The battle on construction sites is escalating.
Five of the largest employers have issued 90-day dismissal notices to thousands of construction workers after ripping up the national agreement for electricians’ wages.
Balfour Beatty, Crown House Technologies, Spie Matthew Hall, Shepherd Engineering Services and NG Bailey plan to re-engage workers on inferior contracts on 7 December.
Another three companies have said they too will tear up the national agreement.
In response, rank and file construction workers are fighting back. Workers protested for the third week in a row at a number of sites.
In a brilliant response to the bosses’ threats at the Grangemouth site in Scotland, electricians and pipe-fitters working for Balfour Beatty voted to walk off the job on Wednesday of last week. Some 100 workers struck unofficially.
Rab Sherry from the Unite union said, “They want to introduce new working practices which they tried to introduce 12 years ago. We resisted it then and we resist it again.
“We are facing a downturn in work. These companies see it as an ideal opportunity to attack our members’ terms and conditions.”
Also in Scotland, electricians protested at the Faslane submarine base. Manchester saw a protest at the Balfour Beatty Papermill site.
In London, 150 protested at the Olympics site. They occupied the road outside one entrance then marched to occupy the main through route—causing a rush-hour tailback.
The bosses pulling out of the Joint Industry Board (JIB) national industry agreement will slash wages.
Protesting electrician 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.”
The employers propose three new grades for electricians: metalworker £10.50 per hour, wiring £12, terminating £14.
The current electricians’ JIB rate is £16.25 per hour across the board. For the worst hit this amounts to a 35 percent pay cut. Agency workers already get around 25 percent less.
Douglas 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.”
The Unite union is slowly moving to get behind the protests. Bernard McAulay, its national officer, has said, “These rogue employers should pull back from the brink as their attack on workers’ skills, pay, and terms and conditions is causing widespread anger among workers.”
That is good—but the official union timetable is too slow. A Unite union activist said 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.”
Roy, who is in the Ucatt union, told Socialist Worker, “We need to spread protests 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.”
Vince, an electrician in Unite, said, “We need a ballot to make the campaign official and soon. But the reality is that the nature of the job means unofficial action is what will hit the bosses hard.
“Subcontracting means that it’s not unknown for the employer to disappear when you declare a dispute. But Grangemouth shows what is possible.”