The South African Federation of Trade Unions (SAFTU) declares its solidarity with workers in Belfast, Northern Ireland, who have been occupying the Harland and Wolff shipyard since Monday, demanding action to save their 130 jobs.
The Belfast yard, famous for building the Titanic in the early 20th century, has been facing bankruptcy for the past few years, leading to its sale and closure and the loss of all the jobs. There has been a long-term decline in jobs, from 35,000 workers to just 130 workers.
At a demonstration on Wednesday when Britain’s new Prime Minister Boris Johnson visited the Northern Ireland Assembly building, they handed in a letter to the PM urging him to renationalise crisis-hit shipyard.
Joe Passmore of the Unite union said workers had decided to come to see Johnson after he had declined an invite to visit the shipyard on Wednesday morning. “What we are asking Boris is to nationalise our yard”.
“We want him to help us keep this place open long enough so that eventually the orders can start flowing and we can stand on our own two feet.” He said workers took control of the yard after attempts to find an agreement with management failed. “We’ve pleaded with politicians from all parties to come down and support us to either get us money or renationalise us”.
“They just seem unable to help us. They hide behind civil servants… and just seem to be sitting on their hands. We had to go back to tell our workforce there’s no future and we’re closing on Wednesday night and we’re all unemployed. They were furious, so we decided to take matters into our own hands.”
Administrators were due to act on Wednesday, but that has been postponed until next Monday. At least one vulture fund is standing in the wings ready to asset strip the company.
Paul, a GMB union member who has worked at Harland and Wolff since 1981, told the Irish socialist website Rebel News <http://www.rebelnews.ie/2019/07/30/harland-wolff-workers-occupy/> why action had to be taken. “The company was put on sale on 23 December. Since then some politicians have been lobbying and senior managers have been negotiating. We have been waiting and waiting, bearing no fruit. Time is critical; we had to take action otherwise we’d lose our jobs.”
He said this was a fight that everyone should get behind. “There are highly skilled jobs at risk here. We need urgent action to save them. No matter what side of the community you come from, we are all bearing the brunt of decades of austerity and failure by politicians.
“And these workers are no different. Everyone should get behind these workers. An injury to one is an injury to all. People power and class solidarity is the only way.”
Selling state-owned companies is not only a problem in the UK. Here in South Africa we are experiencing the same, with energy supply company “Eskom”. The ANC government is pushing ahead with its privatisation that will result in job-shedding.
As a fighting federation we are not going to fold our arms, but take this war to the streets and demand the ending of privatisation and the saving of jobs, both here and in the UK.
We are calling on all trade unions and civil society organisation to unite and fight for Harland and Wolff to be in public ownership under workers’ control and management in order to save jobs and important skills. This must be a stepping stone in combating austerity policies that seek to suffocate workers in UK and the world..
The crisis in world economy is continuing to create extreme hardship for the majority of workers, who are being forced to suffer austerity policies that shift resources away from social needs, into the hands of the private capitalist elite.
The only force that can save these jobs and skills is the working class of United Kingdom and Ireland. Boris Johnson is nothing but a junior Donald Triumph, representing an extreme right-wing agenda and the interests of the rich who also want to privatise the UK’s National Health Service.
SAFTU is calling on our affiliates in the seaports and harbours to organise lunch-time pickets in solidarity with Harland and Wolff workers and also pickets outside the British embassy.
“Workers of The World Unite!”