Socialist Worker

Sparks of resistance

Issue No. 1761

CONSTRUCTION workers at several sites across Britain have seized the opportunity to win better pay through industrial action. Electricians, pipe fitters and welders on the South Tees Private Finance Initiative (PFI) hospital in Middlesbrough are the latest to take action. They held a 48-hour sit-in at the end of last month after they found out one of their bosses was secretly photographing the 150 workers during lunch and tea breaks.

The contractor Crown House is trying to claw back the gains workers have made over bonus payments. A walkout by sparks in February won them a bonus deal worth £900 per worker. But the workers found out two weeks ago that their bonuses had dropped by nearly 80 percent on the basis of the manager's photographs.

The sparks responded by holding a two-day sit-in. The action humbled Crown House, which admitted the manager 'made a mistake'. Workers recognise that PFI projects are vulnerable to industrial action. The government is eager to push its policy through at top speed, and contractors want to make a quick profit.

Sparks at the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary PFI hospital won their dispute over bonus payments last month after taking official action.

Their employer, contractor Drake and Scull, refused to honour the workers' bonus payments for hitting completion deadlines. Over 100 workers, members of the AEEU union, picketed the main entrance over four weekends.

Their solid strikes every Friday and Monday won them a £75 a week bonus and a one-off payment of £200. The industry magazine Construction News reported in July that such disputes show a pattern of militancy on PFI sites across Britain. It traces its beginnings to strikes on the Jubilee Line in 1999 and then at the Millennium Wheel.

Construction News argues, 'Events in the South Tees Hospital in Middlesbrough have shaken the view that the trades which flexed their muscles so successfully two years ago might somehow have become docile again.'

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Article information

Sat 11 Aug 2001, 00:00 BST
Issue No. 1761
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