MUSIC AND fireworks greeted Tony Blair and David Beckham as they joined bosses from the Football Association and multinational construction firms to celebrate the raising of the landmark arch above the Wembley Stadium site last week.
But they had to be whisked in by a back entrance, completely screened from the workers protesting outside.
The 240 skilled workers sacked from the stadium site were the very ones who built the arch and made this celebration possible. Now they have lost their jobs because of a dispute between multimillion-pound contractors.
The sacked workers are protesting outside the site and are stepping up the drive to win solidarity. They are demanding that their unions, Amicus and the GMB, give them full support.
They worked for specialist steel firm Cleveland Bridge, which quit the project in June claiming that Multiplex, the main contractor on the site, owed it £20 million.
Cleveland Bridge is taking Multiplex to court and says it holds a trump card—it still has the computer program needed to complete the lifting of the arch.
But Multiplex has transferred the contract to Hollandia FastTrack.
When a firm takes over a contract, the workers’ pay and conditions should automatically be safeguarded under TUPE (the Transfer of Undertakings Protection of Employment Act).
FastTrack ignored this legal obligation and imposed new contracts, which union officials told the men to sign “under duress”.
Negotiations on these contracts, to restore the workers’ previous conditions, broke down a week before the bank holiday—and they were all sacked.
The GMB union has not repudiated the dispute. Amicus, however, has. Disgracefully two of its officials are advising other members working on the site to cross the protest line.
At a mass meeting last Wednesday, sacked workers appealed to others on the site to show solidarity and respect their picket lines.
For a day, electricians and crane drivers responded to the call, and even though a Ucatt union official urged his members to go into work, many of them and even non-union temporary workers also refused to cross the lines.
The sacked workers say that solidarity could be maintained if the dispute were made official.
But on Monday this week Amicus officials visited the sacked workers’ protest at the site to tell them again to call off their action.
The officials then went off with ten or so steel erectors to a meeting in a local hotel to try and get them to start work. They refused.
The workers are furious that Amicus has repudiated the action. Most of them backed Derek Simpson in his campaign to become general secretary.
Now they are demanding he backs them and takes action against two officials, Frank Westerman and Harry Cowap, for their handling of the dispute.
That’s why workers lobbied a meeting of Amicus’s national executive on Tuesday.
But they are not waiting for official support. An unofficial “planning meeting” agreed:
Sacked worker and Amicus member Tony Ryan says, “We are prepared to speak at union meetings to build support.
“We’ve already been in contact with sites across the country and are confident of backing.”
Tony sent a letter to Derek Simpson on Monday spelling out the implications if Multiplex gets away with ripping up national terms and conditions.
“This is a national issue and we demand backing from the union.” he told Socialist Worker.
BRIAN BUTTERWORTH and SARAH COX