Widgetized Section

Go to Admin » Appearance » Widgets » and move Gabfire Widget: Social into that MastheadOverlay zone

Construction workers escalate action – Invade Crossrail site and Blockade Tyne Tunnel

Construction workers protest in Farringdon Crossrail site (Pic: Guy Smallman)

The construction workers campaign against vicious attacks on their JIB (Joint Industry Board) terms and conditions is escalating. Today 200 construction workers held a protest outside Farringdon Crossrail site, then marched through the main entrance, forced their way through the gates and held a rally in the middle of the excavation, in full view of all the workers on site!

In Newcastle 150 workers blockade the Tyne tunnel while in Manchester construction workers protested at a Balfour Beatty site and at the BBC Media City site. Lets see if the media ignore the protests now!

This was the fifth protest organised by the UNITE Construction National Rank and File Action Committee. The committee was democratically elected at a rank and file meeting of 500 construction workers in August, called in response to the massive attack on the JIB agreement.

8 companies are threatening to pull out of the JIB by March 2012, meaning workers face a 35% pay cut, no sick pay, deskilling, scrapping of overtime agreements and a host of other horrendous attacks.

The rank and file conference passed a motion calling on UNITE to organise a ballot of all rank and file construction section members against these attacks, and to set up a rank and file campaign to respond to it themselves.

This campaign started with a 200 strong protest at Blackfriars station on August 24th and has organised weekly protests since, at the Westfield site, the Shard, the Olympics, and now Crossrail, demanding a ballot from UNITE and calling for walk outs and strikes against the attack if a ballot isn’t given to them. The protests were spread around the country with activists in Manchester and Newcastle organising protests at sites there, and with further action being organised in Hull and Scotland.

The first four protests were all unofficial, but this rank and file action has forced the UNITE bureaucracy to back the protests. UNITE officials attended the demonstration today, and Gail Cartmail, Assistant General Secretary of UNITE addressed the rally.

UNITE had previously said they would ballot on December 9th for a strike next year. In response, 5 of the 8 companies, issued notice that they would sack all workers who hadn’t agreed to the new contracts by Dec 7th! The bureaucracy was caught out, and has so far failed to respond. The rank and file are responding though, by escalating the protests and preparing for unofficial action if necessary.

150 workers walked off site at Grangemouth last week in protest against the attack on the JIB and the action of the 5 companies. We’ve heard workers at Lindsey oil Refinery are planning to hold a rank and file meeting on Monday to decide whether to organise a walk out against the attack.

Gail Cartmail said “We are meeting with workers at sites up and down the country and our absolute objective is to recruit members to improve density.” It’s good UNITE are finally talking about recruitment after doing next to nothing to recruit members for years, leading to a situation where many electricians are  unorganised. This has already been overcome  by rank and file committees a organising workers within and without the union to take unofficial action. Any militant knows the best environment to recruit workers in is during the balloting and preparation for a strike, so UNITE should announce a ballot and launch a recruitment drive at the same time!

Cartmail didn’t commit to an earlier date for a ballot in her speech though, instead saying “We are determined to hold a ballot as soon as possible.” Why not right now Gail? It seems the bureaucracy are still dragging their feet.  Workers are going to have to keep up the pressure, keep demanding that UNITE stops dragging its feet and they be balloted NOW, and keep organising, protesting and preparing so they’re able to do it alone if the UNITE bureaucracy keeps stalling.

The protest was addressed by Mick Dooley, candidate for UCATT general secretary who called on workers to escalate the action, to carry out civil disobedience and to be prepared take unofficial action against the anti-trade union laws in order to beat the employers attacks.

The mood amongst workers at the protest was militant, with many talking about the November 30th strike, and the need to unite in action with other workers.

Mick, an electrician, said: “This is my third recession, and the worst so far. They’re talking about a general strike on November 30th, but we can’t just go out for one day, we’ve got to go out for a week to really hurt these bastards.”

A subcontractor called Leigh said “This protest was good, but we’ve got to get thousands of people out across London and across the country. I’m a subcontractor, I’m not with a JIB firm, its mostly been subbies at this protest, we need to get more workers involved from JIB firms cause they’re the ones that can really affect the companies doing this.”

The next steps must be to escalate the protests, get more workers involved and to push for rank and file action. If the bureauracy won’t give workers a ballot, they should organise workplace meetings and vote to walk off the job. If one site does this, they can spread the action to other sites up and down the country with flying pickets and blockades. An electrician on the demo said “This is like the 80s all over again”. We need to use the militant methods of struggle used in the 80s, flying pickets, wildcat strikes, defiance of the anti-union laws and rank and file organising to co-ordinate it all and bring it to together defeat the bosses offensive

Construction workers show the way, others must follow

The construction workers have shown how to do it. Organise a rank and file conference, agree a programme of action, elect a leadership to lead and implement it and start a vigorous campaign that takes the fight to the employers and forces the bureaucracy to get behind it, or be left behind.

We need rank and file conferences like this in all industries; in Health, Local Government, the Rail, Transport and Education to establish their own national rank and file campaigns against the massive onslaught we face from the government.

We all face devasting attacks in each of our industries which could galvanise the rank and file, if they are given a fighting lead by rank and file organisations. The union bureaucracy is doing all they can to hold back workers action, to dissipate, disorganise and obstruct our will to fight.

Rank and file campaigns must be built to give a lead to workers who want to fight, but who are restrained by the bureaucracy. It is not that workers lack confidence, it is they lack a leadership willing to fight which would give them a lead to follow. In many cases they have a leadership willing to do anything to avoid a fight.

Rank and file organisations need to be built now, we can’t rely on them to be created spontaneously or wait until we’ve built up some amorphous “confidence” first. Confidence will be built through struggle, by equipping workers with a programme of action to beat the cuts, developing an organisation capable of carrying it out and becoming aware of their own power through taking action themselves. The construction workers are building their fighting rank and file organisations as we write, all other workers must follow suit.

Next protests are:

Edinburgh: Thursday 22nd September. 9.00am outside City Chambers. The City Councillors  will meet to confirm that Balfour Beatty has won the contract to build the new Portobello High School. Let’s teach them a lesson!

London: Wednesday 28th September 6:30am Kings Cross Project

Glasgow: Wednesday 28th September 7.00am New Veladrome

Rank and  File meetings:

Glasgow: Saturday 24th September 10.00am: John Smith House

Newcastle: Monday 26th September 7pm Newcastle Labour club

Liverpool: Thursday 29th September 7pm-9pm Friends meeting House, 22 School Lane LI 3BT

Manchester: Saturday October 1st 12.00- 3pm Mechanics Institute 103 Princess Street M6

The protests are being co-ordinated through the Siteworker rank and file bulletin, you can contact siteworker@virginmedia.com for more details.


If you agree with this article, please join or donate
Send news, comments and reports to contact@workerspower.co.uk

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *