Socialist Worker

Protest over exploitation in construction

by Simon Basketter
Issue No. 2188

Protesters outside Lord Mandelson’s office (Pic:» Guy Smallman )

Protesters outside Lord Mandelson’s office (Pic: » Guy Smallman)

Some 150 construction workers staged a series of protests over exploitation on Wednesday of last week.

The demonstrations took place at several London locations, including outside Lord Mandelson’s office in Westminster.

They followed news that 20 workers on a contract building a power station at Staythorpe in Nottinghamshire were paid £1,000 a month less than the nationally-agreed rate.

Contractor Alstom blamed the errors on its Italian subcontractor Somi.

Andy Fletcher, GMB union regional organiser, told demonstrators, “Now that Somi has been caught, it is not acceptable for them just to pay back the money they denied their own workers.

“Somi must now be kicked off the Staythorpe project and every other project in Britain.

“The findings will only further exacerbate a very tense situation on the site.”


Workers at Staythorpe were due to hold an official strike on Friday over redundancies.

Most of the demonstrators demanded nationally agreed terms and conditions for all workers, an end to the use of blacklists against union activists, direct hiring of labour rather than subcontracting, and trade union control of recruitment.

Activists stressed that the demonstration was not aimed at foreign workers.

Phil Whitehurst, a GMB organiser, said, “The way workers are being treated is disgraceful. It’s no good blaming the foreign workers.

“It’s the employers who put them there.”

Delegations from the Lindsey oil refinery in North Lincolnshire and from other sites joined the protest.

A Daily Star journalist attempted to give out posters with the toxic “British jobs for British workers”, slogan.

A GMB organiser and some workers rightly told him, in no uncertain terms, to get lost.

The only platform speaker to raise the slogan was Labour MP John Mann. He said he stood by it, adding, “Companies like Alstom should not undercut British wages and leave British skilled workers on the dole.”

In truth many workers have contradictory ideas, with a typical view being, “We want all workers to get the same rate of pay no matter which country they are from, but we must put the British workforce first.”


Such a view can be directed towards a united struggle against blacklists and to enforce national agreements.

But it can also lead to “anti‑foreigner” feeling.

The destruction of building jobs is not about “foreigners”.

As Paul Kenny, general secretary of the GMB said, “This is a campaign against exploitation and against racism. I am certain that undercutting is widespread in this industry, but we are determined to root it out.”

Kenny pointed out that he was against the Daily Star’s attempt to hijack the protest, saying, “You won’t see this general secretary posing with two Daily Star beauties.”

Unfortunately the Unite union did not join the protests. But Jerry Hicks, who is standing for the general secretary of Unite, brought his solidarity greetings.

He said, “Unions should be organising for action, not abandoning you to the dole.”

The strike at Staythorpe is a chance to keep the campaign going in a positive direction.

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Article information

Tue 9 Feb 2010, 18:13 GMT
Issue No. 2188
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