P&O: Reinstate Sacked Workers, Stop Hiring on Slave Wages

Scottish Socialist Party activists yesterday joined workers from RMT and Nautilus International in demanding that P&O reinstate sacked workers – and that the practice of recruiting workers on extreme poverty wages comes to an end.

On 17 March, P&O sacked 800 workers by video call – and replaced them that day with agency workers on a fraction of the minimum wage. Clyde Marine Recruitment, of Govan, is involved in hiring agency workers to replace staff who have lost their jobs. Many of the workers who have been brought in are paid as little as £1.80 per hour – extreme poverty pay.

The RMT union and other trade unions have vowed to picket and boycott P&O’s wider supply chain in demanding that P&O reinstate sacked workers. A massive, colourful, vibrant range of trade unionists and socialists confronted Clyde Marine Recruitment with demands to stop hiring on slave wages to replace P&O crews – and declared, “we will be back until you do!”

Last week, P&O’s Peter Hebblethwaite, CEO, confessed to MPs that the company broke the law in failing to consult unions before dismissing workers. Trade unions and the Scottish Socialist Party have been clear that failing to fully reinstate sacked workers presents a grave threat to workers’ rights in the UK.

Richie Venton, speaking as a member of the Scottish Workers Solidarity Network, was invited to address the crowd and said:

“I want to bring support from the Scottish Workers Solidarity Network, a multi-union, multi-party formation arising from my sacking for standing up for workers’ rights during COVID.

“One-hundred and fifty years ago the shipbuilding magnates – people like William Pearce, Fairfield, and others – chose the wonders of Govan to establish a major shipyard, in some cases to move from London to do so.

“Why? Not just because of the quality of the waterways, but also because they saw it as a potential source of cheap labour from places like Ireland and the Highlands – and also a potential area of divide-and-rule tricks by the employers, where they can divide them along national and sectarian lines to drive down wages to rock-bottom.

“And for a period, they succeeded. But over a period, socialists and trade unionists in this area, Govan, fought back, organised, and began to build a trade union movement worthy of the name – that fought for workers’ rights, and against poverty pay.

“Now come forward one-hundred and fifty years, and we have the capitalist thuggery of P&O sacking people, without notice, on the spot, by video. And in amongst their razer gang are people like Clyde Marine – acting as the thugs’ sidekicks, hiring people on as low as £1.80-an-hour.

“They have the cheek to boast and defend their actions by saying that the average wage of those people who have replaced the crews is £5.50-an-hour. Big deal! That’s virtually half the national minimum wage in this country – which is far too low in the first place.

“And this is part of a drive to lessen wages in furtherance of even more profits. That’s why the workers in the Universities are fighting against a 25% pay cut over the last decade. That’s why the P&O workers are fighting to save their jobs and not be replaced by cheap, scab slave labour.

“That’s why the women in Glasgow City Council have fought courageously, with twelve-thousand of them on the brink of strike action to demand equal pay after decades of being robbed of their wages.

“It’s all part of the same story: robbing the working class to enrich the profit-ridden class of capitalist exploiters. But let me be clear: they’re not going to succeed.

“Yes, we will be back here and drive this crowd out of business, when it claims to be the foremost recruitment agency for maritime services in Europe. That’s their boast! Well, they’ll be the foremost notorious scab employers when we’re finished with them!

“And, yes, we need to learn lessons from the bosses as others have said. Pleading, and politeness, will not win the workers’ jobs back. We have to be prepared, if necessary, to defy the anti-union laws. To defy them, and blockade the ports by refusing to handle things, like the Dutch workers and others have done.

“That’s the way ahead, and the blockade will continue through demonstrations.

“We’ll be there, we’ll be here, we’ll fight on.

“We’ll also fight on to end the robbery of workers’ wages, and the wealth that we produce collectively, by the tiny minority of capitalist exploiters and gangsters. We hear a lot about ‘oligarchs’ these days – we’ve got our own here! We’ll fight against the oligarchs owning the economy, we’ll demand nationalisation – under workers’ control – of P&O, the entire shipping industry, and the transport sector – to provide a service, not a source of obscene profits.

“Stand firm, united. We see the living example of unity here today. The methods of one-hundred and fifty years are being tried again. The same response of the working class will defeat that.”