Unity against wage cuts in construction

Time to step up the action!

Rob Williams, Chair, National Shop Stewards Network

The ‘Dirty 7′ construction companies, who want to slash skilled workers’ wages, have finally been dragged kicking and screaming to the negotiating table. This has been achieved by almost five months of rank and file action which has included protests, walkouts and stoppages.

But the deadlock at the Acas talks before Christmas means that the action has to be stepped up – official or unofficial. The campaign of action reached a new stage when electricians fighting the new Besna terms walked out unofficially on 7 December.

A week later on 14 December, over 5,000 walked out as these sparks were joined by workers employed under the NAECI/Blue Book agreement who were fighting the imposition of a pay freeze. This was 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.


The action has been necessary because the bosses want to withdraw from the JIB agreement and impose the Besna terms. This 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%!

The pressure of this rank and file movement has forced Unite into balloting for strike action. This was won in Balfours (BBES) by 81% but ruled out by the anti-union laws on a technicality.

The talk among the activists 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. Hopefully the re-ballot majority will be just as overwhelming. In any case, the 81% vote has legitimised this struggle. On 7 December, sparks refused to go into work, showing Balfours and the other six employers that workers will ignore the legal action to fight for their livelihoods.

The fact that talks at Acas took place before Christmas, 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”.

The National Shop Stewards Network (NSSN) welcomes the negotiating team’s implacable opposition to Besna. We support Steve Acheson, a blacklisted member of the Rank and File National Committee being included on the Unite negotiating team. We also believe that any future talks need to be transparent and in front of the members.

Any offer from the employers should be put to a national meeting open to all electricians with their travel expenses covered by Unite. The deadlock at Acas means that further action is necessary. We believe that action needs to continue to be linked up with the NAECI/Blue Book sites that are fighting a pay freeze. Both disputes are at a critical stage.

We support the call to make 9 January the next national stoppage throughout the building trade. This call has to go out to all those in dispute to see if other strikes can be coordinated, such as the Unilever workers who went on strike at 26 sites at the end of last year to defend their pensions. In Gwent, in Wales, 156 out of the 160 workers were on the picket line!

We support coordinating action with any future strikes by public sector workers to stop the Con-Dems attacking their pensions. Before Christmas, some of the union leaders showed that they are willing to sell out the public sector pension battle.

The Socialist Party and the NSSN support the conference called by PCS Left Unity (see front page). This is open to members of all unions and has been organised to reject any sell-out and to name the date for the next coordinated strike after N30.

All construction workers should attend to maintain the links between the private and public sectors. It will also be a warning to the Unite officials in the JIB/NAECI disputes! Let’s make 2012 the year that workers in the public and private sector won famous victories against the bosses and their split government.

What’s what

Besna: The Building Engineering Services National Agreement is a new national agreement for mechanical, electrical and plumbing workers in the building engineering services sector. It is being foisted on those workers by the Heating and Ventilating Contractors’ Association on behalf of the seven major construction companies in the building engineering services industry. The ‘Dirty 7’ want this to replace the JIB agreement.

NAECI/Blue Book: The National Agreement for the Engineering Construction Industry, also called the Blue Book. This covers different trades to those covered by the JIB agreement. The employers want to subject the workers covered by this agreement to a pay freeze.

JIB Joint Industry Board: The existing terms and conditions for electrical and plumbing workers.

BBES: Balfour Beatty Engineering Services

N30: The 30 November joint public sector strike against the pension cuts