'Who's up for a bit of civil disobedience?' went up the call, moments before 200 construction workers smashed through the barrier and entered the Crossrail construction site in Farringdon this morning.
It was clear from comments made by workers as we gathered outside Farringdon tube at 6.30am that there was a mood for a bit of disobedience. ‘Why aren’t we blocking the street?’ asked one. ‘He’s just a blue badge copper, he should make me a cup of tea!’ said another as police shuffled about aimlessly.
Gail Cartmail, Assistant General Secretary of Unite, announced to the crowd that Unite would be putting out a call for a ballot for strike action. Cartmail drew a parallel with the US civil rights movement and the current dispute in which construction workers face 35 percent pay cuts, declaring that ‘collective action is a human right.’
Labour MP John McDonnell spoke to the demonstrators about the importance of solidarity and strike action, highlighting the importance of the TUC day of strike action on 30 November.
It’s clear that independent rank and file street demonstrations have pushed Unite into action. From the streets, into the workplaces has been the direction of travel. It's the combination of these actions that is so vital for the trade union movement. Would the TUC have called November 30 if not for the impact of the half million strong demonstration on March 26? It's doubtful. Would March 26 have been as big if not for the spectacular student revolt of last year? Unlikely. It's important for socialists to learn from today's demonstration as the movement progresses.
The mood was energetic as the crowd gathered on the Crossrail site to hold an impromptu rally. The site came to a standstill and its workers stopped to hear the speeches. Copies of the rank and file 'Siteworker' magazine were eagerly snapped up, and workers took leaflets and Unite membership forms.
The protest organisers announced that a road had been brought to a standstill by protesting wokers in Newcastle today and the Lindsey Oil Workers will be staging a walkout on Monday. One union official said that 'the bosses feel mighty because they think we're on our knees. We need to stand up and fight on our feet!'.
There is a Unite branch meeting in Holborn tonight at 6.30pm and next Wednesday's demonstration, also backed by Unite, will be at Kings Cross Platforms 10 and 11, beginning at 6.30am.
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