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Posted on 24 August 2011 at 11:44 GMT

Construction workers fight to defend national agreements in London and Manchester

Hundreds of electricians protested outside the Balfour Beatty site at Blackfriars train station today (24 August). Workers also protested in Manchester.

This is the latest stage in a growing campaign to fight the intention of the 'Big 8' construction companies to pull out of the nationally negotiated industry agreement.

They see this as an opportunity to introduce three new grades for electricians in the industry so rather than the current Job Industry Board (JIB) rate of 16.25 per hour, they can get away with paying between 10.50 and 14 per hour.

For the worst hit, this would mean a pay cut of 35%!

As well as this, they want a whole raft of attacks on these workers' terms and conditions such as doing away with travel time and making it far easier for the employer to get rid of workers and pick and choose who stays on sites.

This is a mirror of the attempts of construction companies to get out of the NAECI agreement which caused the disputes in Lindsey Oil Refinery in 2009 and the lock-outs in Saltend and Fawley this year.

The Saltend dispute, which Socialist Party member and NSSN supporter Keith Gibson played a leading role in, showed that as in Lindsey two years ago, construction workers have the power to take on the employers if they are prepared to use it.

The electricians will be determined to prevent the union full-time officials doing what they did in Saltend and cut across the moves to take national strike action to defend the national agreement and defend these workers.

Unite officials attended a rank and file meeting on 13 August which saw up to 500 electricians elect a national committee and pledged a recruitment campaign on the sites.

But in that meeting, a Unite branch meeting of 200 the following week and today's protest, workers were determined that the union must be serious about waging a real fighting struggle which backs up campaigning and negotiations with the threat of strike action if the employers don't back down.

Unfortunately, no Unite officers were on the London protest today and missed an opportunity to show these workers that they take the campaign seriously.

However, the workers are determined to build the campaign, in spite of site managers threatening workers with the sack if they joined the protest.

Rob Williams of the National Shop Stewards Network (NSSN) pledged the support of the network when he addressed the London rally: "When you go to the shops, the prices haven't gone down by 35% so why should workers' wages? This is just the start today.

"I appeal to all those workers on this site today to join this campaign as these attacks will affect you as well."

There was a very good reaction to the leaflet for the NSSN lobby of the TUC as the workers understood the need to put the union leaders under pressure to defend their members, in the private and public sectors.

The campaign will continue with another London protest on 31 August at 6.30am at the Westfields Shopping Centre in Stratford, east London, and around the country.

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