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Building workers' lobby
Trade union leaders heckled over inaction
OVER 3,000 construction workers descended on London on 28 March for a trade union rally and lobby of parliament against appalling conditions in the building industry.
Their chief demand was an end to the exploitation of migrant workers and the use of agencies and sub-contractors. Together these practices have driven down not just wages but also health and safety conditions. This is literally life and death for building workers - the industry sees an average of two deaths a week.
The rally, organised by Amicus, TGWU and UCATT unions, had general secretaries Derek Simpson, Tony Woodley and Alan Ritchie joined by Labour MPs Lindsay Hoyle and Jon Cruddas.
All three union leaders had the strategy of pressurising Labour MPs to tighten building industry regulation through a corporate manslaughter bill (making employers criminally liable if workers die due to lax health and safety conditions), legislation against employment agencies' abuses and the removal of anti-trade union laws.
Some workers were unimpressed - some jeered Derek Simpson and one electrical worker repeatedly heckled him in anger at Amicus inaction in his workplace. After Simpson claimed his activism gave Blair "a headache" came the cry: "The only thing you've given that lot is a box of Anadin!" Many workers agreed with his views.
Lindsay Hoyle MP claimed: "This is a trade union government", despite speaker after speaker detailing how New Labour governments have frustrated attempts to pass legislation to regulate the building industry.
Tony Woodley said Hazel Blears, a TGWU member, told him by text message that she could not support regulation because she had to balance protection for workers with the employers' need for flexibility!
Experience shows that lobbying MPs is not enough. The best way to win reforms and maintain conditions is through a strong trade union presence on the building sites that is prepared to take industrial action to defend its members.
This is a closed book to the big union leaders, who do not want to diminish their "influence" on a Labour government by calling national strike action. However workers' patience is wearing thin.
The Socialist Party's call for a united struggle to end exploitation and break the link with the Labour Party received an enthusiastic response from workers. 50 copies of the socialist were sold.
In The Socialist 4 April 2007:
Socialist Party editorial
Socialist Party news and analysis
Socialist Party reviews
PCS takes industrial action
Campaign for a New Workers Party
Socialist Party NHS campaign
Workplace news and analysis