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From The Socialist newspaper, 1 November 2007

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Countering the race to the bottom

Having been born (1958) and brought up in one of the most cosmopolitan areas of Britain, Crumpsall/Cheetham in Manchester, I have known from an early age never to judge a person by the colour of their skin, religion, spelling of their surname or accent.

Colin Trousdale, Manchester trade unionist

So when I was presented with a problem on the Manchester Royal Infirmary (MRI) site in October 2006 of British workers being replaced by Polish migrant workers I could look beyond the Daily Express-fuelled uproar that ensued on site.

During a meeting in the site canteen, it was established that the British workers (glaziers) had refused reinstatement as one of their number was being kept out for contacting the Express and the Polish workers were staying.

I asked the UCATT union site convenor and regional officer if they were making positive attempts to recruit the migrant workers and prevent them being used as pawns by the Australian-owned Bovis Lend Lease to drive a wedge between workers and drive down wages.

When they told me 'No' I duly issued all the lads with TGWU application forms in Polish and a contact phone number for a Polish recruitment officer.

But the Polish workers became conspicuous by their absence in the canteen. When I approached one of them, he told me that their gangmaster had told them to throw away the forms and avoid contact with me as I would get them into trouble, sacked and deported.

Scared, they avoided me like the plague, apart from Fridays when they, to a man, donated to a collection for three locked-out electricians on the site, as did the Somalian general labourers - something some Manchester-born electricians failed to do.

In April 2007, I was working at the Cargills wheat plant in Trafford Park, Manchester. This site had been split in two to avoid paying major project payments.

I was a member of the shop stewards' committee at Boultings Electrical Contractors. We negotiated a site agreement where all operatives were taken on cards-in [taken on as employees, as opposed to any 'self-employed' or agency arrangements]. A 50p increment was put on the rate.

We then got wind of six Polish 'sparks' being employed through an agency on a remote part of the site. When we questioned the management we were told that they were being employed directly by the American owners who were acting as principal contractors.

Further enquiries revealed Boultings providing materials and exercising working control over these lads.

Rate for the job

We then made further enquiries validating the lads' qualifications and then insisted that they be taken on the cards and paid the site rate. (They were being paid £10 an hour. The agency rate is £14/hr and the site-negotiated cards-in rate £13.08/hr.)

We were successful in getting the lads taken on the cards and getting all the benefits of the national agreement, ie – holiday pay, lodge allowance, a flight home once a month.

We also issued them with union application forms in Polish. But due to the area official dragging his feet, they had not become members by the time the company finished them.

Before leaving, all the lads voluntarily contributed to a fund for four scaffolders, three of whom were killed in a crash on the way to work.

I hope this goes some way to dispelling the myth that these workers are somehow undermining the British construction industry.

The ones I have met are just working lads trying to earn a living being exploited by unscrupulous bosses. We should befriend and help these workers. Get them in the union, stop them (and us) being exploited.

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In The Socialist 1 November 2007:

NHS: Kick big business out!

Targets take their toll on cleaners

Feature: NHS - Time to fight for a national strike

Editorial: NHS campaigning - national strategy needed


Environment and socialism

System change to stop climate change


Workplace news and analysis

CWU executive member calls for a 'no' vote

Unison local government ballot result ignored


Socialism 2007

Socialism 2007

Socialism 2007 web pages


Socialist Party news and analysis

Countering the race to the bottom

Respect in crisis - what lessons for socialists?


Asylum

The socialist interview


International socialist news and analysis

Nigeria: Day of action protest march in Osogbo

Switzerland: Racism dominates election campaign

Poland: Right-wing populist government defeated


National Shop Stewards Network

Wales shop stewards' network conference

London and South East regional conference


Workplace news and analysis

Bolton care workers' dispute: Workers' determination yields first signs of success

Vote Martin Powell-Davies for NUT vice president

Journalists: Fight low pay and long hours


 

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