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Electricians win historic victory

by Simon Basketter

Electricians blockading the Blackfriars site in August last year. Six months on, they are celebrating  (Pic: http://www.guysmallman.com/Guy Smallman )

Electricians blockading the Blackfriars site in August last year. Six months on, they are celebrating (Pic: Guy Smallman)


Rank and file electricians have won. They have beaten the building bosses who wanted to tear up their terms and conditions and slash their pay.

Electricians across Britain have been protesting, occupying and striking unofficially for the past six months.

Now all of the companies that wanted to drive down their pay and conditions have been forced to back down.

The firms wanted to tear up electricians’ existing JIB national agreement and impose a new agreement called Besna.

This would have cut wages by 35 percent and introduced new unskilled grades.

Ian, a member of the London electricians’ rank and file committee, told Socialist Worker that the result was “a great vindication of our stance”.

He added, “This was a cynical attempt to use the economic climate to drive through massive cuts to workers’ pay and conditions and keep profits high.

“We must use the momentum we have to make sure we build on our terms.

“Although we have won this dispute, I can see these companies using negotiation to bring in other attacks. If they do, we must be ready to fight back immediately.”

Originally eight companies had planned to impose Besna on workers.

The largest of them, Balfour Beatty, pulled out last month following pressure from the rank and file campaign and the threat of an official strike.

The climbdown was the final nail in the coffin of Besna.

As one construction boss told the industry press, “One thing is definite, Besna is finished. Balfour bottled it.”

The victory encouraged electricians to pile the pressure on the remaining companies.

Forced

Workers protested against NG Bailey in Bradford, Glasgow, Liverpool, London, and Manchester on Wednesday of last week. In London up to 100 electricians and supporters protested at the NG Bailey job at King’s Cross station.

They chanted, “Balfour, Balfour, Balfour—beaten, beaten, beaten!” and “Bailey, Bailey, Bailey—next, next, next!”

On the same day in Bradford, some 60 construction workers forced Morrisons’ headquarters to close.

Morrisons have a multimillion pound contract with NG Bailey.

A coachload of workers came from Hull along with students from Bradford and Leeds.

They picketed the front gate and refused to move.

Pete, an electrician who helped organise the protest, told Socialist Worker, “We had traffic backed up to the motorway and into Bradford city centre.

“A Hovis baking plant nearby had to shut because no one could get to work.

“One union official had to get out of his car and walk for 20 minutes to get to the picket.”

Police turned up and told workers that they couldn’t block the gates. Pete said, “We marched around to keep the gate blocked.

“The police didn’t know what to do.”

NG Bailey backed out of Besna within hours.

Then the remaining firms—Crown House, Gratte Brothers, T Clarke, Spie Matthew Hall and Shepherd Engineering Services—crumbled after a couple of days.

MJN Colston, which backed out of the agreement last year, went into administration last week.

Electricians have humbled huge corporations—and at the centre has been rank and file workers’ organisation.

Pete said, “It’s a brilliant result. This shows that leaving it to the full time union officials is not enough. People have to get involved.”

The lesson is simple. Militant tactics win.


Article information

News
Tue 28 Feb 2012, 18:49 GMT
Issue No. 2292
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