Tuesday, 8 July 2014

Striking UNITE glass workers enjoy public support

All photographs copyright Mark Harvey of ID8

A Unite workplace rep for Tyneside factory workers who are on strike has witnessed a noticeably more positive attitude from the public compared to four years ago when similar action was organised. 

At the end of June 2014, over 100 Unite members at Tyneside Safety Glass on the massive Team Valley Trading Estate, Gateshead that nestles under the shadow of the Angel of the North statue began a second round of industrial action this summer. The dispute started over pay and conditions but there are also concerns that one striker has now been unfairly victimised after he was dismissed. 

Formed in 1937, Tyneside Safety Glass manufacture 
toughened, laminated, bullet resistant and heated glass for the automotive, security and defence sectors, rail, motorsport and architectural industries worldwide.  Although many of the workers are loyal, long-serving employees they have been left increasingly frustrated by pay awards that have failed to keep pace with inflation. This has left HGV drivers earning just £7.18 an hour with packers earning even less. Few shop floor workers earn above £10 an hour. 


In the company brochure it states; ‘We have built a truly world class knowledgeable skilled workforce who are all trained to the highest manufacturing standards and are totally dedicated to continuous improvement.’ Warm words but it does not put food on the table.  As a result many workers are forced to work weekends in a second job. Yet the highest-paid director awarded himself an extra 14% last year, whilst £750,000 was moved from the company’s account to the owners trust fund. In the year up to April 30 2013 Tyneside Safety Glass grossed £609,899 in profits. 

Bob Bolam (far left) and Neil Davison (back row with Unite flag) alongside
four  employees with in excess of 100 years service at Tyneside Safety Glass
(l-r)  John Dixson (26 years),  Peter Davidson (24 years),
Michael Herring (38 years) and Ken Scott (30 years) 

There was therefore real anger amongst Unite members when the company initially sought to retain the current pay rates. Management then returned with an offer of 3% this year and 2% in the two subsequent years, all self-financing with workers expected to work longer shifts. 

A ballot overwhelmingly endorsed strike action and after removing their labour for a week in early June, staff then walked out on 30 June for three weeks. It is a brave move but one that appears to have the support of many workers in nearby workshops and offices. “Four years ago when we took strike action over pay there was quite a bit of abuse towards pickets by people. Not this time. I believe many people are now experiencing what we are being expected to endure, a massive reduction in our living standards. I think they would like to see us win as that might help them to argue for an increase in pay,” said Unite rep Neil Davison, who believes the training he obtained on a Unite education reps course about how to get organised when on strike has been invaluable during this latest workplace conflict. 

Some of the pickets on one of the two Tyneside Safety Glass sites in

Getting organised

There has been daily picketing at both company sites, located around half a mile apart.  No Unite member has crossed the picket line. There has meanwhile been no attempt to prevent agency staff that work for Tyneside Safety Glass from going to work. “We sympathise with agency workers, some of whom have been here for three years plus. They should be made permanently employed. Unite is exploring the possibility throughout is legal team that the company supplying workers during the dispute are breaking regulations on agency workers and has written to the Employment Agency Standards Inspectorate to complain but we are not blaming the workers themselves’, explained Neil, who works as a screen print supervisor. 

Strikers have been happy to accept invitations to speak to other workers about their strike. Funds have been donated including £250 from the Hartlepool construction branch of Unite. The union is paying strike pay and has assembled a contingency fund to support the ongoing action by what are, in many cases, long-serving members.

Unite regional officer Bob Bolam said: “We have a very committed group of members. We aim to get an agreed settlement, which is good for them and for the company, but the current offer is not good enough as it does not address the cost of living crisis they face, it is self-financing and the proposed deal has more strings in it than a Stradivarius.  violin.” 

For more information or to invite a speaker contact Bob Bolam on 07768 693948 or Neil Davison on 07540 460895 or Mark Robertson on 07761 421607. Donations to be sent to Tyneside Social Fund, UNITE Regional Office, 55 Call Lane, Leeds LS1 7BW 

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