Electricians, construction workers and their supporters protested outside the Olympic site in east London early this morning, Wednesday.
Workers occupied the road outside one entrance to the site. Up to 150 workers then marched to occupy Bow Road, the area's main through route—causing a rush hour tailback to the Bow Flyover.
The protest took place after eight major electrical contractors announced their intention to withdraw from the Joint Industry Board (JIB) national industry agreement.
The employers propose three new grades for electricians: metalworker £10.50 per hour, wiring £12, terminating £14. The current electricians’ JIB rate is £16.25p per hour across the board. For the worst hit this amounts to a 35 percent pay cut.
Yesterday the major electrical employers raised the stakes, when they sent out new contracts, with an ultimatum that anyone who did not sign them by 7 December would be sacked.
A Unite union activist told protesters that action across the industry is needed now. “Contracts will be torn up in December,” he said. “It’s no good having a campaign in January.”
Other speakers complained that people in the industry who raise questions often find themselves sacked and blacklisted.
Other demonstrations were held this morning outside sites at Manchester, Newcastle and Grangemouth—where electricians and pipefitters working for Balfour Beatty walked out unofficially.
After the protest in Manchester, workers also took action.
Today’s protests were the third organised by rank and file workers in as many weeks. Unite has now said it will officially back a demo next Wednesday, 6.30am, at Farringdon Station in central London.
Unite member Jim Grey has been an electrician for 26 years. He told Socialist Worker, 'Accidents are getting worse. Firms are really cracking the whip. It's like you have to work twice the rate for half the money.
'This is the tip of the iceberg. They're introducing deskilling through the back door and threatening people with the sack if they don't sign the new contracts. For years they've been chipping away at us and now we've just had enough.'
Another demonstrator, Douglas Gray, shouted across to workers in the site, 'Wake up and smell the coffee! Or they'll cut your wages 35 percent and you won't be able to afford a cup of coffee.'
He told Socialist Worker, 'I don't know why sparks aren't more up in arms. You can't get taken on direct by firms. Agencies charge you £20 or £30 a week, and you don't get paid holidays.
'Their doing this to blokes who've worked here for years so I hate to think how overseas workers are being ripped off. It's not about them and us, it's all about the firms. We need to be solid with each other and support other people who strike.'
Roy Bentham, who is in the Ucatt union, told Socialist Worker, 'I've come down from Liverpool. We need to spread protests like this across the country. It's good that the official union is starting to back us. But we need the rank and file to keep on pushing.'
The construction firms involved are Bailey Building Services, Balfour Beatty Engineering Services, Tommy Clarke, Crown House Technologies, Gratte Brothers, MJN Colston, SES and SPIE Matthew Hall.