"Unite, get off your arse" was the message to union officials at last night's angry meeting in Conway Hall as around a hundred construction workers met to discuss their response to attacks on pay and conditions.
The meeting was addressed by union officials and the debate focused on whether union members would be balloted for official strike action. But when union officials refused to take a clear line, they were heckled by rank and file workers calling for a ballot for strike action immediately.
Steve Kelly, speaking from the platform, said Unite should get off its arse and take a decisive position in support of construction workers. But officials refused to give a date for a ballot, simply saying the ballot would be conducted as soon as possible, and in the meantime the union needed to get organised and get into the workplaces.
Far from disheartening the rank and file, this morning’s protest at Tate Modern was lively and determined. More than 200 sparks held a mass meeting outside the construction site and then marched over the Millennium Bridge to the site at Blackfriars. A number of workers joined the protest and refused to go into work. Trade unionists from the Teamsters union from the US also spoke in solidarity.
Talk has now turned to organising unofficial action and escalating the protests and actions that have already taken place. There was a sense that there is a limit to how long the weekly protests can be sustained.
Workers are now beginning to focus on 30th November and getting walkouts from every site possible, both in London and across the country. Up to 3 million workers could be on strike on 30th November over pensions but it is clearly an opportunity to bring together the largest numbers of people over the government’s entire austerity package.
Next week’s protest in London will take place at the Blackfriars site, and the week after construction workers will take the protest to Balfour Beatty’s HQ.
A rank and file meeting was also held in Manchester yesterday, which involved workers from Quartzelec and Actemium. One worker on the Carrington site yesterday morning texted a rank and file North West Steering Committee member saying, ‘If we don’t come to work tomorrow we won’t be coming back. Fuck ‘em, let’s get on the gates’.
This morning at the Carrington site more than 50 people protested outside and, in an exciting development, every electrical trade worker refused to cross the picket line. There are no sparks on site today.
As the dispute continues construction workers are aware that further action is urgently needed. The message that came out of the London protest this morning was that the protests need to double in size and they need to escalate.
The union bureaucracy is slow, pessimistic and fearful, but the rank and file are militant and ready to take the fight to the next level. Getting walkouts and shutting down sites has to be the next step. The big challenge is doing this without the official support of the union.
Show your support and join the construction workers protest next week, 7am, Blackfriars Station. There will also be a protest outside Sotheby's Auction House, 34‐35 New Bond Street, tomorrow, 13th October at 6pm.