Socialist Worker

Construction workers are building the fight on site

by Simon Basketter
Issue No. 2168

The war raging on construction sites reached a temporary ceasefire this week as the employers backed down over attacks on the new national agreement or “blue book”.

Unofficial strikes earlier this year, alongside a huge vote for strike action in the official ballot at seven major sites to get a decent national agreement, have made the construction bosses retreat from plans to attack union organisation.

But there is much still to be fought for.

The details of the recent ballot result have yet to be released, but Socialist Worker understands the result to be an overwhelming vote for strike action in both the Unite and GMB unions.

GMB national secretary Phil Davies said, “We made significant progress at the latest talks.

We now have a pay offer on the table for a two-year deal. A new procedure has been agreed to eliminate rogue contractors and rogue contracts from the industry.

“We also have an agreed process to develop a skills register and database which we will work on with the employers over the coming months to maintain and raise standards and to enhance job security in the industry.”

The agreement will be finalised at a meeting with the employers on the morning of Thursday 17 September.

The unions will recommend the complete package to the shop stewards’ forum that afternoon.

The full details of the agreement won’t be released until then. However, Socialist Worker believes that the proposed pay rise offered is 2 percent for the first year, and the rate of inflation for the second year with 1 percent guaranteed.

This is a paltry offer that should be rejected.

The employers will allow unions to carry out audits of the pay and conditions of all 30,000 workers. And they have backed down over threats to cut the 12 paid trips home for all workers.

The precise details of the deal are important. The nature of a skills register and how it will be used needs to be discussed.

Unions’ right to see what pay and conditions people have on site is of huge importance, but the subcontracting system makes it possible for bosses to hide all sorts of dubious practices that can be used to undercut conditions.

It also means there are constant attempts to set worker against worker.

That’s why any demand framed in terms of “putting British workers first” inevitably paints another set of workers—“foreign workers”—as the problem. This is a dead end.

The construction bosses have blinked first. There is now a chance to win decent conditions and one rate for the job for all workers—no matter where they are from.

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Tue 8 Sep 2009, 19:38 BST
Issue No. 2168
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