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19 October 2011
Construction protests continue and Unite declares strike ballot
This week's protest at Blackfriars Balfour Beatty site in London began in full darkness at 6:30am this morning (19.10.11).
Along with the cold weather it was a sign winter is just around the corner. Despite the chilly weather though, the struggle between construction workers and the 'big seven' electrical contractors rages on as hot as ever.
These companies want to withdraw from the JIB national agreement. Balfour Beatty has been targeted because over 1,600 of their electricians have been given notice that the new inferior BESNA contracts will be imposed on them. This could mean a 35% pay cut.
Pickets arrived in a determined mood and a blockade of the site was launched. This led to scuffles with police throughout the protest.
It appears that a number of workers refused to go into work, while many who did, took leaflets in with them.
A group of about 60 protesters blocked a supplier's entrance for a few hours, ensuring that some deliveries were missed.
A number of speakers addressed the protest including Chris Baugh, deputy general secretary of the PCS union who brought solidarity from his union and emphasised the need for public and private sector workers to take action together on 30th November and in the future.
Rob Williams, chair of the National Shop Stewards Network (NSSN), Clare Laker-Mansfield from Youth Fight for Jobs and UCATT General Secretary candidate Mick Dooley were also among the speakers.
The confidence of workers had been boosted prior to the protest by a meeting the previous day in Leeds.
At that meeting were Unite construction officials, shop stewards from across the country and representatives of the London rank and file body. The meeting agreed to ballot workers at Balfour Beatty sites for strike action.
Building for strike action
This is a big step forward in the fight to defend construction workers' terms and conditions. The workers can build on the huge success of their weekly protests as a platform to launch action that will shut down all sites operated by Balfour Beatty.
They now have the task of getting the biggest possible yes vote for a strike. This can be done firstly by getting as many workers as possible 'on site' into the union and at the same time convincing them to vote yes to strike action.
Those workers who joined the protest today can go back into work tomorrow and begin arguing the case for action.
Many workers who did go into work at Blackfriars today said they would vote for strike action if a ballot paper was put in front of them.
If a friendly, patient attitude is taken by pickets to workers who have not yet joined the struggle then there is every reason to be confident that they can be won over to the idea of taking action.
As Rob Williams pointed out in his speech, the worker who crosses the picket line today could well be the worker who comes out on strike tomorrow.
This point was echoed by a Unite official in the final speech to pickets when he said that the main enemy was not the workers still on the sites but Balfour Beatty itself.
It is vital that Unite the union backs up its promises with swift action. Electricians and others will return to Blackfriars next week to protest.
Unite official Harry Cowap will be meeting with workers on site that day to encourage them to attend the national day of protest in London on 9th November.
That meeting could be more important if it becomes part of a campaign to secure a yes vote for industrial action and begin planning for the shutdown of the site.
Similar meetings on every single Balfour Beatty site across the country would be a big step towards defeating the attacks of the employers.
Dozens of electricians protested again in Manchester this morning at the NG Baileys town hall site.
The protest was buoyed by news of the 9th November day of action, and that Unite will be balloting specific Balfour Beatty sites.
Even a limited ballot can give enormous impetus to this struggle from below against all the Dirty Seven.
Next week the north-west protest returns to the Balfour's Carrington paper mill site, where last week all electrical work was halted for a day.
Since then, we've heard that three workers have been dismissed. Rank & File activists will take a strong line against employers who victimise.
But this is a chance for Unite to demonstrate its role as a massive private sector union capable of defending workers against brutal employers.
Unite should give full support to next week's Carrington protest, mobilise across the north-west for the biggest possible turnout and provide union campaign resources on the day.
The employers on the site are disunited. The workforce on site is supportive and there is great scope to build on last week's protest and as well as halting work, escalate the numbers on the demonstration.
Next protest: Wednesday 26 October, 6.30-9.30am, Carrington paper mill, Carrington
This version of this article was first posted on the Socialist Party website on 19 October 2011 and may vary slightly from the version subsequently printed in The Socialist.