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Electricians march to defend pay and conditions
Kevin Parslow, Unite LE 1228 branch secretary
Construction electricians entered the next phase of their battle to maintain terms and conditions following their national day of action on 9 November.
Unite called a national demonstration in London, attended by 2,000 workers from all over England and Wales, as well as a demo in Edinburgh. At the London demo, Unite general secretary Len McCluskey confirmed that the union would ballot its 1,000 members in Balfour Beatty for strike action.
This company is seen as the ringleader of the seven building firms threatening to leave the Joint Industry Board scheme (JIB) and force workers to sign new contracts which could cut pay by 35%!
What has been significant about this dispute is that tactics have been determined by the membership, through the branches and the unofficial rank-and-file committee. The national demo was preceded by electricians protesting outside a number of sites in the City of London and urging workers on the sites to join them. They marched from site to site in the City with the acquiescence of the police.
However, this tolerance changed after the end of the official demo at Balfour Beatty's site at Blackfriars station. Although Unite had organised a lobby of MPs at Westminster, many electricians felt this was a waste of time and decided to march up the road to join the student demonstration taking place on the same day.
About 200 electricians and their supporters were marching up Farringdon Street when they were stopped by a police cordon.
Effectively, these workers were 'kettled' - perhaps the first time a workers' demo has been stopped in this way. Regular police were reinforced by heavily equipped members of the Territorial Support Group, successors to the notorious Special Patrol Group.
After about an hour, the workers were allowed to leave but not before their personal details were demanded. When asked why, a number of excuses were given by police officers: the police commanding officer deemed it likely that a 'breach of the peace' would occur, that the marchers were indulging in 'anti-social behaviour', our (very short) march to join the students was 'illegal', the police feared a repetition of the events on last year's student demos and even that the electricians planned to attack the students!
This campaign has raised awareness among electricians: it has built union membership, found new stewards, forced the union leaders to organise a ballot and show the bosses that their plans are not going unchallenged. The task now is to win the ballot, organise effective action at all sites and force the employers to withdraw their proposals.
Balfour Beatty made £90 million profit in the last nine months and has an order book of over £15 billion! This is a formidable foe but one that can be beaten if the determination of the workers is matched by imaginative tactics that broaden participation in the dispute and are agreed through the branches throughout the country.
The next demo in London was due on 16 November at the Crossrail development in Farringdon, where employers Crown House are refusing to recognise elected Unite stewards.
In The Socialist 16 November 2011:
Fighting the cuts
Socialist Party workplace news
International socialist news and analysis
Socialist Party news and analysis
Socialist Party reports and campaigns
The Socialist - Readers' comments