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Scunthorpe scaffolders picket line

Scunthorpe scaffolders picket line. Photo: @UnitedScaffs / Twitter

After eight weeks of picketing, the Actavo scaffolders’ strike is at a critical point and they need our solidarity, reports John Westmoreland

Scaffolders working for Actavo at British Steel’s Scunthorpe works have now been on strike for eight weeks. David Birchall, the scaffs’ shop steward, says that the strike is now at a critical point.

For eight weeks the 60 scaffs have picketed three gates into the works. But management threats of dismissal if they prevented or slowed traffic access to the site led to their union Unite advising them to step back from confrontation. As David Birchall puts it,

“Basically, the picket has had to shrink back and is not really effective. We have over 500 Unite members working on the site, some of them for other scaffolding contractors, and we are unable to talk to them about our dispute. We’ve just heard that another firm has started stripping one of our scaffolds, work that they should have refused to do, and this is damaging our chances of success.”  

The strike has to be won by Christmas when the firm can sack them, and so they need our urgent support.

An injury to one…

The strike at Scunthorpe is important in many ways, and is one that the trade union movement needs to fully support.

Scaffolders pay should be in line with the National Agreement for the Engineering Construction Industry (NAECI) but Actavo is refusing to comply. This has meant that for that past two years the scaffs have had no pay rise. The two per cent they were given came with strings affecting their conditions of employment.

As a picket explained, “In order to get a decent wage we have to work weekends and be on call. This is particularly insulting when other contractors at British Steel are getting the NAECI rate.”

Actavo and British Steel are clearly breaching NAECI, and if they are allowed to get away with this other firms will follow their lead. National agreements have to be upheld or a free for all over pay and conditions will result.

The strikers are all too aware of this and they are desperate for a new initiative from Unite. Some of the striking Actavo scaffs who were brought in from other jobs are actually getting the NAECI rate but are taking strike action in solidarity with their mates – an injury to one really is an injury to all.

Increase the pressure on Actavo

Unite leader Sharon Graham has offered the Scunthorpe strikers the full backing of Unite.

“Scaffolders at Scunthorpe are determined to defend their national industrial agreements and they have the full support of their union in this fight for fairness.

“Where employers like Actavo undermine workers’ pay rates and refuse to pay the recognised rate for the job, they will face determined opposition from Unite.”

Graham is coming to Scunthorpe on Friday 26 November to join a mass picket at the main gate into the works (gate D on Brigg Road).

This is an opportunity to give the strikers solidarity and put further pressure on Actavo. Unite has a leverage team in place, but activists can work to get the community and wider movement on side too.

Activists can support the strikers on their Facebook page, United Scaffs and on twitter. Union branches and branches of the People’s Assembly can invite strikers to online meetings, and should get to the picket line and future demonstrations if they can.

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John Westmoreland

John Westmoreland

John is a history teacher and UCU rep. He is an active member of the People's Assembly and writes regularly for Counterfire.

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