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Hull: Construction workers' walkout forces employer to back down
Mick Whale, chair, Hull Trade Union Council
The unofficial construction workers' dispute involving the building of a wood chip processing plant at Saltend Chemicals Park, in Hull, has been a struggle to prevent the blacklisting of two senior Unite and GMB union stewards - Paul Tattersfield and Keith Gibson.
It was a clear attempt by employer Engie Fabricom to breach the national collective agreement (NAECI - known as the 'Blue Book') signed between the trade unions and construction bosses over worker rights and industrial workplace procedures on all steel construction Blue Book sites.
The right of the trade unions to appoint accredited senior stewards to a job covered by NAECI is an important element of workers' control gained in previous struggles.
However, employers in con-struction are attempting to reduce workers' strength by eradicating trade union workers' control in their industry.
The refusal of Engie Fabricom to accept Paul and Keith as union-appointed reps clearly suggests that a de facto blacklist is still covertly operating in construction, despite it being illegalised in 1999. What other interpretation can workers draw?
Fabricom management's response to union negotiators is that management should appoint the stewards! The union negotiators response? 'The unions don't appoint the managers, the managers shouldn't try to appoint the union reps.'
When the unions asked the direct question: "Why will you not allow Keith Gibson as the senior steward?" Deafening silence!
Both Paul and Keith have suffered blacklisting in the past. On a previous job run by Engie Fabricom, Keith's workmate asked a supervisor why Keith was not being allowed onto the job. His supervisor replied that it wasn't him that was blocking Keith rather it came from "above".
Check out the Blacklist Support Group website, it is clear that some construction companies are still operating a blacklist.
In one sense, it is a testament to Socialist Party member Keith Gibson that the bosses fear him. Keith has tirelessly fought for construction workers' rights throughout his working life, most significantly at Lindsey Oil Refinery in 2009.
However, to deprive a worker of their livelihood because of trade union or political activity is an absolute scandal, that all trade unionists, regardless of where they work, must challenge.
The unofficial strike action taken by the workforce has finally forced Fabricom to back down.
The full-time union officers had a meeting with company representatives and an agreement has been reached that Keith will start in the next three weeks.
The unofficial strike achieved more in four days than nearly 18 months of "official" procedures.
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