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Posted on 12 October 2011 at 13:20 GMT

Construction electricians march on Blackfriars

This morning up to 400 electricians and other workers from the construction industry along with fellow trade unionists and students held an impromptu march in central London from the Tate Modern to the Balfour Beatty site at Blackfriars as part of their ongoing struggle against the employers' plans to smash their wages by up to 35%.

The police were trying to play catch-up as the demonstrators marched over the Millenium Bridge, then stopped in the road outside St Paul's cathedral before heading to the Blackfriars site.

This incredible campaign is taking place nationwide and saw another four protests today around the country.

Electricians protesting on 12.10.11 at Blackfriars, London, photo Rob Williams

Electricians protesting on 12.10.11 at Blackfriars, London, photo Rob Williams   (Click to enlarge)

For two months, rank and file electricians have been building a campaign of protests and walkouts to stop the 'Big 8' construction employers withdrawing from the Joint Industry Board (JIB) national agreements.

Such as been the effectiveness of the campaign that it's now down to the 'Dirty Seven' as MJN Coulston has backed off.

But it still means that thousands of electricians are facing 90-day notices to put them on the new BESNA terms and conditions which will open the way for worse contracts.

Balfour Beatty alone has put over 1,600 workers in this corner. The deadline for them is 7th December so no more time must be lost.

Meeting the previous evening

At a 200-strong Unite open meeting in Conway Hall in London last night electricians heaped more pressure on Unite officials who have promised a strike ballot against the employers.

In the end, Unite assistant general secretary Gail Cartmail promised to serve the notice as soon as possible: "Read my lips, we will support you".

Workers welcome Unite coming on board but they recognise that a sense of urgency has to be injected into the battle.

Electricians and supporters marching in London, 12.10.11, Rob Williams

Electricians and supporters marching in London, 12.10.11, Rob Williams   (Click to enlarge)

Preferably all the companies must be served notice urgently but even if say Balfour Beatty workers were balloted, it would mean their sites would be picketed and would be the focus for action that could be spread nationally.

It would send a strong message to them and the other employers that the battle is on. The consensus from last night's meeting and today's protest was that there should be a slight change to the tactics.

While protesting outside different sites every week has spread the word to thousands of workers about the bosses' attacks, it is now time to concentrate on one site to see if action can be built - official or unofficial

Next week, we will all be down where we started seven weeks ago, at Blackfriars. Union activists need to get on the site, discussing with the electricians to convince them that if we fight, we can defeat the employers.

There was also a call from the meeting and protest that whatever happens with the ballot, there should be a national walkout of all construction workers on 30th November to join with the public sector strike to defend pensions.

Rob Williams

Next London protest: Wednesday 19th October, 6.30am at Blackfriars

Report from the North West

All electrical work stopped for the day at Balfour's Carrington paper mill site in Greater Manchester, as protests in the north-west hit a new level, organised from below by the Rank & File.

Around 100 sparks from across the region, together with two from Newcastle and two from Nottingham, protested outside the turnstiles.

Despite numerous threats of sacking and victimisation, especially from Balfour, the protest drew a tremendous response from sparks on site.

Many sparks stayed away for the day. Four van-loads from Taylors spoke to protesters and then turned round and drove away.

This is the first large-scale stoppage in the region, following action by a smaller number on the Liverpool central library site.

The paper mill is a huge site, with Balfour at the head of the Dirty Seven breakaway pay cutters. Steve Acheson, Unite branch secretary and north-west member of the Rank & File national steering committee, told me:

"The private security met us first thing when we got here, they said we're not allowed to protest outside the turnstiles because it's a private entrance.

"They wanted us to move down to the road. But the police came and, as before, they agreed it's OK for us to protest where we are.

"Today is a brilliant result, with a great response from all the electrical personnel on the site, and this is despite widespread threats of getting the sack for lads who didn't turn into work today.

All the personnel are quite rightly fired up by this savage attack by Balfour's who are slashing our living standards with this 35% pay cut. This is just the first of many more protests."

Protest will return to Carrington in two weeks time and workers are confident of even bigger numbers and even bigger impact on the companies.

The only discordant note of the day was that Unite officials held a small protest at Manchester town hall and then Salford MediaCity.

Rank & File protests are scheduled for the next two weeks and these should receive full support from every echelon of Unite and across the trade union movement.

Hugh Caffrey

Next north west protests:

Wednesday 19 October, 6.30-10am, Manchester town hall (NG Baileys)

Wednesday 26 October, 6.30-10am, Carrington paper mill (Balfours)

Ratcliffe power station - 7th October

A protest by around 100 construction electricians at Ratcliffe-on-Soar power station in Notts on 7 October had a big impact.

Ratcliffe was chosen as one of the contractors there, SPIE, is among the seven firms who want to tear up their agreed JIB conditions.

I spoke to some of the workers, Unite members, involved:

"There are seven companies who want to pull out of the JIB, they want to introduce a lower grade for electricians to do our work.

"It could put skilled workers out of work, or we accept a big pay cut. But this will affect lots of other workers, not just electricians."

"These young lads have been told over years if you get these qualifications, taking lower pay while you serve your time, you will get decent pay in the end.

"Now they are being told that these are not worth the paper they are written on and anyone can do your job.

"Like typical capitalists they want to make money by taking it out of your pocket. If I was to do that I would be arrested!

We travel all over the country, working long hours. Now they won't even give you a tea break!

These companies are not doing it because they aren't making profits. They want to cut the pay in advance of new contracts that are in the pipeline. This is a rolling tour of protests and we won't stop until we win."

Steve Score

Posted on 14.10.11:

Newcastle protest

In Newcastle's east-end on Wednesday 12th October, in torrential rain, around 40 electricians protested against the attacks on wages, terms and conditions outside the building site at the Walkergate Medical Centre.

Prior to the protest a Unite officer had been reported as telling workers that the advice of the union was not to sign the new agreement but if people refused and were sacked the union would be unable to help!

One of the protesters told us: "It's becoming clear that the union isn't backing us. If ever there's been a time for unofficial action - now is that time!"

Although most of the electricians who spoke to us were Unite members, some had left the union, as they were scornful of the lack of a fight from the union.

However, it was clear that if Unite were to be seen as putting forward a clear fighting strategy, there would be a flood of members back into the union.

For over an hour the construction workers stood on the demonstration, getting soaked through. Then one of the electricians spoke up, it was time to stop anyone getting into the site.

Everyone then stood across the site entrance as a delivery lorry attempted to enter the site. The lorry edged forward, but the protesting electricians stood firm.

Rush hour traffic started jamming up, and eventually the lorry driver was forced to drive away. This lifted the mood of the protest.

Passing school students waved and clapped at the protesters, some of them managing to get hold of Unite banners, which they marched off with on their way to school.

At the end of the protest the construction workers held a brief meeting where they agreed that the unofficial action needed to be escalated.

Elaine Brunskill, Newcastle Socialist Party

This version of this article was first posted on the Socialist Party website on 12 October 2011 and may vary slightly from the version subsequently printed in The Socialist.

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