The UK’s major electrical and mechanical contractors have launched an unprecedented attack on collective bargaining by attempting to unilaterally impose a new agreement on the industry.
The contractors, which include industry leaders such as Balfour Beatty, wrote to workers in late July announcing their intention to impose new agreements.
The new agreement, if imposed, will lead to a significant deskilling and arbitrary downgrading by industry bosses. It will also give managers an enormous amount of direct control over hours, breaks and pay procedure, as well as containing a no-strike clause. Blacklisting of union activists is already a factor in the industry and many workers see this latest attack as an attempt by contractors to stamp out organised labour decisively.
Unions representing the workers were only given access to copies of the draft agreement after significant pressure. Unite have since withdrawn from negotiations and are mounting a campaign in defence of existing agreements and procedures.
However, many rank-and-file construction workers are frustrated with what they see as their unions’ inadequate response to the attacks. A packed meeting of activists on Saturday 13 August discussed the possibilities for industrial action to beat the bosses back, rejecting the line from the union bureaucracy that a campaign based on petitions and lobbying could appeal to employers’ better nature.
The meeting elected a steering committee of six individuals to coordinate the rank-and-file campaign.