Spontaneous Hull walkouts stick two fingers up at Tory anti-trade union laws

Construction workers in Hull have walked out over safety concerns

Construction workers in Hull have walked out over safety concerns   (Click to enlarge: opens in new window)

Hull Socialist Party

Ferrybridge workers on construction sites and fast food factories have stuck two fingers up at the Tory Trade Union Act by striking.

At a Ferrybridge construction site in Yorkshire trade union officials tried to persuade the workers to “go through the proper channels”. The walkout was over the site alarm system. On 28 November some of the workers made it clear that they could not hear the alarm so they withdrew to their cabins.

The union reps came back with a proposal that would have involved the foreman walking around with a klaxon! The men were told that they would not get paid for the time they had downed tools. This escalated and on the 3 December they walked off the site.

Union reps recommended a return to work and to try and get the unpaid money back through company channels. This was rejected by the workforce. Full-time union officials were sent in to try and persuade the workers to return but this was also ignored.

“How many votes?”

Every morning the officials held a ballot to try and overturn the resolve of the workforce. Many workers drew a parallel with the call for another EU referendum. “How many votes do they want until they get the result they want?”, said one worker.

Even the appearance of national full-time officials failed to convince the workers who continued to picket the site. This included Polish and British workers who work on scaffolding, electrics and the mechanical contractors.

It was finally resolved after more than a week’s strike action. A deal was agreed in which the local fire brigade would resolve the safety issue. Management agreed also to pay for the time when the workers stood down.

In a separate dispute at Cranswick Foods just outside Hull, the GMB union had attempted to organise a strike ballot but had failed to get the necessary quota under the Tory Trade Union Act. This did not stop the workers though! 190 workers including Polish staff walked out spontaneously.

Management assumed that the GMB had organised the walkout but it was a move from below.

The spontaneous character of these walkouts show that if workers can’t find a way forward through official channels they will take unofficial action.