Thursday, 8 December 2011

Supporting the sparks

Rob Williams, Chair, National Shop Stewards Network
Electricians working for Balfour Beatty (BBES) have spoken for all electricians in the construction industry and voted overwhelmingly to strike to defend their national pay agreements - the Joint Industry Board (JIB).

BBES has an order book of £15 billion and had made nearly £100 million in profits in the last six months but they want to slash wages by 35%.
This is a disgrace and i hope all those who lent their support in the private sector to public sector workers under attack over pensions will recieve support back from public sector workers in return.

Facing all the obstacles and complications that have given the employers such an advantage for years - low union membership, lack of shop stewards, agency labour, the blacklist etc, Unite and especially the Rank and File Committee have pulled off an incredible result.

Unsurprisingly, BBES has sought and secured a legal injunction against the ballot to stop the strike on 7 December - the day that BBES workers face having the new contracts (BESNA) imposed on them.

This has caused the union to call off the strike and re-ballot. But even if Unite re-ballots, the dispute must continue and escalate unofficially. Whatever the law says, the massive YES vote has legitimised this struggle.

Meetings in London and Glasgow on 3 December put the call out for unofficial strike action at BBES and the other companies looking to withdraw from the JIB and impose the BESNA terms. It's been reported that workers are joining the union in the next two companies to be balloted, NG Bailey and Tommy Clarkes. This shows the potential for a national stoppage in the industry.

The best signal yet are the stoppages that have already taken place over the last four months and are actually escalating. Corus Teesside, Lindsey, Saltend, Ratcliffe, West Burton, Carrington, Farringdon, Blackfriars, Kings Cross and countless more sites have seen walkouts.

In Glasgow on Saturday, 150 sparks met to decide that there will be an unofficial strike in Grangemouth on 7 December. They then marched through the city singing and occupied the NG Baileys site off George Square.

In Cardiff over 50 electricians met to decide that there'll be action that day at Llandough Hospital.

BBES, on behalf of all the 'Dirty 7' construction contractors, are using the Tory anti-union laws to stop this strike, democratically voted for by a four to one margin, on a spurious technicality. Unite must now call for a national stoppage in the construction industry, even if unofficial.

BBES are panicking because of the threat of strike action and the unofficial stoppages that are taking place every week around the UK. There should be no secret deals to end this dispute but a total retreat by BBES and the other six companies. There has to be transparent negotiations in full view of the BBES workers and the members of the union.

It is excellent that this unofficial action is spreading and continueing despite anti trade union laws and a lack of union membership at a rank-and-file level it shows the level of anger out there over this proposed cut in pay.

During times where we are all under attack public and private sector workers must support eachother in struggles and stand together. We cannot allow ourselves to be divided over claims that pit public and private against eachother. We the "workers" are all in this together not the rich and the polititians who earn a nice pay packet each year with no threats to their pensions at all.

Balfour Beattie and other firms need to feel the heat from the organised workers at a grass roots level and by this action spreading to other cities and towns this can only lead to more pressure on the unions and BB as a result.

I support the sparks and construction workers taking action ripping up agreements and going against what was agreed is undemocratic and unfair to workers who are struggling by as it is.

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