John L Gibson
I was in Dover on Friday. The RMT organised a protest against the sacking of 800 workers by P&O. I travelled from Thanet with my friends Carly Jeffrey, Candy Gregory and Pauline Farrance. Carly is a Unite member and a campaigner for SONIK (Save Our NHS in Kent). Candy and Pauline are both trade unionists, as well as District Councillors at Thanet District Council and SONIK activists.
We arrived at 11.30am, parked up and walked to the town’s RMT office, Maritime House, where we joined hundreds of trade unionists already gathering for the rally. The sun was shining and, with a clear blue sky, it was a warm spring day.
The first person I interviewed was a local working class woman and trade unionist Michelle Keutenius from Folkestone. The interview with Michelle is contained in the tweet below.
As well as RMT activists there were people from many other unions. One of the first people I recognised was Matt Wrack, leader of the firefighters’ union, the FBU. I introduced myself to Matt and soon realised he was part of a large delegation of FBU people. I filmed a brief interview with Matt and was impressed by his down-to-earth attitude and sense of humour.
I continued interviewing several of those present. Alex Gordon, president of the RMT, was another union leader generous with his time — and informative about the injustice suffered by RMT members at the hands of P&O.
Next I moved on to members of my own union the CWU. I spotted a couple from my own branch, CWU Kent Invicta, the branch for postal workers in Kent, Dave and Shelley Banbury, both officers of the branch, and they introduced me to Ed Ball, Kent Invicta’s political officer. My interview with Ed is included in the above thread on Twitter featuring several of the interviews I made in Dover on Friday.
Also included are some of the speeches from the rally that followed.
Among the unions involved in addition to those I have already mentioned was actors’ union Equity, Unite the union, the prison officers’ union the POA and the massive public-sector union Unison. There were others, but I have to mobilise with the aid of crutches and am slower than able-bodied folk, so I missed some of the speakers and did not see all the banners. It was clear that, for a weekday, and with less than 24 hours’ notice, the protest was well attended. I did not count, but I guess they probably numbered a thousand or so, and certainly in the high hundreds.
The protest started outside Maritime House and moved on to a rally by the entrance to the port. After hearing speeches from many union leaders, those present marched back to the RMT offices then on to the P&O office at the southern end of the town, making sure that the company knew what people thought of the owners’ decision to sack 800 workers without notice and its plan to hire fresh workers on poorer terms and conditions.
The day was only marred by the appearance of right-wing Tory MP for Dover & Deal Natalie Elphicke — notorious for her heartless reaction to refugees crossing the Channel and telling school dinners campaigner Marcus Rashford to concentrate on his football — who, with TV crews in tow, chose to provoke a reaction from those present by pretending that she gave a damn about the workers losing their jobs. Of course, union activists were quick to point out that Elphicke voted just months earlier to allow companies to fire and rehire; the difference being that in P&O’s case, the workers aren’t even being offered their old jobs back. I was busy interviewing Unite member and health service campaigner Carly when Elphicke showed up to bait activists. Some of the incident was captured on the video I was recording and is shared in this tweet:
Elphicke can’t pose as a champion of worker’s rights and not expect to be challenged on it, not after being instrumental in the erosion of worker’s rights just a few months before.
I do hope this brief report gives a flavour of the mood on the day and reflects the fact that P&O workers enjoy support across the trade union movement. It’s not just a case of isolated workers fighting back but reflects the anger of workers in many industries, sick of being exploited by unscrupulous employers and greedy capitalists creating a cost-of-living crisis that would better be described as a cost-of-greed crisis.
John Gibson is from Yorkshire. He lived in London, where he was workplace representative of NALGO then UNISON. In 2005 he moved to Margate, became a postman and joined the CWU. Having been in the Labour Party during the Corbyn years, Gibson is now in both Socialist Appeal and Socialist Labour Network (SLN).
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