Link to this page: https://www.socialistparty.org.uk/articles/12938
Construction workers' protests won't go away!
Electricians block rush hour traffic on London's Oxford Street
Electricians took the fight to defend their wages and conditions into the heart of London's shopping district this morning, with over 300 blocking traffic for half an hour on Oxford Street.
The Wednesday morning protests by sparks in London have become a weekly occurrence since the first protest outside Blackfriars station seven weeks ago.
Workers across the country have been inspired by the protests - there were a number of union banners present alongside the banner of the National Shop Stewards Network (NSSN).
However workers are not the only ones who have taken note of the protest. Unite was contacted last night by the Metropolitan Police.
The union was warned that attempts to march to the Tommy Clarke building site Park House and picket the workplace would be banned.
Come Wednesday morning the march and picket went ahead but not without a heavy police presence. At one point police attempted, without much success, to shove protesters off the street, causing minor scuffles.
The Met discovered it is one thing to push around protesting school students; it's quite another job to bully 300 construction workers facing 35% pay cuts! Many workers reminded the police that police wages and pensions are on the line as well.
Interestingly one group of police officers refused to push workers off the street and had to be ordered point blank by senior police officers to do so.
The march turned back down Oxford Street onto Balderton Street at the back entrance of the Park House building site.
Over the megaphone, protesters on the street explained why they were demonstrating and appealed for workers inside to join them.
They also demanded that Unite officials be allowed on site to speak to the workers, something officials have not been able to do so far.
Management lifted the ban after a brief stand-off, to great cheers from the gathered throng.
There are two important events coming in the electricians' campaign in London:
- On Tuesday 11th October there will be a Unite Rank and File meeting to discuss the next stage of the campaign. Speakers will include Steve Kelly, Unite London construction branch secretary; Gail Cartmail, Unite AGS; Bernard McAuley, Unite national construction officer; and Vince Passfield, Unite London construction officer.
- Next Wednesday, 12th October, electricians in London will take their protest to the Tate Modern at the usual time of 6.30am.
Construction electricians protested again this morning at the NG Baileys site at Manchester town hall against the big companies imposing 35% pay cuts and leaving the Joint Industry Board (JIB) national agreement. Action is starting to yield results.
Manchester's Labour council is paying around £100 million for the job. Baileys and others will be profiting twice over if they can cut pay by 35%! A Labour councillor visited the protest and said this is unacceptable.
These words need to be swiftly matched by deeds. The council should force Baileys to publicly renounce its pay-cutting and agreement-breaking, and ensure that on all council-linked projects there is no blacklisting and all workers are paid the union rate.
In Tameside another blacklisting company is having a hard time. Carillion is the main contractor on the Denton Academy school project, where blacklisted electricians have been protesting for weeks. This is reaching the local newspapers and the pressure is clearly being felt.
Liverpool sparks protested at the Shepherds site at the Central Library in Liverpool, including workers from other big sites on Merseyside who want to see action swiftly organised.
There is no Liverpool protest next week, as workers from across the north-west unite to demonstrate at the Carrington paper mill site in Trafford borough.
Balfour Beatty is the main contractor at that site, one of those leading the charge to slash wages on 7th December.
The 'Siteworker north-west' leaflet was received with interest by many workers there last time.
Socialist Party members are helping to produce a leaflet in Polish for migrant workers on site who apparently are working in extremely dangerous conditions.
Rumours have circulated of a walk-out next Wednesday. The employers are split over this. Balfour says anyone refusing to work will be sacked.
Lectec on the other hand says it doesn't agree with leaving the JIB and will not discipline workers who don't turn in. This is affecting the likes of the BMS labour agency.
Balfour is having a bad time of it. Apparently it may have lost the contract on Terminal 2 at Heathrow Airport because its client disagrees with Balfour leaving the JIB.
This needs to be confirmed but shows how the protests and walkouts are already rocking these ruthless profiteers.
The money is there; Laing O'Rourke squirreled away £10 million in profits last year after dishing out a further £20 million to shareholders! Profits this year of £20 million+ could deliver union-rate wages and safe working conditions - or more cream for the fat-cats.
Unite needs to lead from the front instead of from behind, move to a ballot, and give full support to mass demonstrations at every site in Britain.
Coupled with unofficial action from below, this can smash the pay-slashers' deskilling agenda, begin to seriously unionise the sites, actually put an end to blacklisting and improve workers' pay and conditions.
Hugh Caffrey, north-west Socialist Party
- All north-west protest: Wednesday 12 October, 6.30-10am Carrington paper mill, 5 minutes from Carrington village, Greater Manchester.
- Defend the JIB agreement - no cuts in pay, pensions and terms and conditions
- For Unite to start an official strike ballot
- For Unite to organise a national conference of electricians in the construction industry to democratically elect a national strike committee
- Any unofficial strike action to be spread nationally throughout the construction industry