Link to this page: http://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/689/12973
Two months on - national strike action needed
Rob Williams Chair, National Shop Stewards Network (NSSN)
Rank and file electricians in the construction industry have been meeting in Scotland, Manchester and now London over the last two weeks as their magnificent campaign of defiance enters its second month.
After a tremendous series of protests, meetings, rallies and most notably walkouts at West Burton and Saltend, workers will be debating the next stage of defending the Joint Industry Board (JIB) agreement that seven of the biggest construction companies want to withdraw from.
These companies want to impose new contracts, which will mean many electricians losing up to 35% of their pay as well as having other terms and conditions attacked.
The response from thousands of these workers has been incredible. Initially, with little support from Unite, the action has been organised by a handful of union activists, many of them blacklisted.
Already one of the original 'Big 8' construction employers, MJN Coulston, has stepped back from withdrawing from the JIB.
The pressure from this campaign has moved Unite into action, with full-time officials now present on the protests.
Unite's official involvement has raised confidence but now these workers will want the union to act with a sense of urgency.
At the Farringdon protest in London, Unite assistant general secretary Gail Cartmail promised a strike ballot but that was three weeks ago!
A national ballot of all electricians working for the seven companies should be organised immediately.
Even a ballot at one of the companies would be a step forward, which would focus the national campaign.
Whatever happens, rather than going to a different site every week, one of the sites of the now 'Big 7' could be targeted.
Whether there is an official ballot or not, this could give the electricians on the targeted site the confidence to walk out with a view to spread this action nationally. This would increase the pressure on the Unite officials.
The successful dispute at Lindsey Oil Refinery in 2009 showed that if the numbers are there, even if the union officials deliberately drag their feet, unofficial action spreading to other sites nationally can defeat the employers' plans.
Ratcliffe power station
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."
In The Socialist 12 October 2011:
Socialist Party youth and students
International socialist news and analysis
Socialist Party workplace news
Socialist Party news and analysis
Socialist Party reports and campaigns
Socialist Party fundraising
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