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B&Q strikers and Scunthorpe scaffolders rally together

B&Q strikers and Scunthorpe scaffolders rally together. Photo: John Westmoreland

Actavo scaffolders due to resume their strike action next week showed their solidarity with B&Q Wincanton strikers at a rally this week, reports John Westmoreland

The Wincanton (B&Q) strikers in Worksop got some great solidarity on Tuesday morning when a delegation of striking Actavo scaffolders dropped in.

Unite’s media team also joined the picket and were delighted at this demonstration of mutual solidarity. It certainly made an impressive picture but it was more than a publicity stunt.

Actavo and Wincanton workers are both facing bosses who are trying to wear down the strikers, but both groups of workers are demonstrating fantastic determination too.

It has been good to hear of the solidarity flooding into the Worksop dispute. Some came in on Tuesday.

Andy Phipps used to work at the Wincanton depot, and before that he was a miner at Manton Colliery which is where the B&Q depot now stands. Andy delivered a cheque for £5,000 from his Unite branch and other branches are also sending donations.

Leslie and Andy Phipps are long-standing Labour and trade union activists in the area who supported Jeremy Corbyn and were unremitting critics of their MP John Mann. Leslie said,

“I really do hope that this dispute has a political impact. I didn’t like our last MP, John Mann, but now we have a Tory, Brendan Clarke-Smith. He likes to be out and about getting his name in the paper, but what is he doing about low pay and rising fuel prices? He needs to go.”

The B&Q pickets are very inspiring and are having an effect on the wider community. They are there from early morning until the night shift goes in, and yet they are always optimistic and exuberant.

Something has to be done about the night shift which consists largely of agency workers. As one striker pointed out, “they get a bonus for working nights and they are fearful of losing it”. Nevertheless the agency itself can be picketed, and supporters are regularly picketing other B&Q depots in the area.

An ever-present figure on the picket line is lead steward Pat McGrath who told the visiting scaffs, “We will win this dispute because we won’t give in.” There is an infectious spirit of resistance in Worksop and we need to spread it.

Straight outta Scunthorpe

The Actavo scaffolders are currently locked out and the second round of their strike will start next week with a series of demonstrations on Monday morning outside Actavo offices. Supporters are encouraged to attend a demonstration at Actavo sites across the UK this coming Monday, and pickets are determined to make their dispute more effective in the weeks to come.

Labour MPs and councillors are being systematically approached for support. Ed Miliband was asked by a striking scaffolder in his constituency to give support and he has written to Actavo and British Steel asking them to enter meaningful talks as a matter of urgency.

With the current crisis of Boris Johnson’s ‘Partygate’ scandal giving Tory MPs the jitters, now is an excellent time to call out Scunthorpe’s Tory incumbent, Holly Mumby-Croft, and demand some support for real ‘levelling-up’.

Low pay is a political issue and a strategy on this front can put real pressure on Actavo as well as winning over other workers in the community. It would be excellent if non-striking British Steel workers would join such a campaign.

The profile of the Actavo strikers is growing, and their trip to the B&Q picket is bound to increase the solidarity they are due.

On Tuesday morning the Actavo strikers were jubilant after Celtic fans dropped a banner calling for Actavo boss Denis O’Brien to be removed from the board at the club. No doubt he will try and laugh it off – but Celtic fans will be displaying the banner until Actavo gives in.

As the lead steward in the dispute, David Birchall, has said:

“O’Brien is the second richest man in Ireland. All we want is for him to pay us the going rate for the job. For us it not only means a better wage, it is also about our self-respect. Why should we get less than Actavo scaffolders just down the road in Immingham? We are taking this dispute very seriously and we aim to be more effective in the days ahead.”

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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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