7 December 2011
Construction workers fight a 35% cut in wages
What a day! The biggest of the 'Dirty 7' big contractors, Balfour Beatty (BBES), may have outlawed the strike by their electricians but today, 7 December, saw protests, stoppages and walkouts all over the country.
Construction workers protesting in Cardiff, 7.12.11, photo by Socialist Party Wales (Click to enlarge)
Unite's strike ballot was won by a 81% margin yet the bosses can run to the courts and use the Tory anti-union laws to stop a just and legitimate strike.
It's perfectly legal for them to impose new BESNA contracts on electricians which will result in the workers losing up to 35% in pay.
As usual, one law for the rich and one for the poor. But sparks today have shown everyone - the bosses, the government and the police - that if the cause is right, laws should be challenged and defeated.
Unite are re-balloting. We hope that the new vote is an even bigger one across all the companies, but today showed that we can't and won't wait to jump through the legal hoops.
Let's set the date for the next stoppage - official or unofficial - and spread the word. Next time, let's shut down the whole construction industry to defend the JIB.
Today also saw many public sector workers and young people join the protests. This is crucial as the Government and the Tory press try to split private sector workers from those in the public sector who went on strike on N30 to defend their pensions.
Later this week, workers in Unilever will be striking to defend their pensions from their employers' attacks.
The Socialist party and the National Shop Stewards Network are calling on the TUC to name the date for the next public sector general strike as a follow-up to N30.
We support Unison in Scotland's motion from last Saturday, which urges Unison and the TUC to call the next strike on January 25th.
This can reach out to workers in the private sector and all those facing the brutal cuts that were caused by the bankers' greed - workers in all sectors, united to defend our jobs, incomes and pensions from the attacks of the government and their friends, the greedy bosses and bankers.
Rob Williams, Chair, National Shop Stewards Network
Police brought dogs to the construction workers' picket line outside the London HQ of Balfour Beatty and forced them into the passing traffic outside Blackfriars train station.
Protests have been going on since construction companies announced they would withdraw from the Joint Industry Board (JIB) national agreement. After a massive scrum, the pickets then occupied the road.
Chair of the National Shop Stewards Network, Rob Williams, addressing the pickets, called on the HR manager to come out and explain to pickets why electricians pay is being cut by 35%. The picket will be going on all day.
Bob Crow and Alex Gordon, General Secretary and President of the railway and transport workers union RMT, came down to offer solidarity against this brutal attack on living standards.
Postal workers refused to cross the picket line and Clare Laker-Mansfield from Youth Fight for Jobs brought solidarity.
Deliveries have been stopped. One of the sparks at Blackfriars said that not one spark has gone into work to huge cheers.
After this around 60 electricians protested outside Balfour's offices in Victoria. Predictably, police officers lined the doors.
Yet again they were used to protect the robbing big companies from hearing the views of their workers.
The only people who've broken agreements are the bosses, yet they get police protection!
Then the protest moved off to the Grattes Brothers site around the corner. After the fire alarm 'accidentally' went off the site emptied out past the striking electricians.
Because we stayed close to the gate, no one went back on the site for a hour and half. It gave the sparks a real opportunity to discuss with a new group of workers and explain what Grattes along with the other 'Dirty 7' big companies want to do with their pay and terms & conditions.
200 striking electricians picketed the Conoco Philips oil refinery in Immingham, which is situated next to Lindsey Oil Refinery where the construction industry strikes began in 2009.
About 150 sparks came from West Burton power station where the night shift will strike as well, about 30 from Vivergo at BP Saltend, Hull (where Redhall's workers where locked out earlier this year) and a dozen working for a small electrical contractor at Easington, East Yorkshire.
What the protest lacked in organisation was made up for by improvisation as pickets blocked one entrance to the site leading to massive tail-backs down the industrial estate.
Protesters leafleted the Conoco workers (who come under the NAECI 'Blue Book') arguing that if the employers can tear up the JIB terms, then the NAECI would be next. Some of their electricians joined the picket lines.
Paul Tattersfield (Unite electrician) said that the BESNA that the Big 7 want to impose is not just about pay-cuts but also an attack on trade union rights, including not recognising shop stewards if they haven't worked for the same company for 2 years, something that is the exception in the construction industry.
Electricians will be back at Conoco next Wednesday 14 December along with other engineering construction workers who are taking a second day of national strike action against the NAECI pay freeze.
30-40 striking electricians picketed at the Kelvin Hall school construction site in Hull where electricians working for Balfour Beatty joined the protest.
This follows a similar protest there a couple of weeks ago and an 80-strong demonstration outside Hull City Council last Friday which is pressuring the authority not to contract Big 7 companies if they break the JIB agreement.
Jarrow marcher Matt Whale approached young apprentices on the Kelvi job about joining the union which was appreciated by the Unite strikers present.
Mick Whale (NUT branch secretary) offered to advise the sparks about other school construction projects that Balfour's have got under the Building Schools for the Future programme, re-infocing links made in Hull over this year between public sector and private sector workers.
At 6.30am around 200 sparks where met by police at the Vic Dock entrance of Heerema in Hartlepool. Initially the police presence was fairly low key and when the protesters marched the mile or so to the Greenland Road entrance the police stood by.
At this entrance the police began filming protesting sparks, who in turn began taking photos of the cops!
After all the office staff had went into work it was decided to march back to Vic Dock. As one of the sparks commented later on Facebook: "Plenty of plod, who almost caused a riot by trying to block a road when there was no need." Certainly everything had been very peaceful until the police suddenly skidded their van in front of the march, attempting to block our way.
One of the sparks was grabbed and manhandled by two or three cops. However, there were enough protesters around who went to his rescue and he was released.
The police where clearly outnumbered, and were unable to stem the flow as sparks just ignored the blockade. Once the police lost control the march resumed peacefully - result!
Join the demonstration: 10am on 17 December at the Abbey Street entrance to Heerema
"The worker's united will never be defeated" rang out on the cold December morning outside the BBES HQ in Glasgow as 150 electricians made clear they will not stop their action until the bosses plans to cut wages and de-skill the industry are halted.
If the BBES management thought that their legal challenge to the workers massive vote for strike action would cow the sparks - they were proved wrong today.
In a very important development construction electricians from a number of sites across Scotland, including at Grangemouth oil refinery, took unofficial strike action today against Balfour Beatty.
After refusing to go on the job, 40 sparks from Grangemouth traveled through to Glasgow to join 150 electricians in a national protest outside the BBES HQ.
A Grangemouth electrician told us - "There's 40 of us come through from Grangemouth to the protest today. Every spark walked off the job this morning - there are no electricians on site at grangemouth oil refinery today"
These walkouts mark an important new stage in the action, hitting the bosses where it hurts - in their pockets.
BBES senior management were savaged by the sparks who took the opportunity to vent their justified rage at the profit hungry bosses slash and burn policies.
Socialist Party members received a very enthusiastic response to our leaflets called for a national campaign of strike action across the industry.
Further protests are planned again in the coming days.
Alan Keays, a 'rank and file' electrician, has sent the following article on Wednesday's action and the dispute so far, to the Socialist Party and other organisations:
Wednesday 7th December was supposed to be the first day of action in the electricians' dispute following the magnificent Balfour Beatty ballot result (81%) in favour of industrial action.
Shamefully Unite the union capitulated and have decided to reballot after the threat of an injunction by Balfour.
It was claimed by Balfour that 25 office workers (Unite members) were not balloted . This small number wouldn't have made any difference to the result.
The result will not now be known until 6th January. The rank and file rose to the occasion on 7th December.
It was the biggest unoffical strike seen in construction for many years. There were protests at a number of Balfour sites including in Scotland.
In London - where there were running battles with the police - a 500-strong picket was put on at Blackfriars, where RMT leader Bob Crow spoke as well as many other trade union reps. John McDonnell MP and members of Unite also spoke; many thanks to all.
Also a protest was held at Balfour HQ in Victoria in London, and a protest at Grattes site in Victoria.
Some bright spark set off fire alarms stopping production there for two hours. A meeting was held in the street with site workers to convince them to join us.
Maybe they will next time. Grangemouth was out in support. Liverpool, Teeside, Hull, Cardiff, all had protests and pickets on large sites.
Manchester protested outside the town hall site and protesters got into the council meeting, demanding that the Labour council removes Laing O'Rourke and NG Bailey from the project as they are blacklisters.
Labour MPs have agreed to meet the rank and file committee members to discuss this soon.
The whole day was a brilliant success and was rounded off with a picket on Blackfriars nightshift. No sparks worked there at all that day, and there was support from scaffolders and cable pullers who refused to cross the picket lines.
The day's events show the enormous power and potential of the rank and file when they pull together. This dispute may go on for many months yet as the rogue seven dig their heels in.
We must continue the weekly protests and maintain the numbers, and push Unite to make it an offical strike in construction in the new year.
Whatever happens, the rank and file have transformed the construction sector of Unite in the last four months.
We should get involved with the offical union, not to would be a mistake; and use our rank and file power to get onto sector committees and JIB bodies, put motions through our branches and make them union policy, fight the blacklist, expose any collusion and stop Unite brushing this under the carpet.
There are hundreds of blacklisted sparks, experienced stewards who cannot get work in construction, Unite should challenge employers who are still blacklisting and site workers must demand and help these workers to get onto sites.
We mustn't give a penny to the bosses. We have lost enough over the last 10 years. Enough is enough. No cuts, no changes to the JIB agreement, no sell outs!
The NAECI agreement is also under attack. This is another area to be organised by the rank and file. JIB workers can assist each other.
Make no mistake, if the sparks' and pipefitters' agreements are smashed, other trades will be targeted next.
Stand firm, educate, agitate, organise! Victory to construction workers! Thanks to support from all the different political groups involved, and Unite members, and other trade unionists and supporting MPs.
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