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Construction workers occupy Oxford Street – now its time to strike!

Electricians organised another militant protest in their battle over pay and conditions – it shows the kind of attitude we need to win, writes Mark Booth

Construction workers took their fight to the high street on Wednesday, occupying Bond Street and Oxford Street in the heart of London and blockading other construction sites around the country in their campaign against the tearing up of their terms and conditions.

Electricians from across London took part, including workers from the Oxford Street sites. They marched, blockaded sites and stopped rush hour traffic, finally getting some news coverage about the attacks on them.

In Liverpool workers protested outside the Liverpool Central Library site. In Manchester workers protested outside the council building, where the Labour council has awarded a £100 million contract too a notorious blacklisting company. In Scotland electricians protested at the Balfour Beatty site in Cambuslang, Lanarkshire.

The latest protest targeted Tommy Clarke, contractor on the Parkhouse Project on Bond Street. Tommy Clarke is the smallest contractor of the 7 still committed to pulling out of the JIB.

Workers gathered outside the site blocking the road while they listened to speeches from activists and UNITE officials. The police had attempted to ban the protest but the rank and file made sure it went ahead. Jerry Hicks, a grassroots member of the rank and file action committee put it simply when he said “The TUC called for civil disobedience, well here it is. This will almost certainly bring the issue to a head. They are determined to demonstrate.”


The mood was certainly there for some direct action. With the police trying to force the protest off the road, one electrician asked if workers wanted to march on the Bond Street Station redevelopment further down Oxford Street. He called a vote and it was overwhelmingly in favour. With a cheer the sparks took off down Oxford Street towards Bond Street Station. They were accompanied by a group of Colombian drummers who had come down to support the protests.


Police blocked the road before the demo got there, but that just left 250 construction workers blocking Oxford Street. The protest was addressed by electricians from the rank and file committee who declared “This isn’t about Portugese workers, or Italian workers, this is about multi-national corporations tearing up our terms and conditions and taking our money!” This was met with a roar of approval from the sparks.  Mick Dooley, candidate for UCATT General Secretary, spoke next and praised the civil disobedience the workers were taking, and called on the workers to prepare to take unofficial action to defeat the attacks.


As an electrician called for escalation of the protests, the police started forcing workers off the road, so we marched back up Bond Street to outside Park House and blockaded the site again. Workers then produced copies of the new contracts Tommy Clarke is trying to force them to sign, and publicly burnt them. Workers were addressed by one of the activists from the rank and file action committee who told the crowd that the protest was now being covered by the BBC and London Radio stations, we had finally got some media coverage!

He announced, “In New York they have occupied Wall Street. We have occupied Oxford Street. The workers united will never be defeated.” This was met with a loud cheer, then we went back down Bond Street and round the side of the site where the building wasn’t enclosed, and workers on site could see us.

Another rally was held and workers got on the megaphone, calling on workers on the site to join their struggle. Mick Dooley got on the microphone again and demanded that a UNITE official be allowed onto the site to speak to the workers, saying that we wouldn’t leave until this was done. After 5 minutes one of the officials was allowed onto the site by an obviously frightened management. Scaffolders on the site came down to watch the rally, and electricians called on them to join the protests in solidarity, stating that they and the other construction trades would be next if the electricians were beaten.

A PCS activist brought a message of solidarity and unity between public and private sector workers and called on the electricians to join public sector strike on November 30th. It was announced that healthworkers in Northern Ireland were on strike against cuts and this got another cheer from the crowd.

A Unite official said they were determined to continue the campaign, but failed to say when they would ballot for action, or what other action they would take, other than the demonstrations next week, which had already been planned.

Several electricians demanded a ballot now as the protests have been going on for 2 months. With still no sign of a ballot it is crucial workers keep demanding one from Unite, but they must also prepare to unofficial if Unite officials keep holding back. That’s why we need rank and file committees set up on every site, to coordinate action, recruit members, organise meetings and make the preparations to strike.

Mick Dooley said, “Whether illegal or illegal, ballot or no ballot, we need to walkouts on sites to stop the bosses.” He made a call to turn the protests into pickets and “to stop deliveries to sites and convince people to stay outside the gates”.

Pressure is growing on the companies. They are starting to lose contracts because of the dispute, as bosses grow scared at the thought of hundreds of electricians protesting outside their prestigious projects.

We must keep up the protests, but they must escalate into strike action. If one site walks out, action can and must be spread to others with flying pickets, blockading the entrances and spreading the action. This is the kind of action that gets results – which is why we have to focussing our energies on making it happen – officially if possibly, unofficially if necessary.

The next protest is at the Tate Modern Site, 6:30am Wednesday 12th October.

Messages of support and solidarity to: siteworkers@virginmedia.net



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