Rank and file workers in construction are fighting significant battles on major projects this summer.
Workers at Hinkley Point C nuclear power plant construction site in Somerset are fighting to win key battles as bosses prepare to bring in thousands of extra workers.
“It’s a rank and file thing, it’s not the unions that are pushing for it,” one Hinkley employee told Socialist Worker.
Last week around 125 mechanical and electrical workers walked out after bosses tried to cut their travel allowances. They are employed by MEH Alliance, a big employers’ partnership between Altrad, Balfour Beatty Bailey, Cavendish Nuclear and Doosan Babcock. The walkout won the restoration of the money.
Then this Wednesday about 350 scaffolders stopped work because employers wanted to change their shift patterns. They work for Bylor, a joint venture of French firm Bouygues Travaux Publics (TP) and Laing O’Rourke. It has a £2.8 billion contract to construct the buildings that will house the two nuclear reactors.
“The scaffolders are stopping every Wednesday until they win,” said the worker. “This is already a very big site with over 5,000 people working. But it’s about to get much bigger with thousands more arriving soon.
“So employers are manoeuvring to get those people on the lowest cost. We have to hold the line, and workers are up for the fight. We need to build the unions and make sure people join them and keep democratic control.”
“We should be in a strong position. It’s not easy for these firms to get skilled workers. They are already under the number of scaffolders they need and want more. So there’s no need for us to accept less than we have now. We can win.”
Meanwhile workers at Stanlow oil refinery in Ellesmere Port in the north west of England “cabined up” to force through a bonus payment they won last month. This means, instead of going into work, workers stay in their rest area.
The threat of a strike by some 450 workers saw the bonus for the job go up from 80p an hour to £2.37 an hour. The workers include scaffolders, electricians, laggers, crane drivers, welders, pipe fitters, riggers and steel erectors for a wide range of construction contractors at the Essar run site.
But on Wednesday the new rate had not been paid, and so workers refused to work till it was. One worker on site told Socialist Worker, “After the lads on dayshift cabined up, we in the nightshift followed suit in solidarity.
“We were told by the union officials that the bonus payment had been resolved. But the bosses had reneged on a deal once already so until we had it in writing we were not going back.
“On Thursday morning it was confirmed that we were getting the agreed bonus rate and that people would be paid for the time cabined up.”
The disputes both show the potential for rank and file workers to organise and to win in construction.
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