The war in construction is at a crucial stage.
Electricians at Balfour Beatty have voted overwhelmingly to strike against bosses’ attempts to destroy their terms and conditions.
Bosses reacted to the 81 percent strike vote with threats to use anti-union laws against the Unite union’s ballot.
But workers are responding with attempts to shut down Balfour Beatty sites.
Balfour Beatty Engineering Services (BBES) is one of seven building contractors that have set up the Building Engineering Services National Agreement (Besna).
This is in opposition to the existing Joint Industry Board (JIB) national industry agreement.
The new agreement would slash wages by 35 percent and introduce a new semi-skilled grade of worker.
The first official strike against this should have taken place this Wednesday, 7 December.
That is the day that Balfour Beatty has threatened to sack workers who haven’t signed the new contracts.
But bosses threatened to challenge the strike ballot.
The frontman for Besna is former Tory councillor Blane Judd.
He moaned, “Unite’s strike mandate was achieved through the use of misleading and unjustified scare tactics.”
He seems to be rattled by the magnificent campaign that rank and file electricians have led.
They have been holding protests, pickets and occupations for over three months.
Balfour Beatty is rattled too. It claimed, “We have strong grounds to believe that Unite’s strike ballot procedures were flawed and BBES plan to request the court to take out an injunction.”
Unfortunately, the workers’ Unite union blinked first and cancelled the 7 December strike—before Balfour Beatty even got to the courts.
But there is still an official mandate for striking. The action should go ahead.
Unite plans to immediately re‑ballot workers at Balfour Beatty. It has also said that it intends to ballot two other companies—Crown House Technologies and NG Bailey.
But workers aren’t waiting. One member of the London electricians’ rank and file committee told Socialist Worker, “The massive yes vote shows that we are determined to fight this all the way.
“We just have to strike anyway. We’re not having some overpaid toff judge telling us we can’t strike and have to take a 35 percent pay cut.”
A meeting of rank and file electricians in London on Saturday of last week decided to push for Balfour Beatty sites to be shut down this Wednesday.
Some were concerned that some union officials have been proposing talks at Acas as a solution to the dispute.
As Socialist Worker went to press, Balfour Beatty workers in Glasgow had voted to walk out on the day. And there are protests organised for ConocoPhillips in Immingham, Manchester, Hartlepool and Liverpool.
In London one Blackfriars worker told Socialist Worker, “It is the time to shut down the Blackfriars project.
“By the time there is another ballot Balfour will just head to the courts.
“People want to stand up—it is about getting the confidence to come out.”
The electricians’ campaign can win. One company, MJN Colston, backed off from breaking the agreement in response to the rank and file campaign.
Other firms have lost contracts because of the protests.
On all the protests in previous weeks, both directly employed and agency workers have refused to go into sites despite intimidation from management.
There is the potential not just to hit Balfour Beatty but to shut down sites up and down Britain.
Engineering construction workers have protested and picketed as well as electricians.
The potential is there not just to stop the Besna contractors but to turn the industry around in favour of the interests of workers for a change.
As one electrician put it, “Whether legal or illegal, ballot or no ballot, we need walkouts on sites to stop the bosses.”