Socialist Worker

Wider fight builds on Wembley win

Engineering construction workers are moving towards a national campaign to defend conditions

Issue No. 1923

THE PUSH for the campaign, which could affect sites across Britain, comes in the wake of the victory by 240 steel erectors at the Wembley stadium site.

The Wembley workers were due to vote on a final agreement on Wednesday of this week.

It should see all workers at the site brought onto nationally agreed terms and end the use of agencies that undercut those conditions.

Last week construction workers rallied in Sheffield over the national agreement—which is under attack from union-busting companies.

A meeting of over 150 members of the Amicus and GMB unions unanimously endorsed a call for an emergency conference of shop stewards in the engineering and electrical contracting industry.

The aim is to “unite members across the industrial spectrum—scaffolding, mechanical, electrical and structural—with a strategy including official industrial action”.

Delegations travelled from across the Yorkshire and Humberside region, and beyond from a number of major sites including Wembley.

The flashpoint in Sheffield is the new municipal waste incineration plant, which Labour-run Sheffield council has signed over in a £40 million contract to the multinational company Onyx.

Construction work has been subcontracted out, and a Belgian firm has brought in workers from Belgium who are being paid under the union rate.

The company is exploiting a loophole in the European Union Posted Workers Directive, which employers claim allows them to ignore union agreements and even health and safety laws.

Employers are using overseas workers because they believe they can pay them under the union rate.

But the solidarity shown in the Wembley dispute showed that it is possible to break this divide and rule tactic.

The Wembley workers went to great lengths to point out that if the national agreement is enforced on all sites then it will not be profitable to ship workers in from abroad.

At the meeting there were calls for a recruitment campaign at key sites, and for Amicus general secretary Derek Simpson to throw his weight behind this key struggle.

Eddie Grimes, a member of the Amicus national executive who has led the fight of foundry workers sacked by William Cook’s in Sheffield, urged the workers to stay solid in fighting for their national “Blue Book” agreement.

Earlier the workers had marched from Sheffield Trades Club to the incinerator behind Amicus flags, GMB placards, and banners including Sheffield Trades Union Council.

A rally was held at the gates, and a petition opposing Onyx was handed in.

Amicus says it is preparing to contest the dismissal of Garry Jackson and fellow worker Daniel Degnam by going to an employment tribunal.

But the victory by the Wembley workers against mass sackings shows that contractors are vulnerable to immediate industrial action.

Activists are now trying to spread that lesson.

Feeling is growing, for example, at the Arsenal stadium site, which has been given an official status that means construction workers are on less money than those at Wembley.

A dispute earlier this year at the Barry power station site in South Wales ended up with workers taking unofficial action and defending their national conditions.

“There is great potential to challenge the nightmare of agency working and to take on the construction bosses,” says one Wembley worker.

“We’re not just talking about pay. It’s about establishing working hours that allow us to have a life away from the job.

“And it’s about enforcing proper safety standards so we end the scandal of record numbers of deaths of construction workers.

“We’ve got strong organisation in some sections on some sites. Now’s the time to extend it.”

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Wed 13 Oct 2004, 00:00 BST
Issue No. 1923
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