Articles-Defend Trade Unions

Huge electricians demos over 35% pay cut

Arthur Scargill speaking at the SLP Congress (Blackpool 2008)

Arthur Scargill speaking at the Climate Camp demo
in Kent in 2008 about defending the right to protest

Rally defending the Newport
Passport Office job cuts

Len McCluskey speaking on anti-trade
union violence in Columbia

Ricky Tomlinson as Bobby Grant fighting against
unsafe working conditions (Brookside)

The following article has been added by Pete Farrell (CSC Editor)




USA: unresolved problems with the right to organise and other fundamental rights

Brussels, 29 September 2010 (ITUC OnLine): The ITUC presents today its biannual report on core labour standards in the USA, coinciding with the Trade Policy Review of the USA at the WTO, taking place on 29 September and 1 October. It reveals a poor record on workers’ protection, particularly with regard to trade union rights and child labour, areas in which serious violations continue to take place.

US law excludes large groups of workers from the right to organise. These include agricultural workers, many public sector workers, domestic workers, supervisors and independent contractors. Moreover, for most private sector workers forming trade unions is extremely difficult and anti-union pressure from employers is frequent. The report notes that there is a $4 billion union-busting industry which aims at undermining trade union organising. Some 82 per cent of employers hire such companies that employ a wide range of anti-union tactics. Employers often force employees to listen to anti-union propaganda and threaten workers with company closures if they vote to form a trade union.

The report further notes that the Employee Free Choice Act, which would redress some of the imbalances workers are subject to, continues to be blocked by Senate Republicans despite passing the House of Representatives and gaining majority support in the Senate.

Child labour is in many cases not effectively addressed in the US, particularly in agriculture and not least because of the hazardous conditions that children are exposed to. Many of the children are migrant farm workers, often Latino. The AFL-CIO estimates that between 300,000 and 800,000 children are employed in agriculture under dangerous conditions. Moreover, the number of child labour inspections has been falling.

Concerning discrimination the report notes that women continue to earn less than men (77.1%). While women represent 47.8% of total employment, only 29.0% of executive and senior level officials and managers are women. Furthermore women have no guarantee of paid family leave.

Finally, the report notes that forced labour remains a problem in the US, in particular with forced labour in agriculture for migrant workers.

To read the full report:,7686.html

Article for Labour Briefing

November Edition

Re: The electricians’ rank & file dispute on JIB agreement

It is almost three months since seven large construction companies have formed a cartel in an alliance to walk away from the Joint Industry Board (JIB) electrical agreement. These major construction companies have organised a new Employers organisation that will see the break up of electrical and engineering craft skills in a wage grading, and deskilling system that could see some electricians’ pay cut as much as 35%.

Five of the seven companies, Balfour Beatty, Crown House, Spie Mathew Hall, Shepherds Engineering and Tommy Clarke Technologies, have served a 90-day notice on thousands of electricians and mechanical engineers, to sign new contracts by 7th December under worse terms and conditions in a grading system that includes a breakdown of skills and in some grades, multi skilling.

The Trades concerned include electricians, pipe-fitters, and mechanical engineers that will affect pay, overtime rates, holiday and pension scheme, and travel expenses, and is seen as a provocative move to break down negotiations with the union Unite.

The JIB agreement has been in existence since 1968, and has maintained a highly trained and skilled workforce on negotiated terms and conditions. The breakaway (so called agreement) that the Unite union and the rank & file workers are fighting against is called BESNA (Building Engineering Services National Agreement). This confrontational move has brought much anger and tension in what looks like a long battle that will see a winter of official or unofficial strike action to see off the employers attempts to destroy workers terms and conditions, and drive down wages.The companies concerned make huge profits worth millions and hold contracts to the most lucrative of projects including publicly funded Olympics, Cross-Rail, and PFI contracts. They have enormous lobbying and political power with their Tory allies and are deliberately using the world economic crises as an attempt to drive down terms and conditions, and ultimately if they succeed will divide a workforce by this grading system whilst boosting their enormous profits.

Unite (at time of writing) will be holding a ballot of members concerned, but there has been much delay in procedural problems organising a ballot in an industry that is consistently on the move. This has caused frustration and tensions amongst the electricians and pipe fitters concerned; they are in the mood for industrial action, in a desperate attempt to save an attack on their livlehoods, and as union members want their union to act.

While Unite are determined to support the sparks, there remains obstacles by this cartel of building companies who seem un-cooperative with Unite, and have used bullyboy tactics against workers to sign new contracts, whilst ignoring the union’s demands.

There is a call from rank and file construction activists for downing tools and joining Public sector workers on the 30th November. At every Wednesday morning outside targeted building sites up and down the country co-ordinated demos have taken place. The electricians and supporters protesting are growing each week, and getting larger, growing in confidence.

In London, workers are protesting vocally, inspired by a sound system from Dave Smith from the Construction Rank & File, who inspires the demos outside the building site from 6.30am onwards with uplifting music of resistance, interspersed with guest speakers showing solidarity with the workers. Amongst the speakers protesting have involved Unite convenors from the sites involved, as well as Tony Benn who spoke at the Blackfriars site, MPs John McDonnell and Jeremy Corbyn who was recently joined by the Teamsters Union from USA, who were in London in their dispute with Sothebys, but turned up at The Tate Modern Construction project in an act of International solidarity.

The electricians, pipe-fitters, and engineers are fighting back through mass demonstrations, websites, through Reel news and through YouTube propaganda. In a massive meeting packed to the rafters at London’s Conway Hall back in 13th August a Rank & File steering committee was formed, with a pledge not to divert attention away by scapgoating foreign workers in the industry, but uniting with them in the fight against multi national construction companies. It was also outlined that if the electricians and pipefitters lose this fight, the building companies could deskill/multi-skill other trades which will inevitably involve union members from UCATT and GMB. It was also pledged that electricians and engineers involved to join the union Unite, if they were not members already, and to not divert attention by forming a breakaway union, (which happened after EEPTU/Wapping dispute) but to put pressure on Unite for strike action with mass meetings and rallies outside building sites.

Since then, action has continued with demonstrations outside the major construction projects that are against these shameful companies concerned, most notably at Balfour Beatty, who are the strongest and have a track record of blacklisting Trade Unionists. There have been co-ordinated protests, mostly on a Wednesday morning at Newcastle, Liverpool, Manchester, and Glasgow and on London Cross-Rail project at Kings Cross, Farringdon, Blackfriars Bridge, as well as prestigious sites in Oxford Street, The Olympics and at Gatwick airport. The protests have been joined by UNITE assistant secretary Gail Cartmail, Unite Convenors, Construction Rank & File activists, blacklisted workers support group, Justice 4 Shrewsbury pickets campaign, including veteran of the 1972 construction strike, Mike Abbott and candidates for election of General secretary of UCATT, Mick Dooley who has been consistent in showing support each week. They have also been joined by Right to Work campaign and PCS London region, RMT as well as UCU London Met Lecturers and students.

The electricians have been down this road before, in the late 1990s during the London Jubilee Line extension, and in major developments in Manchester where there had been attempts to break their craft and terms and conditions. Back then, as now, a successful fight back by rank and file activists and an active joint sites committee saw these attempts withdrawn.

Next year marks the 40th Anniversary of the 1972 Building Industry strike, involving both UCATT and T&GWU. If this cartel of seven multinational construction companies do not back down, which it seems, they are not compromising on so far, we could see national strike action in the industry not seen in 40 years. The least we can do in the wider Labour movement is put on pressure on local authorities not to do business with these companies that continue to price fix PFI contracts, blacklist Trade Unionists and safety reps, or do not recognise national wage agreements such as the JIB agreement where terms and conditions are negotiated and secured.

Mick Gilgunn,

UCATT member and Justice 4 Shrewsbury Pickets campaigner writing in support with the Electricians over JIB dispute.