Rank-and-file leads construction fight: unions must ballot for action

Submitted by AWL on 6 September, 2011 - 5:22

By a supporter of the Site Worker paper

Eight major contractors are proposing to cut the hourly rate of pay by up to 35% for some parts of the job. Currently the Joint Industry Board sets a £16.25 per hour rate across the board, but the eight companies want to leave the JIB and set rates of £10.50 per hour for metalworking, £12 for wiring and £14 for finishing. These contractors are the ones with the most work in the industry, so a lot of workers will be effected by this. If they get away with it then other contractors will follow suit.

This has been on the cards for a long time, but people had serious doubts about whether the union would organise a proper fight, so we called a meeting ourselves as grassroots activists. That was in Conway Hall on 13 August; 500 workers turned up and we elected a rank-and-file committee to coordinate our campaign. We took a motion from that meeting to a national shop stewards' committee in Leeds, but Unite officials spoke against us and we were outvoted. However, on that same evening I took the motion to my branch meeting – the London Construction branch – and 200 electricians turned up and backed the campaign.

We have a rank-and-file paper called 'Site Worker' and our campaign so far has been entirely led by the rank-and-file. Union officials are saying they won't get involved; they've abused us, calling us “Trots” or “troublemakers”. But we're just doing what the union itself should be doing and organising a fight against attacks by bosses. We want the union to ballot us. It has said it won't do anything until the new year but we need action now.

We've had members of other construction industry unions like GMB and UCATT involved in our demonstrations and we're planning more. We want to target sites where the eight contractors are working, like the Olympic site and the Crossrail site at Farringdon.

Our protests aren't just about the eight contractors leaving the JIB. They're about the whole state of the construction industry. There are enormous health and safety concerns as well as ongoing blacklisting of union activists. The fundamental problem is a lack of direct employment. Agency working is very widespread, and because agencies aren't part of the national agreements they can get away with just paying their workers minimum wage.

We're appealing to workers to get involved in our protests and fight in their union branches for a similar approach to the one we adopted at Conway Hall. Ultimately the only way this can be resolved is through a national construction workers' strike; we want the unions to get together and ballot their members for action.

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