There is a war going on in the construction industry, and its outcome will affect us all.
Last week Total, the huge multinational oil company, launched a major attack against the working class when it sacked 647 workers at the Lindsey oil refinery for taking unofficial strike action.
The workers there are one of the most militant and best-organised groups in the country.
Bosses thought that by crushing them they could send a message to every construction worker—and to people outside the industry—that if you fight back, then you will be sacked.
But there has been a magnificent counter-attack in response, with thousands of workers walking out in solidarity.
People voted at mass meetings across the country to join the unofficial action, shutting down their construction sites.
Management have threatened workers taking solidarity strikes with the sack.
They have launched attacks on conditions and told some workers that they will never get work in the industry again. None of these threats stopped the action spreading (see box).
In some cases mass meetings were organised in advance, while others happened spontaneously. Others took place after workers from Lindsey arrived to ask for support.
Workers at Lindsey walked out two weeks ago in protest at redundancies on the site.
Many workers believe that union activists were targeted for the job losses.
One subcontractor, RBC, took on 61 workers.
The following day Shaw, another subcontractor, wrote to 80 workers telling them they were “at risk” and made 51 redundant.
The workers say there is no transparency about the work available on the site.
Managers promised that the work would be shared equally, and that the end of the job would be handled properly. That hasn’t happened.
Union shop stewards point out that previous pledges that there would be no redundancies made are being broken, and that those involved in previous disputes are being victimised.
One of the sacked workers said, “In February I was promised that there would be no compulsory redundancies.
I was told that when this job ended I would be able to apply for another job on the site.
“Instead, a week after they hired new people, they sent me a redundancy notice. And now the lads who came out in support of me have been sacked.”
Another told Socialist Worker, “Every time they make a promise they break it. Now they have stopped even making promises. They are trying to punish us and we won’t let that happen.”
Thousands of people converged on the site on Tuesday morning to join a protest.
There were delegations from many of the sites shut down by action. Strikers were also continuing to picket out sites.
The workers marched along the site road, wrongfooting the police by turning into a petroleum site entrance.
Everyone is determined to win this fight. “It’s like the Miners’ Strike,” said one worker from Wales. “Except we’re going to win this time.”
Unite steward Kenny Ward asked, “Would Total do the same thing in France?
“Absolutely not, because there wouldn’t be a tanker left on its four wheels.
“They’d all be turned over on their sides, blockading every road to this refinery, because the French wouldn’t put up with it.”
GMB steward Keith Gibson said, “This is probably the most important dispute the construction industry has seen for 30 years and we will not tolerate victimisation of any of the workers who have taken action.”
One striker told Socialist Worker “We have to win this dispute—we have no choice.
“What the bosses haven’t understood is that they have made a mistake. They have forced us spread the dispute and they will reap a whirlwind.
“We need to all be together across the union movement.
“Our slogan here is that we all came out together and we will all go back together.
“We need the backing of every trade unionist to make that happen.”