Socialist Worker

Controversy over construction walkouts

by Mike Barton and Simon Basketter
Issue No. 2139

Building workers at two sites went on unofficial strike on Wednesday of last week as part of the battle over jobs in the construction industry.

They walked out at the Staythorpe construction site near Newark in Nottinghamshire and the Isle of Grain site in Kent.

At Staythorpe around 400 people waving flags – Unite union banners and Union Jacks – blocked the main gate before dawn despite a heavy police presence.

The protest targeted Spanish subcontractors of Alstom, the site’s main building firm. Unions are demanding that British workers get a share of 850 skilled jobs at the site, most of which are currently held by Spanish and Polish workers.

The Spanish and Polish workers are on the same hourly rate no matter how long they work – an arrangement that undercuts the “blue book” national agreement.

Protesters shouted “fair share” and held banners quoting Gordon Brown’s poisonous “British jobs for British workers” slogan.

A smaller protest, involving around 100 workers, took place at the Isle of Grain.

The Daily Star newspaper turned up at the picket line and distributed placards emblazoned with Union Jacks and the “British jobs for British workers” slogan.

They told pickets to line up for a photo with two models carrying the placards. Some pickets refused to do this and argued with others not to.

The protest’s official banners read “Stop excluding British workers” and “Fairness for British workers”.

A number of the protesters are concerned that the fight for the national agreement and against subcontractors undercutting wages is getting lost in the arguments over foreign labour.

The answer is not to argue for hiring a quota of British workers, as the unions did at the Lindsey oil refinery. And it certainly isn’t to cuddle up to the Daily Star like Unite general secretary Derek Simpson did (see picture page 2).

Unions need to refocus the fight by attacking the subcontracting system and demanding full implementation of the blue book for all workers, wherever they are from.

Staythorpe strikers produced leaflets in Spanish and Polish informing foreign workers of their blue book rights. Another protest at the site is set for this Wednesday.

At Staythorpe workers are also organising a construction workers’ contingent on next month’s TUC-backed Put People First march against the G20 summit.

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Article information

Tue 17 Feb 2009, 18:16 GMT
Issue No. 2139
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