Resistance is growing across the construction industry but we need to ramp up the pressure on employers through continued demonstrations involving larger numbers of people, argues Stephen Leadbeater.
The future of the entire UK construction industry is under threat. The proposed de-skilling of electrical workers and the demanded 35 percent pay cut is the biggest attack on our terms and conditions, in living memory.
However, we have the ability to stop it in its tracks. In 2009 there were disputes over migrant labour at Staythorpe in Nottinghamshire, Lindsey Oil Refinery in Immingham, and the Isle of Grain in Kent. The unofficial walkout at Lindsey resulted in solidarity walkouts at other oil refineries, power stations and gas terminals across the country.
This action resulted in Gordon Brown ordering talks with ACAS, and the 619 workers at Lindsey, who were instantly dismissed, being reinstated and paid for the 3 weeks of the strike. There is no clearer example of what solidarity can achieve.
Following the first rank and file meeting at Conway Hall in London, there was a meeting last Saturday, 1st October in Manchester. It was attended by over 120 People, with representation from Scotland, the North East, Nottingham and other areas of the country. Steve Kelly, Steve Acherson, and Jerry Hicks, among others, spoke from the top table.
The meeting was then opened to questions and speakers from the floor. There was a vigorous and empassioned discussion about the severity of this attack by the employers and the urgent need to defend ourselves. Following this was the election of a North West Region rank and file action committee to organise demonstrations and protests in the North West.
This needs to be rolled out nationwide. In this region we have a high level of support and assistance from fellow trade unionists from other sectors, and I am confident this will be the case nationally.
Protests are all well and good to raise awareness of the situation, but we need to raise our game. The only way we will win this dispute is by direct action. The demonstrations in London, and other areas, are leading the way. Six weeks into this dispute and already, one of the eight majors has cracked. MJN Colston have said they will stay in the JIB.
Whether it is official or unofficial, if the union will not take the lead, then we must do it ourselves. We do not have the time to wait for a ballot on industrial action. We must act now. We are fighting for our lives and livelihoods, and it's a battle we cannot afford to lose.
We need to have organised sites with elected shop stewards and safety reps on every site. The officials are answerable to us, the members. We pay their wages.
I urge you to organise, elect stewards and make yourselves heard. The future is in our hands. We have the power and ability to win this dispute, not just for ourselves, but for the generations who will follow us. We must act now with mass walkouts nationwide. Together we will win.
Stephen Leadbeater is a member of the Unite North West rank and file committee. Construction workers are organising a meeting to discuss the way forward on 11 October at Conway Hall in London.