Now in the eleventh week of their strike, Scunthorpe scaffolders are escalating their action and building solidarity across the labour movement, reports John Westmoreland
As the scaffolders at Scunthorpe’s British Steel plant enter their eleventh week of strike action, the mood is angry and militant. The strikers are fed up of their employer, Actavo, refusing to pay them the nationally-agreed rate for the job.
As one striker puts it, “We are not prepared to hold back any longer. We are taking the fight to Actavo in every way we can.”
An indication of the militant mood of the strikers was on display on Tuesday morning when the strikers built a scaffold, decorated it with Christmas lights, and used it to block the road outside the steel works.
Traffic through Scunthorpe was backed up for over an hour before the police got the strikers to let it through. It is worth noting that (thankfully) no one was arrested despite the draconian legislation against such protests brought in by the Tories.
Actavo is owned by the second richest man in Ireland, billionaire Denis O’Brien. Unite’s leverage team are following O’Brien around Ireland exposing his tight-fisted stance against the Scunthorpe strikers with their banner.
Companies that use Actavo services and claim to uphold equality and justice, for example Trinity College Dublin, are being asked not to use Actavo because O’Brien won’t pay the agreed rate to his workers.
O’Brien likes to pose as the philanthropist, and has poured money into a number of pet projects like Leinster Rugby Club. Unite activists have leafleted Leinster fans about the shabby treatment O’Brien hands down to his workers, and even got permission from the Leinster club to raise their banner at a match.
The support given to the strikers in Ireland shows that the solidarity from other workers is there, but we have to go out and get it.
Spreading the action
Last week a delegation of strikers visited their Danish colleagues and added an important international dimension to the dispute. When one of the delegation told his hosts that they were prepared to take the strike to the bitter end he got huge applause.
With two weeks to go before the legal time limit for the strike is up, the strikers are working on the decisive action that can win this dispute – picketing other Actavo sites.
Last week the strikers picketed outside the Rotherham offices of Altrad – another scaffolding company that has been doing Actavo work at British Steel. The bosses met a delegation but refused to black Actavo work.
One of the strikers (whose name is withheld) said, “We told him straight – if you don’t stop handling our work we will picket your sites.” There are a number of very important sites that in the area that use Actavo and Altrad. Lindsey oil refinery, just down the road in Immingham is one, and Drax power station is another.
As the striker said,
“We think that if we put a picket on at Drax other scaffolders won’t cross the picket line. That is the real solidarity that can win us this dispute. We have to put the argument that if we win, the agreed national rate is sacrosanct and the bosses will have to think carefully about our pay and conditions. If we win the union is stronger and that can only be good for the working class as a whole.”
The courage and determination of the Scunthorpe strikers needs to be felt across the entire labour movement. Any secondary picketing needs the broadest support possible. We can push back the anti-trade union laws if we stand as one.
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John is a history teacher and UCU rep. He is an active member of the People's Assembly and writes regularly for Counterfire.