Link to this page: https://www.socialistparty.org.uk/articles/13349
Action by construction workers escalates in the 17th week of protests
50 electricians in the union Unite and their supporters gathered outside Llandough hospital to protest against the plans of big construction companies to withdraw from the Joint Industry Board (JIB) agreement on pay and conditions.
Spie Matthews, which employs construction workers who are building the hospital extension, is one of seven multi-million pound companies attempting to force through massive pay cuts of up to 35%, as well as a worsening of conditions and an attack on trade union rights.
The electricians received support from Cardiff Trades Council members; also from Socialist Party members in Unison (which organises health workers at Llandough); lecturers' union UCU from Cardiff and Vale college, who deliver construction training courses; as well as other unions.
Links are developing every day between public and private sector workers that could enormously strengthen campaigns on both sides.
Public sector unions, for example, often have members sitting on bodies like local health boards and could argue that any company which breaks the JIB should not be given construction contracts.
Talk on the gates was of the Unilever strike a few days before, where workers in the Pot Noodle factory at Crumlin, Gwent, managed to win the support of temporary staff and agency workers for their strike action against pension cuts last Friday.
The sparks called on the JIB unions, meeting employers tomorrow with Acas, to back "action not distraction" and keep the pressure up on the companies.
About 100 electricians from West Burton power station and BP Saltend, on strike against the NAECI employers' pay freeze, converged on ConocoPhilips' Humber refinery in Immingham at 6.30am today.
This site has been targeted by the sparks because Balfour Beatty employs the electricians on that job.
Last Wednesday it was not clear how many Conoco sparks had not gone in or had walked out, but today, after being addressed by picketing Unite stewards in a car park meeting, 100, maybe more, electricians, scaffolders and laggers joined the strike and swelled the protest lines.
Pickets expressed disappointment that no trade union full time officials were present, wariness about Thursday's Acas talks (Nigel and Robbo said "there's nothing to negotiate about, we're not signing up to BESNA"), and a feeling that further action should be more than one day.
Stewards from Hull Unite No1 branch, Ian Bell and Paul Tattersfield, then addressed all the 200 or so strikers.
Ian said that this was just the start of the action which would have to be stepped up in January, and Paul explained the consequences if all construction workers don't stand up to the bosses: "They want to take us back to the Victorian times".
With a feeling of 'job done' for today, the protest dispersed - "See you next time!"
In Manchester protest continued at the NG Baileys town hall site, where last week the council agreed to look into the pay-cutting, deskilling and blacklisting of both Baileys and Laing O'Rourke.
Pickets were cheered by the news that Unite's regional industrial sector conference the previous day had elected representatives to two more positions on the regional JIB board, including a 'rank and file' (R&F) supporter.
They will sit alongside leading R&F and Unite activist Steve Acheson who, when elected to the board earlier this year, was the first trade unionist elected (rather than appointed) into such a position since the JIB was created 43 years ago.
The upswell of protest from below on the gates is being felt by the employers, and reflected within Unite and now the JIB as well.
Over 150 sparks and their supporters held a protest outside the Kings Cross NG Baileys site. This is a fantastic response in their 17th week of protest and after last week's heroics at Blackfriars which saw Balfour electricians refuse to go into work on both day and night shifts as well as many other workers.
Also there was a two hour stoppage at Grattes' site in Victoria which must have cost the company tens of thousands of pounds.
The protesters this morning then marched off to Network Rail's office in Euston and gave out Siteworker leaflets to its staff and customers explaining how their safety would be threatened by de-skilling.
Suspended Unison branch secretary at Queen Mary's university, Vic Chechi, gave support, and Jarrow marcher Paul Callanan gave support from 'Youth Fight for Jobs' on the day that youth unemployment rose to 1.028 million.
1,000 workers were on strike at West Burton power station in North Nottinghamshire.
40 electricians, scaffolders and other trades picketed Scotland's largest biomass plant, CHP, in Markinch, Fife.
Pickets came from Grangemouth Oil Refinery to join strikers from the plant. The road backed up with cars and buses, and cars and lorries that turned back were loudly cheered.
Although CHP is a Blue Book site, the Scandinavian companies who own the plant have contracted work to a myriad of companies.
Many workers, including a substantial section of Polish workers, are either not aware of the agreement or are having thier rights undermined.
Pickets gave out leaflets in Polish to workers going in, raising the issue of lodging money not being paid by the companies.
It's clear that some going in to work had been told by managers to use the the excuse that they were "safety cover".
Workers the previous day who were concerned about dangerous wind levels working high above ground had been told that "safety cover" wasn't availiable.
Of the workers who went in to the site a significant number held a meeting in the site and then walked out and drove home, some joining the picket.
A few of the lads commented that a lot didn't know about the action and that if the union had made the national walkout official the site could have been closer to being shut down as more would have had the confidence to walk out.
Socialist Party leaflets calling for coordinated national action to shut down all sites in defence of the JIB and against the wage freeze were well recieved, pickets also bought copies of the Socialist, being interested in the reports of the 30 November public sector strike.
There were 50 pickets at the entrance to the Longannet power station this morning in freezing conditions.
Workers from Longannet were joined by trade unionists from the Grangemouth Oil refinery as well as electricians from across Scotland.
Scaffolders and other trades were also involved in the action to oppose the freezing of wages for workers on the 'Blue Book' NAECI national agreements which cover wages and conditions for many working in the construction industry.
The queues of traffic backed up for miles as the pickets made a point of speaking to all workers, staff, drivers et al to explain their case.
The pickets were successful in convincing a number of workers not to cross the picket lines in solidarity.
Today marked an important extension of the action following last week's widespread walkouts by the construction electricians at Balfour Beatty sites.
The threat to cut wages of their sparks by 35% by seven of the major construction companies and impose mass de-skilling of the industry has provoked the biggest industrial action since the 1970s in this sector.
The extension of action in defence of wages and conditions today by the Blue Book workers also represents another step forward.
At the same time it is clear that unified national action of all workers affected by the attacks of profit-hungry bosses is urgent.
A national strike ballot by Unite linked to a major recruitment drive of workers into the union, backed up by unofficial action across the sector, is needed quickly for January.
As at Markinch the Socialist Party leaflet was enthusiastically received and read closely.
The Liverpool electricians' JIB protest was well attended again on Wednesday 14 December with over 25 people in attendance at the site on Clarence Street where John Moores university is erecting a new building.
At one point a lorry with materials was turned away, and a site supervisor who told the protesters to clear out the way was told in no uncertain terms: 'We are fighting for our future and our children's future here mate, so you get out the way, this lorry will not pass'.
The protesters stood firm and the lorry was sent on its way. A number of copies of the Socialist were sold and the Siteworker leaflet was distributed.
Text written for the Socialist Party leaflet to be distributed outside the Acas meeting on Thursday 15 December:
Construction workers walk out to defend JIB & stop the NAECI pay freeze
Tell the Bosses - Retreat or we step up the action!
The 'Dirty 7' construction companies have finally been dragged kicking and screaming to the negotiating table by four months of rank & file action which has included protests, walkouts and stoppages.
This has culminated in last week's unofficial walkouts by electricians fighting the new BESNA terms and yesterday these sparks being joined by workers under the NAECI/Blue Book agreement fighting the imposition of a pay freeze.
This has been the first national stoppage in the construction industry across all trades since the building workers' strikes in the early 1970s which infamously saw the 'Shrewsbury Pickets' jailed by the Tory government of Ted Heath.
This action has been necessary because the bosses want to withdraw from the JIB agreement and impose the BESNA terms which will lead to de-skilling of electrical work and massive cutting of wages and terms and conditions.
Some will see their pay reduced by up to 35%! Yet Balfour Beatty (BBES) has an order book of £15 billion and made £100 million profit over the last six months! We call on all Labour councils, the Labour-led Welsh assembly and the SNP-led Scottish government to give a commitment that they will not use any company on any of their projects that withdraws from the JIB.
The pressure of this rank & file movement forced Unite into balloting its Balfour members for strike action.
This was won by 81% but ruled out by the anti-union laws on a technicality. This blatantly shows the class character of this legislation.
Balfours breaks national agreements, yet they can run to the courts while the police are used to protect them and the other employers every week.
Last week, they used police dogs against the sparks at Blackfriars in London and after the national demo on 9th November in London they kettled 200 electricians, some in their fifties and sixties.
The talk is that Balfours only threatened an injunction. If this was the case, Unite should have gone ahead with the official strike and forced BBES to go to the courts.
If there is a re-ballot, we have to make sure it's just as overwhelming. In any case, if it was needed, the 81% vote has legitimised this struggle - official or unofficial - once and for all.
That was seen last week, with sparks refusing to go into work, showing Balfours and the other six companies that workers will ignore their legal action to fight for their livelihoods.
Today's talks at Acas should give construction workers confidence that action works. Unite has to send the employers the message: 'If you don't rip up BESNA, there'll be more action in the New Year'.
But the talks need to be transparent and in front of the members. We support blacklisted member of the Rank & File National Committee Steve Acheson being included on the Unite negotiating team today.
Any offer from the employers should be put to a national meeting open to all electricians with their travel expenses covered by Unite.
But if further action is necessary, it needs to continue to be linked up with the NAECI/Blue Book sites that are fighting a pay freeze.
We support the call to make 9th January the next national stoppage throughout the building trade. This call has to go out to all those in dispute to see if strikes can be co-ordinated, such as with the Unilever workers who went on strike across the country last week to defend their pensions.
In Gwent in Wales, 156 out of the 160 workers were on the picket line! Also, we support co-ordinating action with any future strikes by public sector workers to stop the Con-Dems attacking their pensions.
The Socialist Party and the National Shop Stewards Network (NSSN) support the call by Unison members in Scotland for the next public sector general strike to be on 25th January, which should reach out to workers in the private sector, like those in construction and at Unilever.
Let's make 2012 the year that workers in the public and private sector win famous victories against the bosses and their split government.