Socialist Worker

Balfour beaten by surge of rank and file power

by Simon Basketter
Issue No. 2291

Electricians and their supporters block Park Lane in London at rush hour (Pic: http://www.guysmallman.com/Guy Smallman )

Electricians and their supporters block Park Lane in London at rush hour (Pic: Guy Smallman)


Workers have scored a major victory against multinational corporation Balfour Beatty.

Electricians at the construction firm were set to strike officially over new contracts, known as the Besna agreement.

The company failed to obtain an injunction against the Unite union to stop the strike at the High Court on Thursday.

But Balfour withdrew from its plan to force through pay cuts after the possibility of an official strike, backed by the determination of the rank and file, threatened to spread the action.

Besna would cut wages by up to a third and introduce a new lower grade of unskilled electrician.

Rank and file electricians across Britain have been protesting, occupying and striking unofficially for the last six months against this attack.

This is their victory.

Agreement

Balfour is the largest of the seven construction firms that sought to tear up the current JIB national agreement.

One member of the London rank and file committee told Socialist Worker, “It’s brilliant that Balfour Beatty have finally seen sense and pulled away from imposing Besna on their workforce.

“This is after six months of campaigning, and the companies refusing to listen to the workers. We will strike, hit them hard and make them listen.

“This battle is far from over though, as there are still six companies trying to push this deal through.

“The rank and file are determined to beat this and will be upping the campaign. With the ballots to come at NG Bailey and Spie Matthew Hall, I’m sure we’ll win.”

Unite general secretary Len McCluskey said, “Balfour Beatty’s decision to withdraw these contracts and the threat of dismissal, and to enter high-level talks, is a welcome move.

“Not only is it a victory for common sense, but is testament to the resolve of hardworking construction workers.”

Protests repeatedly developed into pickets. Other construction workers refused to cross them. The rank and file have constantly tried to keep the union machine on board and push them into backing action.

Unite called off a strike planned for 7 December. But the rank and file committee rightly insisted on pushing the union to back a national day of protest on that date.

That led to thousands of construction workers unofficially walking out. Workers have spread the action across Britain and organised local committees.

The strength of the rank and file has been the basis of the dispute’s success. Building on that strength could see the balance shift from the corrupt building bosses to the workers for a change.

Workers are determined to use their organisation to make the union more suited to fighting for their rights.

Some are demanding that reps are elected and that the rank and file has representatives in any national negotiations with the building bosses.

Demands

One electrician told Socialist Worker, “Our demands are for security in employment, an end to agency labour and a total end to the blacklist. We want a campaign for full union membership on all sites.”

Another added, “If everyone is paid the same rate for the job then agencies disappear. That would make it far harder for them to blacklist people as well.”

Some are worried that the building bosses are still trying to attack terms and conditions.

“We must ensure that this never happens, we should all stick together now.”

As one electrician put it, “I want my rights upheld and decent employment conditions. Now is the time.”


Click here to subscribe to our daily morning email newsletter 'Breakfast in red'

Mobile users! Don't forget to add Socialist Worker to your home screen.