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Sparks' picket blockades Paddington Crossrail site
The epic battle between electricians and the electrical contracting companies has been running on construction sites around the country for the past 18 months. In London there have been protests from 6am almost every week.
The opening battle ended in defeat for the employers. Wage cuts of 35% and changes to terms and conditions in the form of the Building and Engineering Service National Agreement (Besna) were defeated after a determined rank and file campaign from the sparks.
However the employers have not given up the war. There have been a number of attempts to bring Besna in through the back door as well as attempts to victimise the leaders of the rank and file.
Construction workers' protest outside Paddington Crossrail site, 17.9.12, photo by Neil Cafferky (Click to enlarge)
These attacks took a more serious turn on Friday at the Crossrail site at Paddington, west London. EIS lost the contract on site which led to the sacking of 28 of the firm's electricians, including three Unite stewards, with only a few hours' notice.
Union activists see this as a blatant attempt to drive union organisation off site. A decision was made to picket the site on Monday morning (17 September) to demand that the sacked electricians be transferred to the incoming electrical contractors.
Over 40 sparks and their supporters gathered at 6am outside the main site entrance, beside Westbourne Park bus garage, and blockaded the site.
photo Neil Cafferky
Bollards and plastic barriers were scavenged from the site entrance to assemble a makeshift barricade.
A game of cat and mouse went on for 15 minutes between security and pickets. Security would charge in and pull pieces of the barricade out.
Picketers would then plug the gap with other material lying about. The game finally came to an end when a number of picketers sat down on top of the barricade, forcing security to line up behind the barricade with their arms folded! Traffic was delayed on the busy Great Western Road as numerous lorries were refused entry and eventually turned away.
The picket caused such a commotion that bus drivers from the nearby garage came out. One driver, seeing the Unite flags and clearly still reliving their recent strike victory, rushed over to the picket and asked: "Are we on strike again?".
As the picket was winding down, one security guard attempted to photo the registration number of the picketers' van.
With memories of blacklisting and victimisation fresh in the minds of sparks, this was an extremely provocative move.
A number of picketers, including Rob Williams from the National Shop Stewards Network, blocked the security guard from taking pictures.
In frustration the security guard shoved Rob Williams against the van bonnet. This provoked a furious reaction from the pickets, forcing the security guard to beat a hasty retreat back behind the police.
Scandalously the ranking police officer then defended the behaviour of the security guard! Pickets were quick to point out that if the situation had been reversed the police would not be so forgiving.
A number of Unite officials met with Crossrail project managers to discuss the sackings. At the time of writing, no progress had been made and plans are under way to picket again on Tuesday at 6:15am.
This version of this article was first posted on the Socialist Party website on 17 September 2012 and may vary slightly from the version subsequently printed in The Socialist.