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Posted on 23 November 2011 at 16:48 GMT

Electricians occupy building company headquarters

Grattes managers blockaded on stairwell refuse to tell protesting electricians why they are cutting their wages by 35%

Grattes managers blockaded on stairwell refuse to tell protesting electricians why they are cutting their wages by 35%

Construction electricians brought their campaign of defiance to the home of one of the 'Dirty Seven' contractors in London today. Over 150 sparks marched from their morning protest at Kings Cross to the headquarters of Grattes Brothers and occupied the foyer of the office for over an hour.

Grattes is one of the companies looking to withdraw from the Joint Industry Board (JIB) national agreement with Unite which will lead to de-skilling. This will cut many electricians’ wages by up to 35% by lowering rates to £10 per hour on the new BESNA contracts. This comes a day after it was revealed that top executives in Britain have seen their income rise by an incredible 49%.

Grattes is the company whose Cannon Street site manager infamously told one of the sparks a few weeks ago: "If it was up to me, I'd pay them £1 an hour"! Angry electricians shouted at managers telling them to explain why they are slashing their wages but they just stood silent on the stairs. In fact one of them asked: "What is the JIB?"!

This is the latest protest in an incredible campaign of rank and file construction workers that is now into its fourth month. Over the last few weeks it has escalated into stoppages at sites in London and nationally, including at the West Burton and Ratcliffe power stations in the East Midlands and at Corus on Teesside.

The Unite strike ballot is under way in Balfour Beatty (BBES), that has just announced that it is looking to sack 1,300 tradesmen and replace them with agency workers. This is clearly an attempt to raise the stakes before the ballot ends next week. The new 'Siteworker' leaflet deals with the misinformation of BBES (Siteworker leaflet) and should be read by every BBES worker and everyone facing BESNA.

A massive YES vote for strike at BBES would send this struggle into a new stage, with official picket lines outside their sites from 7th December. This would be the starting point for spreading the action through, if necessary, unofficial solidarity action throughout the industry.

A dry run can happen next Wednesday on N30 when many sparks are calling for a national stoppage of construction workers in support of the striking 3 million public sector workers. This can cut across the divide and rule tactics of Cameron, Clegg and Osborne and the Tory press.

As the executive pay rises show, the real 'gold-plated' pensions and pay packets are in the boardrooms. We need to unite the struggles of private and public sector workers to fight for a decent living for all. The TUC and the unions organising the strike rallies on N30 should invite electricians to speak on the platforms to help build this solidarity.

Next week's London electricians protest - meet at Balfour's Blackfriars site at 6.30am

Unite national Rank & File meeting - Saturday 3rd December 11am-2pm, The Grand Connaught Rooms, 61-65 Great Queens St, London WC2B 5DA

Rob Williams, National Shop Stewards Network chair

North West

Sparks in the north west continued their protests this morning, at Manchester town hall (NG Baileys) and Liverpool central library (Shephards.

News of three rank-and-file delegates attending this weekend's Unite Construction NISC (national industrial sector conference) buoyed the mood in Manchester, where management locked one of the two gates, making our task of leafleting much easier!

Steve Acheson said:

"Again today we see a massive concerted effort nationwide by electricians and their supporters. This struggle will be relentless, we will not concede one penny off our rate or one inch from our national agreement, and we will continue to push for mass walkouts both official and unofficial".

Further protests will be organised next Wednesday, with details to be announced.

Hugh Caffrey, Manchester

Pay-slashing construction companies lose £billions in contracts

The 'dirty seven' big construction companies attempting to slash construction workers' pay by 35% are under huge pressure, losing billions of pounds in future work.

This is a victory for protests and walkouts by sparks against the plans to cut pay and de-skill their jobs by breaking up the Joint Industry Board (JIB) national union-employers agreement.

Leading member of the 'seven', Balfour (BBES), has lost the £460 million electrical and mechanical contract at the Heathrow Airport project on Terminal 2.

It has been replaced by the Crown House company, on condition that Crown House pays JIB wage rates. This poses an acute dilemma for Crown House bosses.

They intended to leave the JIB and increase profits by slashing pay and conditions. They can't do that without contracted work on which to profitably super-exploit the workforce! Will Crown House follow MJN Colston and u-turn to remain in the JIB? Terminal 2 is a victory above all for the London protests, which airport bosses in the City can't fail to have noticed.

As previously reported, United Utilities had written to the seven explaining they would not be awarded contracts in the future if they left the JIB.

All other water companies have now followed suit. The construction giants make a fortune from infrastructure work.

Carrington paper mill saw a serious victory for protests organised by rank-and-file (R&F) sparks in Greater Manchester, when BBES lost its tender for the second phase of the job.

Protests had repeatedly blocked the site and stopped electrical work. Now the second phase has gone to a company which apparently seeks to pay JIB rates.

A subsidiary of the German multinational Vinci Group is paying an agency to supply workers on JIB rates, for normal hours (up to 37.5 hours), for overtime exceeding this at 'time and a half', and for weekends at double-time.

However, workers being supplied by the Meridian agency are receiving only the JIB basic rate, with no enhanced payments for overtime or weekends.

If this is a deliberate scam by Meridian, it won't stand scrutiny. These agency sparks are also nominally self-employed, and so not receiving holiday or sick pay or having their national insurance paid by the employers.

This long-standing legalised theft by the construction employers must be taken up by the construction unions.

The victory against Balfours and for maintaining JIB rates at Carrington has been won by the R&F, with no significant support from the Unite bureaucracy.

It points to what could be achieved if a consistent lead is given from the top and from the front, rather than grudgingly from behind.

Finally at Carrington, a number of lads were finished up by another company on the site, Lec-Tec, and R&F supporters will be looking into this with a view to defending all Unite members against job losses as well as pay cuts. Unite officials need to get onto the site, organise and represent the workforce.

The seven are under huge pressure, which is why they are lashing out. Walkouts and protests are spreading across Britain as more workplaces join in.

Unite general secretary Len McLuskey's support for the rank-and-file, which he expressed at the national demonstration last week, is welcome.

Time now for the lay and full-time structures of Unite to work openly, transparently and positively with the tremendous initiative displayed by rank-and-file sparks, and deliver the scale of action necessary to smash the employers' offensive.

Hugh Caffrey

North East

Frustrated by a lack of support from their union, construction workers demonstrated outside the Unite offices in Newcastle on 22nd November.

On the megaphone protesters appealed to Unite officials to come out of their nice warm office to speak to us. After a while the sparks were invited in to discuss their grievances with the union.

Whilst understanding that the union cannot directly back unofficial walkouts, there was a mood that the union could do more to facilitate workers struggling against unscrupulous bosses.

Sparks wanted to know if the union office could be used as a resource centre for meetings, to print leaflets etc.

The meeting with the Unite official was fraternal, and sparks are optimistic that they will get more support from their union.

They are also hopeful that there will be no need for further protests outside their own union offices.

This protest was followed the next day by a demonstration at Conoco in Hartlepool. Around 50 sparks were met by police who warned that the road into the plant could not be obstructed and they would not tolerate any illegal activity.

The police were asked: if they were opposed to illegal activity, were they going to arrest bosses who were tearing up legal agreements!

Despite the threat from the police, protesting sparks managed to hand out leaflets explaining that the 'Big 7' construction companies wanted to withdraw from the JIB agreement and cut pay by up to 35%.

One of the sparks demanded our Socialist Party leaflets to hand out as he thought the title 'Strike to defend the JIB!' got straight to the point.

Emboldened by the protesters, around a dozen sparks walked off the site to join us.

Elaine Brunskill

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