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This week I've been visiting the picket line at the cross rail site at Westbourne Park, west London. Cross rail is an enormous project employing thousands of contraction workers from many trades across many London sites. Recently, Crossrail terminated one of it's electrical contractors, EIS, because their workforce were unionised and the Unite members had raised safety concerns at the site. Unite shop steward Frank Morris was first made to sit in a shed doing nothing each work day for 9 weeks and then banned from the site.
When the contract was first terminated about 50sparks blockaded the site forcing a temporary closure but since then many of the workers have been scared off by threats of blacklisting, a major problem in construction.
Now Crossrail and main contractor BDK have beefed up security and the guards on the entrance have no problem manhandling the pickets. Yesterday, one guard began taking photos of pickets and when seen grinned and said "say cheese". Needless to say something of a row broke out and we began to stand in the road again. Security shoved the men out of the way but were curiously reluctant to give me a shove leading someone to comment that they could do with more women onthe picket line.
I think this is a good idea and on upcoming days of picket line actions women's fightback should mobilise to show solidarity with the sparks. Women often find themselves in similarly precarious work subject to contracting and poorly unionised. Practically, more women on the picket line may wrong foot security but not for long. The guys I met and argued with were arrogant thugs and I'm sure some of them wouldn't mind pushing some women around. But it wouldn't look good for cross rail.
More importantly, construction is a male dominated industry and doubtless even amongst the best groups of militants we are going to get entrenched sexist attitudes. History has shown us that solidarity between men and women in struggle has been the surest way of challenging sexism and changing men's attitudes to women.
The cross rail dispute is likely to run on and there are daily pickets at Westbourne Park. Watch this space for details about upcoming coordinated actions.