Thomas Cook has joined the long list of household-name companies to go bust at the cost of thousands of jobs. Ian Allinson interviewed Martin Browne and June Knox, Thomas Cook workers protesting outside the Tory conference in Manchester, and argues that a stronger movement would not allow thousands of jobs to go without a fight.
About a hundred people gathered to protest at the Tory conference – a mixture of Thomas Cook workers, supporters, union officials and Labour’s mayor, council leader, MP and councillors. Workers were full of anger but little hope. They believed the board had put their employer into liquidation by choice, despite being profitable, to allow directors to make more money offering similar services via Condor, another company with a ‘lower cost base’ – which invariably means fewer staff on worse pay and conditions. Liquidation cut redundancy pay to the statutory minimum – and means staff who haven’t been paid may have a long wait to receive it.
The main demands were for prompt redundancy pay, for an inquiry into the actions of directors and inaction of the government, and for legislation to protect future workers from similar situations.
There was no expectation of saving jobs. It is easy to imagine a stronger movement taking inspiration from the occupation of Hong Kong airport, blocking flights until wages were paid and jobs guaranteed. To build the support needed to win, such a movement would also have to confront the question of climate change. The demise of Thomas Cook won’t help the climate – it seems directors will soon be filling the new gap in the market with Condor. As we grapple with the move to a zero-carbon future, the skills and experience of Thomas Cook’s workforce could have made a vital contribution to developing leisure alternatives that don’t rely on flight.
Campaigning for better legislation is important, but has to go hand in hand with rebuilding a labour movement that refuses to allow jobs to be massacred without a fight.