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From The Socialist newspaper, 17 August 2011

Angry construction workers meet to plan strike action

Kevin Parslow

Hundreds of rank-and-file workers in construction trades, mainly in Unite, attended a meeting in London on 13 August to discuss the attacks on their various national agreements and the need for a fightback.

The meeting, called by activists in the industry, reflected workers' anger that some of the companies in the industry had decided to withdraw from the agreements. These companies want to scrap the arrangement whereby grading is decided by an independent committee and grade workers themselves. This will allow them to try and reduce rates of pay from £16 or £17 an hour currently to as low as £10, inviting deskilling of trades such as electricians, pipe fitters and welders. This is at a time when, even with the slow growth in the economy, there are some major projects, eg Crossrail in London.

The meeting invited Unite to send officials and two from its London and Eastern Region attended. They were on the end of some angry questions as members castigated the union for doing too little too late to stop the bosses' onslaught. There was a feeling that workers had been badly let down by unions in the past.

While some Unite officers were "speaking the right words" now, it was said, members needed action and only a struggle could protect terms and conditions on the sites. One member said: "Who rules on the sites: the unions or the [employment] agencies?"

The Unite officers responded by announcing a campaign of recruitment and consolidation on sites. But this has to be backed up with a campaign to protect hard-won rights. Members in the meeting called for protests, including demos and pickets of company offices, but there was also strong support for walkouts off sites if employers refuse to back down.

The meeting passed a resolution which included the call for industrial action ballots if the bosses propose contract changes.

The need for strict accountability of reps and officials was also stressed as being vital to this campaign.

A rank-and-file committee was elected to pursue the demands from the meeting. These demands, and the anger expressed at the meeting, were taken to a meeting of stewards in the industry in Leeds on 17 August.

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