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Posted on 16 November 2011 at 14:19 GMT

Construction workers' national protest outside the Pinnacle site, London, 9.11.11, photo Harry Smith

Construction workers' national protest outside the Pinnacle site, London, 9.11.11, photo Harry Smith   (Click to enlarge)

Weekly construction protests continue as Unite ballot begins

Over 100 electricians and supporters gathered at Farringdon station in London this morning - Wednesday 16th November - as the struggle to defend the Joint Industry Board (JIB) agreement continued.


Siteworker leaflet: Balfour Beatty (BBES) ballot - The Truth - Why you should vote for the strike

Socialist Party leaflet: Strike to defend the JIB!


The protests have been running for over three months ever since eight electrical contractor firms decided to tear up the JIB and impose, among other things, 35% wage cuts.

The weekly 6.30am starts on Wednesdays have got colder and darker as winter draws in but the determination of sparks to resist the attacks of the employers remains undiminished.

Although the turnout was smaller than last week's national day of action, sparks had received some good news from across the country.

Workers at Ratcliffe and Corus had downed tools earlier in the week, marking an upturn in the action taken so far.

A small victory was achieved even before the demonstration started. During the night management had locked the main entrance into the Farringdon site, meaning heavy vehicles could not get in or out.

Fearing a repeat of the occupation of the site a month ago management had ended up doing some of the job of disrupting the site for the sparks!

As the protest went on it was clear that a number of electricians on the Farringdon site had refused to go into work, including a group of Polish workers. They were given a huge cheer when this was announced on the microphone.

Several speakers addressed the rally. There were solidarity greetings from Prospect union and from students.

Rob Williams, chair of the National Shop Stewards Network condemned the police kettling last week of sparks attempting to join the student march on 9 November.

He asked why the police were not showing the same zeal in arresting the bosses of the rogue electrical contracting companies that were breaking legal agreements.

Pointing to the walkouts in Ratcliffe and Corus as showing the way forward he also urged electricians to join up with the public sector action on 30th November.

Paul Callanan from the Jarrow March for Jobs said that kettling was used because the bosses feared workers joining up with students and young people in opposition to cuts.

Mick Dooley, 'disqualified' Ucatt general secretary candidate, put forward the idea of direct action against the offices of the electrical contracting firms.

Unite will begin balloting Balfour Beatty sites today, for offical industrial action. The hard work of publicising this dispute by sparks up and down the country over the last three months can bear fruit in a big vote in favour of strike action.

Neil Cafferky, London Socialist Party

Liverpool

Around thirty electricians demonstrated outside one of Spie Matthew Hall's sites in Liverpool this week over their attack on the JIB agreement.

The protest began at 6.30am and protesters were joined by around twenty electricians working on the site who are outraged at the actions of the companies involved in the attack on their national agreement.

The electricians on this site were adamant that the employers must not be allowed to get away with their plans to de-skill and cut the rate for the job and were fully behind the official action being called for 7 December.

The Unite officer for construction told me that there is a meeting with the employers early next week but one of the workers said to me that officials should not meet the employers until they lift their threat to the JIB.

Dave Walsh

West Burton, Nottinghamshire

All 1,000 contractors at West Burton power station in North Notts struck on Wednesday 16th November. They were supporting action that hit sites across the country. GMB pickets spoke to Jon Dale:

The employers have said there will be no pay talks until 2013, which would mean no pay rise until 2014. With rising prices, that's equivalent to a 20% pay cut.

There's no recession in this industry. In fact, there's a massive amount of work, mostly on power stations.

After privatisation of the electricity industry in the 1980s, the new owners took huge profits and did not carry out necessary planned maintenance on power stations.

Now the plants are aging. West Burton and others were built about 40 years ago. Like old cars, they need lots of work just to keep going.

Half the power stations need replacing. There has to be ten times as much work in the next twenty years as in the last twenty. Otherwise the lights will go out!

The private owners have also stopped training, so there's a shortage of skilled workers, who are getting older.

They did away with apprentices for a long time. They used to pinch skilled workers from steel, mining, railways and other industries, but these sources have dried up. They've tried to bring in foreign workers but that's also caused them problems.

We've no problem with foreign workers so long as they get the same pay as us.

The contracting companies say they can't pay a rise because EDF, who own West Burton, and the other corporations owning the power stations, won't pay more.

This strike will be followed by another one-day strike in a month. After that, there will have to be more action if the bosses expect workers to join the 'race to the bottom'.

The need for renationalisation, with democratic workers' control and management, could not be clearer.

Redcar

The excellent protest on Monday was followed on Wednesday by around 300 workers turning up at dawn to again protest outside Corus Steel in Redcar.

On the Monday the police were taken by surprise and both the gates were obstructed, with traffic tailing back a couple of miles.

It was reported that this protest led to 18 Spie and 50 Balfour workers voting to withdraw their labour in support of the sparks at the gates.

Scaffolders were refused the right to hold a union meeting - so they downed tools and walked out.

By Wednesday the police presence had mushroomed. A reporter from BBC Tees said they had heard that the riot police were out.

Initially the protesting workers stood on the side of the entrance, but it became clear that many wanted to do more.

The decision was made to block the entrance. The police issued warnings that this was illegal, a police van with recording equipment raced towards the blocked entrance, however no arrests were made.

There has been an invitation to all involved in the protests to attend Unite's Newcastle Central branch to discuss the demonstrations and the lessons that have been learned.

Elaine Brunskill

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