking out about the dispute. I want compensation but I also want other trade union members to know the full facts about what happened to us.

"Tony Woodley and Jimmy Kelly must realise that they cannot buy my silence and must remove the gagging clause from any future offer. If they refuse to do so the question that every Unite member, and trade unionists in general must ask is, "what are they trying to hide?"

The Unite statement goes on to attack the role of the Socialist Party. Jimmy Kelly says "the Socialist Party has apparently abandoned all its principles in order to support this circus and is now taking the view that disgruntled union members have a right to demand seven figure sums in compensation from their union and to go on hunger strike when they do not get it. This has nothing to do with socialism as I understand it."

Gordon McNeill, who is a member of the Socialist Party, today responded:

"As a member of the Socialist Party I am proud of the role played by my party colleagues who have stood by us from the very beginning of this struggle. It is Jimmy Kelly who has abandoned all basic trade union, never mind, socialist principles in justifying the way we have been betrayed and mistreated by our union leaders."

Socialist Party Northern Ireland Regional Secretary, Peter Hadden, commented:

"For Jimmy Kelly to try to dismissively describe shop stewards who have struggled for six years for justice from their employer and their union as "disgruntled union members" is insulting in the extreme.

"These workers performed a service for the entire trade union movement when, despite being refused assistance from their union, they took their employers to court and won a landmark ruling that they were sacked because of their trade union and socialist opinions. They deserve apologies, not insults, from a trade union bureaucracy that turned its back on them.

"Two of the shop stewards are members of the Socialist Party. Because we are concerned, first and foremost, about their health we have tried to persuade them not to go on hunger strike.

"However we fully understand why they feel that the actions of the union have left them with no alternative. Now that Gordon McNeill is on hunger strike we will stand behind him all the way and will continue to do everything in our power to expose the mistreatment he and his colleagues have received at the hands of senior Unite officials.

"As Jimmy Kelly knows this is not about seven figure sums. This is about justice. Jimmy Kelly’s response has been to go to the courts to get an injunction banning the shop stewards from protesting "in or at" Transport House.

"The question I have for Jimmy Kelly is – what does attempting to buy someone’s silence in order to suppress the facts of an injustice or using the courts and the police to deny workers the right to legitimate peaceful protest have to do with socialism?"

For more information contact: Gordon McNeill – 07934632366, Chris Bowyer – 07764850945, Madan Gupta – 07810290938

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May 2008