38 arrested at Timex plant demonstration: Violence flares as dispute enters new phase after pickets try to block buses taking strike-breakers to electronics factory

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The Independent Online
THIRTY-EIGHT people were arrested and 12 police officers injured yesterday in the worst picket line violence yet at the Timex electronics plant in Dundee.

The bitter three-month strike entered a new phase as more than 3,000 supporters of the 343 strikers sacked in February for refusing to agree to a pay cut and reduced terms and conditions battled with 500 officers to prevent the US-based multi- national company busing in 200 non-union staff.

Scuffles broke out when a group of demonstrators, which included members of Scottish Militant Labour, attempted to break through police lines to obstruct the buses.

Strike-breaking workers, wearing balaclavas to conceal their identities, made it past the pickets under police escort.

There were further outbreaks of violence when marchers, led by Arthur Scargill, the miners' leader, passed the factory gates. Those arrested were charged with public order offences. Two police officers were treated in hospital for head injuries.

The pickets and march marked the end of the statutory 90-day period required by law before managers at the plant, which produces printed circuit boards, can selectively re-hire some of the workers they dismissed, without facing claims for unfair dismissal from the others.

Peter Hall, Timex UK president, said he would announce today whether the company would seek to re-hire from the former workforce. Timex has taken on 270 replacement workers over the past three months and needs to employ a further 230 by October to meet an upturn in demand.

Local AEEU engineering union leaders said Mr Hall would be forced to reinstate all the sacked workers, who are the only people with the skills needed to fulfil new contracts, because none would go back without the rest. However, Mr Hall said it was impossible to take back the former workforce because that would mean sacking the 270 new workers.

The dispute began when the hourly-paid workforce went on strike over the company's refusal to rotate agreed layoffs. It escalated into one of the most acrimonious in Britain since the 1984-85 miners' strike. Mr Hall demanded that the strikers accept a wage freeze and a 10 per cent cut in fringe benefits before they could return to work. . The strikers, three quarters of whom are women, say they are defending a 'fundamental right to strike without fear of being sacked' and say they would rather see the plant, one of Dundee's largest employers, shut than accept the inferior terms agreed by the new staff.

John Kydd Jnr, the sacked AEEU plant convenor, said that if the company had not taken steps to reinstate the strikers within four weeks the union would 'escalate the dispute to boiling point by targeting the firm's Timex supplies'.

He hinted that the company's customers, which include IBM and electronics companies such as Sharp and NEC, could face picketing.

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