Frank Morris, an electrician sacked from his job on a Crossrail construction site in Westbourne Park, London, in September 2012 for raising health and safety concerns in his capacity as a trade union representative, has been reinstated.
The deal between Unite and Bam Ferrovial Kier (BFK, the construction consortium operating construction work on Crossrail sites) is the result of a year of relentless campaigning by rank-and-file trade union activists.
Frank and his supporters conducted near-daily pickets at the Westbourne Park site, as well as regularly picketing the flagship Crossrail development on Oxford Street, often blockading the road. The role of the rank and file-led Blacklist Support Group in mobilising activists and maintaining the momentum of the campaign was integral. Creative actions, such as an occupation of the Office of Rail Regulation, which is responsible for health and safety on railway sites, on 2 November, helped keep the campaign fresh and supplemented the pickets of Crossrail sites.
In an interview with Solidarity on 7 November 2012, Frank Morris said: “We’ve got to keep turning up and picketing, and increasing the pressure until Crossrail back down. If they get away with removing me and the H&S rep from the site, it sets a very dangerous precedent and will give the green light to any employer, in any industry, to move against elected union representatives in the workplace.”
The victory sets the opposite precedent — that employers who victimise workers for standing up for safety and workers’ rights will not be allowed to get away with it.
Unite at a national level played a positive role, and certainly more so than in the 2011 electricians’ campaign against pay cuts and deskilling, which the union was slow to support and which was initially met with hostility from some union officers.
The union took up Frank’s case in a high-profile, direct-action focused way in May 2013, when it began a programme of direct actions targeting Bam Nuttal, Ferrovial, and Kier individually. The union poured huge resources into the campaign, staging over 1,000 protests at meetings of shareholders, investors, and other companies in the BFK firms’ supply chains. Actions were even staged in Spain and America.
That Unite resourced the campaign in this way, and backed radical forms of civil disobedience and direct action, is a tribute to the strength of the construction workers’ rank-and-file — their refusal, in 2011 and since, to back down, and their insistent demand that their union back their struggles, even when union officialdom seem implacably hostile.
The deal which returned Frank to work also guaranteed union recognition and union access across Crossrail sites. This represents a massive climbdown for BFK bosses and an enormous victory for the whole labour movement. A rare advance for labour against the backdrop of a bosses’ offensive, the deal will guarantee Unite organisers time to speak to all Crossrail workers during their induction process. Winning such a deal on an enormous construction project like Crossrail could help Unite rebuild union strength in an industry where it has been declining since the 1990s.
Like Bob Carnegie’s victory against construction firm Abigroup in Australia, Frank Morris’s win shows what is possible when working-class people simply refuse to back down, even in the face of seemingly intransigent bosses.
Dave Smith, from the Blacklist Support Group, said: “The Crossrail dispute was totemic. It was not just about Frank Morris. It was about the future direction of trade unionism in the building industry.
“Such blatant blacklisting was a declaration of war by the big contractors against all unions. If they thought we didn’t have the stomach or the troops for a fight — they were wrong.”
Unions call day of action against blacklist
Unions at the Trades Union Congress’s annual conference in Bournemouth (8-13 September) have called a day of action against blacklisting for 20 November.
The day will include direct actions and a lobby of Parliament. It is the first cross-union, nationally-coordinated action against blacklisting.
Since the construction industry blacklist was exposed in 2009, many of the workers named have still not received confirmation that they were on the list, or any recompense from the companies.