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Sparks fly for more strike action

The electricians dispute is continuing, writes Joy Macready, and the sparks have Balfour Beatty in their sights

AFTER SIX months of rank and file militant action including wildcat strikes, picketing out sites and demonstrating, the union Unite is now reballoting 800 electrician members for strike action at Balfour Beatty Engineering Services (BBES) – around 70 per cent of the workforce. The result will be announced on 2 February and the next ‘official’ strike is expected to start on 9 February – the last vote for strike action was an overwhelming 81.6 per cent.

BBES is one of the seven major construction firms that have ripped up the previous national agreement in favour of the Building Engineering Services National Agreement (BESNA), which was to come into force on 7 December. The strong and courageous sparks have faced intense bullying, with all of them threatened with the sack if they did not sign up to the rotten deal. The new deal would see some lose up to 35 per cent of their pay packet.
But instead of buckling to the bosses’ pressure, rank and file sparks have organised, resisted and rallied support, building a strong network across the UK. Even better, they have organised a week of action at NGBailey sites – the next firm on the hit list of construction companies. They have done this outside the union structures and effectively forced the union take up the dispute.

However, they have not let the union bureaucracy take over running of the strike. Elected rank and file reps met with Unite General Secretary Len McCluskey, who promised full backing for the dispute including financial support. But the sparks aren’t relying solely on the General Secretary’s word and are calling directly on Unite bus drivers to ferry flying pickets around to different sites during the strike. They are also organising democratically on each site to build up the rank and file network and make their fight stronger.

In the latest rank and file newsletter, the call went out: “It’s time to up our game. This is an important week of demonstrations and it is imperative that we make a huge impression on as many sites as we can. Unofficial action will also be needed to win this dispute and a total shutdown would be the answer.”

They know that a massive step like this is needed to have a chance at winning. The newsletter also called for a mass walkout if any stewards or workers are victimised during the coming weeks.

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