Socialist Worker

Wave of walkouts shocks the bosses

by Simon Basketter
Issue No. 2283

A picket speaks to the crowd at the Blackfriars construction site in London  (Pic: Smallman )

A picket speaks to the crowd at the Blackfriars construction site in London (Pic: Guy Smallman)

Rank and file electricians walked off jobs, protested and blocked roads in towns and cities across Britain on Wednesday of last week.

It was a huge step forward in the campaign. The workers’ Unite union called off an official strike after legal threats from the construction bosses.

But rank and file electricians significantly escalated the war in the construction industry.

They are battling building bosses’ attempts to slash pay by 35 percent and bring in a new grade of semi-skilled worker.

At the Balfour Beatty site at Blackfriars station in central London, no electrician went into work. Pickets gathered on all entrances and turned lorries away—despite a sustained police attempt to stop them.

It was meant to be the day of the first official strike against the attacks. It was also the day that Balfour Beatty was threatening to sack workers who didn’t sign up to new, worse contracts.

Across Britain workers at Balfour Beatty voted to strike by 81 percent in a recent ballot.

But despite Unite calling off the official action, the electricians came out anyway.

One Balfour electrician told Socialist Worker, “I don’t care what Balfour Beatty say—I’m not working.”

Another said, “I’m out because they want to de-skill my job. They’ll always try to stop any strike, but what’s the worst they can do?”

Workers said they had to take action to stop the assault—official or otherwise.

There were pickets at Central Library in Manchester, St Catherine’s hospital in Merseyside, Kelvin Hall school in Hull, in Glasgow and in north east Lincolnshire.

The Cardiff rank and file committee held its first protest at the Llanndough hospital.

In London, workers marched to Balfour Beatty’s headquarters to protest outside. A post worker respected the impromptu picket and refused to deliver the mail.

Workers then marched to the Gratte Brothers site at Victoria. As they arrived, a fire alarm mysteriously went off on site and hundreds of workers came off the job.


Balfour Beatty 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 agreement.

The attack has provoked enormous resistance. More than 100 workers protested outside Balfour Beatty’s headquarters in Glasgow on Wednesday—and Balfour Beatty electricians didn’t go to work. Workers also occupied the Cambuslang fire station construction site.


Construction workers walked out at the Grangemouth site to join Balfour Beatty pickets. Around 200 workers at ConocoPhillips protested in Immingham.

Some 300 took part in a brilliant protest in Hartlepool, where electricians managed to free an arrested demonstrator.

Electricians are winning support from other workers. In London, members of the RMT, UCU, PCS and NUJ unions joined the electricians.

Bob Crow, general secretary of the RMT, joined the pickets. “We’ve got to show solidarity with workers under attack,” he told Socialist Worker. “There’s an injustice being done here.”

Several Unite national executive committee members joined the picket too, including Mark Wood from Southampton.

He said, “The government is trying to pitch public and private sector workers against each other.

“They want a race to the bottom while politicians and bankers look after themselves.

“But these attacks are all part of the same thing—attacks on working people.”

In London up to 100 electricians and supporters joined a night shift picket of the Blackfriars site. Two minibuses of cable installers were turned around. A number of other workers, both directly employed and agency, did the same.

One told Socialist Worker, “I am not crossing a picket line, simple as that.”

Another initially went into work but then came back out. He said he “simply couldn’t do it. You have to have some respect for yourself and for others.”

Groups of night shift electricians met outside the gate and decided to stay out. Others simply didn’t show up at all.

As a member of the London rank and file committee put it, “People voted by more than 81 percent to strike—and today they struck.”

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