Rank and file electricians are warning that targeting union reps for raising safety concerns could lead to tragedy on the Crossrail project. A major accident at Westbourne Park in west London last week shows that the dangers are very real.
A gantry collapsed over tracks, bringing work there to a halt on Thursday afternoon. The gantry is part of a conveyor system transporting excavated material from the tunnels to freight trains.
The gantry and the hopper, which feeds excavated material into wagons, tilted into an individual wagon. Network Rail closed the adjacent track.
Some 28 workers employed by contractor EIS lost their jobs last month when the firm’s Crossrail contract was terminated. EIS was taken off the job by the Bam Ferrovial Kier (BFK) consortium after workers raised safety concerns.
Unite union safety rep Rodney Valentine was removed from the site immediately after he was elected and was subsequently moved, suspended and dismissed. Shop steward Frank Morris was banned from the site after raising concerns over dangerous cables in the tunnels.
There have been daily pickets at the Westbourne Park Crossrail site since. Rank and file electricians and their supporters blocked Oxford Street in central London during rush hour on Wednesday of last week.
BFK security, when unable to order workers around, tried moving traffic without success. Taxis turned around, buses emptied and traffic backed up through central London.
One electrician told Socialist Worker, “It is a huge project and we are going to make sure that it is unionised and has no place for blacklisting.” Another said, “We took on the big firms and beat them when they tried to tear up the national agreement. We will take on them again here.”
There were also protests in Leeds and Kent last week. Dave Smith, secretary of the Blacklist Support Group said, “Do workers need to die on Crossrail before BFK consortium stop blacklisting safety reps and start talking to trade unions?
“Victimisation and blacklisting of safety reps creates the climate where workers are scared to raise safety concerns in case they get the sack. That is one of the reasons why the construction industry has such an appalling fatality record.”
The GMB has tabled a motion for this weekend’s Labour Party conference in the row over illegal blacklisting of 3,200 workers. The workers were shunned by construction firms who used a database to check if they were shop stewards or alleged troublemakers.
GMB union national officer Justin Bowden said, “We’ll not rest until they get an apology and compensation.”
Rank and file electricians are appealing for donations. Send cheques payable to “Joint Sites Committee” to 70 Darnay Rise, Chelmsford CM1 4XA