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From: The Socialist issue 1122, 24 February 2021: Where's the road map to jobs and wages Boris?

Search site for keywords: Electricians - Workers - Unite - Union - Construction - NSSN - Rob Williams - National Shop Stewards Network

Hinkley Point electricians fight 'deskilling'

'All power to the Sparks' - Electrician construction workers: protest at Cannon Street, London 2012, photo Paul Mattsson

'All power to the Sparks' - Electrician construction workers: protest at Cannon Street, London 2012, photo Paul Mattsson   (Click to enlarge)

Rob Williams, National Shop Stewards Network (NSSN) chair

Rank-and-file construction electricians have launched a struggle against what they see as 'multi-skilling' by bosses at the massive Hinkley Point site in Somerset to build a nuclear power station, estimated to cost £22.5 billion.

At an emergency Zoom meeting on 20 February, which saw many workers unable to attend because of a limit on numbers, Unite executive council members Frank Morris and Tony Seaman reported that an agreement to employ about 500 electrical apprentices had been reneged on and, instead, a training course for 'support operatives' is being put on. This would mean lower-paid, unskilled workers being employed instead of skilled electricians.

The meeting, echoing the Unite electrical and mechanical combine committee, is demanding that Unite construction officers say if they knew about this course and called on the national leadership of the union to oppose this move by the bosses and give a lead to the campaign.

But the 'sparks', as the electricians became known when they defeated the Besna contract in 2011-12, a previous attempt to deskill the trade which would have seen pay cuts of up to 35%, have a record of not waiting for the union officials. Then, a six-month struggle of walkouts, stoppages and protests forced the union to back the campaign, leading to an official ballot, which forced the bosses back.

But the employers are back, looking again to make workers' pay to protect and increase their profits. Workers know that any breaking of national agreements at Hinkley Point would be rolled out nationally.

The meeting agreed to launch a national fight, focused on Hinkley Point but ready to take on the construction bosses everywhere. I gave solidarity greetings from the NSSN and reported similar attacks on workers in many sectors, including 'fire and rehire' which has seen workers strike from British Airways to British Gas, and an increasing number of companies.

Solidarity to the sparks!

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