Electricians step up the fight against big business cartel

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Construction workers marching to the City of London from Tate Modern
Construction workers marching to the City of London from Tate Modern

ELECTRICIANS are stepping up their fight against the ‘cartel’ of seven major building contractors, which has declared it is tearing up the longstanding JIB (Joint Industry Board) agreement on 7th December and imposing a new union-busting, de-skilling, 35 per cent wage-cutting contract.

The sparks are calling for a mass turn-out for their 6.30am picket of the major Balfour Beatty Blackfriars building site next Wednesday morning and their demand for a strike ballot from Unite is reaching a crescendo.

On Tuesday evening they held a meeting at Conway Hall in Holborn, ahead of Wednesday morning’s early picket of the Tate Modern in Southwark.

At the meeting, Unite Construction Organiser, Vince Passfield said: ‘If there’s any doubt what this is about, all our agreements are at stake.

‘The electrical JIB is the industry benchmark. If it goes it will be the race to the bottom for the whole industry. It is everyone’s fight.

‘I’m not ashamed to say that it’s the rank and file who led the way at Blackfriars and it has grown.

‘No doubt the protests will continue and no doubt they’ll get bigger. Their intentions are plain to see.

They are about de-skilling and imposing over 30 per cent wage cuts.’

Dorian Malloy, from the Teamsters Union in New York, got a great reception when he said: ‘I assure you, you have the support of the Teamsters.’

He invited them to join a demonstration outside Sotheby’s in New Bond Street on Thursday evening, saying: ‘Sotheby’s gave us one day to sign a new contract, we refused and we’ve been locked out for two-and-a-half months.’

Steve Kelly, Unite London Construction Branch Secretary, said: ‘We have rebuilt our union in eight weeks after 10 years of neglect by union officials.

‘We are having a major influence.

‘I am calling that electricians should be paid £25 an hour across the board. And another demand I am making of the union is to move against the blacklist.

‘I’m calling on our union to defend the people who are blacklisted.

‘There’s loads more people besides me. It’s an outrage. That’s why we are in the position we are in now.

‘These protests have been good so far, but we need to up the ante. We need to shut these jobs down.

‘We also need to get elected stewards on jobs and we need backing from Unite. I’m sick and tired of appointed stewards being parachuted in.

‘The other thing is, when is this ballot going to happen?

‘Ballot Balfour Beatty! Ballot that site. Get on the site. Organise workers. We need old-fashioned trade union activity, that’s what we need.

‘November 30th is going to be a big strike of public sector workers. I’m calling here tonight that we have a day of action of all construction workers on that day. Every site in the country should down tools and come out.

‘We need to be planning walk-outs, looking for backing from Unite.’

Bernard McCauley, Unite National Officer, said: ‘The head of Balfour Beatty is claiming that it is a myth that they are trying to cut wages.’

He added: ‘I’ve had 1001 emails asking me about the ballot.’

Unite Assistant General Secretary, Gail Cartmail, said: ‘We ask Balfour Beatty, what are you going to do, are you going to war with our union?’

She went on: ‘I agree with Steve, we need to stop the job, we need to bring the dispute on the site.’

She continued: ‘I am completely committed to an industrial action ballot when it is possible.’

South East Region TUC President, Martin Gould said: ‘I agree with those who are saying that ways have got to be found to take the struggle inside the gates.’

Sparks were then invited to ask questions.

One said: ‘We need a ballot. Have you got a date in mind, because in four weeks time 890 people are going down the road?’

Cartmail replied: ‘You have my word, we’ll ballot as soon as possible. But the legal challenges we suffered at British Airways were two telephone directories thick. I am determined we take this struggle on to the sites.’

Another questioned: ‘When do you think you can set the ballot up?’

Cartmail replied: ‘Watch my lips, as soon as possible.’

On Wednesday morning the sparks held a 6.30am rally at the Tate Modern, before marching across the Millennium Bridge to St Paul’s Cathedral, where they occupied the road and held up the traffic for twenty minutes, then marched along to the Balfour Beatty building site at Blackfriars Bridge.

Steve Kelly told the rally at the Tate: ‘December 7th is the cut-off point. If there’s still no ballot by then we’ve got to get a walk out.

‘The ballot doesn’t seem to be happening. Last night the Unite officials seemed to be going round and round in circles.’

Vince Passfield said: ‘You need to keep these protests going. We’ll keep giving support where we can.

‘I have to be careful how I choose my words. There was a lot of discussion last night. There will be an announcement, and a positive announcement about a ballot next Tuesday.’

Dorian Malloy, Teamsters 814, New York, told News Line: ‘At Sotheby’s New York, we’ve got 43 workers who have been locked out for two-and-a-half months.

‘They have over 100 things in the contract that they want to change, including terminating our retirement plan, changing our work hours, hiring 18 temporary workers who they want us to train to do the job and then they will be used to get rid of us.

‘They are trying to bust the union.

‘I see this as a universal fight. Our union was one of the first unions to support Occupy Wall Street. We think it’s great.’

At the Blackfriars Station site, Mick Dooley, Ucatt, said: ‘Balfour Beatty are the main contractor. Let’s shut Balfour Beatty down.

‘There’s no point in the sparks waging this fight on their own. We’ll keep fighting until we get a ballot and then we’ll have an official picket here.

‘The employers have been trying to smash the sparks and they are not going to get away with it.’

Harry Cowap, Unite Regional Official, said: ‘Here’s a message to all inside the Blackfriars project – there’s a 35 per cent wage cut coming down and we’re not going to accept it.’

Vince Passfield said: ‘We have to ramp it up to defeat this outrageous attack on our terms and conditions.’

Unite member John Corkerry told News Line: ‘They are still dragging their heels on the ballot. Let’s hope next Tuesday we hear a good announcement. We need a few of these jobs to come out.’

• Bombardier workers lobbied parliament in defence of jobs on Wednesday.

Annie Winter shop steward from Salisbury Branch of Aslef told News Line: Nobody can find a good reason for the contract. The only people that support the contract are the people that made the decision and they have not looked at the economic costs and its impact on jobs and the lives of people’.

ASLEF South West Regional Officer, Mic Sargent said that railworkers were also facing huge attacks in the drive for profit: ‘In the railways, every single job and grading is under threat.

‘Management want to do away with guards and the bosses want to bring in new technology and do away with staff – as many as possible. The McNulty proposals mean massive job losses, pay freezes and reduced standards of safe working.

‘They are blaming railway workers for the cost of rail transport in Britain which is 20% higher that the rest of Europe.

‘But it is privatisation and the drive for profits for shareholders that is driving up costs.

‘On the 25th of October, there will be a rally and lobby of parliament to oppose the McNulty report. We will be taking action because workers will stand to lose their wages and working conditions.’