Site workers gain confidence

Submitted by Matthew on 28 September, 2011 - 1:07

Four hundred workers took part in a protest on Monday 26 September at the Lindsey Oil Refinery as the campaign against the plan by eight big contractors to cut pay for construction electricians continues.

The 400 included some workers from West Burton and Saltend who had taken wildcat strike action to join the protest.

Protests were also held at the Manchester Town Hall construction site and the Tyne Tunnel site in Newcastle (where the tunnel was briefly blockaded) on 22 September.

Workers focused on leafleting workers going into the sites; building up organisation and union membership among electricians currently employed on sites run by “the big eight” will be essential to any ongoing campaign. Reports from the Carrington paper mill site, the scene of a protest last week, claim that the rank-and-file newspaper Site Worker is now “the talk of the site”, suggesting that efforts to engage with workers not already plugged in to the campaign may be paying off.

These actions followed a similar protest on 21 September, when about 300 construction workers and supporters demonstrated at the Crossrail construction site in Farringdon, London.

This was the fourth in a series of demonstrations at construction sites in the capital. This time it had support from the leadership of the main electricians’ union, Unite. Unite assistant general secretary Gail Cartmail was there.

She said that the union will ballot members on the site for strikes — but only when membership on the sites has been built up sufficiently.

The demonstration organisers, feeling more confident, marched from the agreed demonstration place to the main entrance of the construction site, and staged a brief token occupation of the site.

The campaign’s difficulty is that many of the workers on the demonstrations are unemployed or blacklisted. Organisation on the Crossrail site is weak, and there wasn’t systematic leafletting or discussion with the workers actually on the site (even in English, let alone in any of the East European first languages of many of the workers).

Some workers on the site said they would support the campaign. Others were sceptical but not hostile.

A programme of further demonstrations in cities across the UK is planned for the coming weeks.

The rank-and-file committee is continuing to demand that Unite ballot its electrician members, but with a lack of organisation on many key sites this may be difficult. The employers’ attack may also move at a pace that outstrips the ability of Unite to respond.

Balfour Beatty, one of the big contractors, has already issued legal “notices of termination” to its electricians to force them to accept lower pay.

While workers are right to demand that their union gives them official support and organises official ballots, more unofficial and wildcat action will almost certainly be necessary if the contractors are to be beaten back.

siteworkers@virginmedia.com