Wednesday, 29 February 2012

The Story of the Electricians Dispute - by Rob Williams

Construction workers' demonstration 9 November 2011, London, photo Neil Cafferky

Construction workers' demonstration 9 November 2011, London, photo Neil Cafferky (Click to enlarge)

'Priceless victory' of sparks against the Dirty Seven

The tremendous victory of the construction electricians against the multinational Balfour Beatty and six other building contractors, confirmed yesterday, is a hugely significant moment for these workers but also the rest of the union movement, particularly in the private sector.

Unite should now organise a massive union organising campaign on the construction sites nationally, lead by the new layer of electricians that have been at the heart of this dispute.

2011 ushered in a new period of struggle for workers in Britain: The huge March 26th TUC demonstration in London, the June 30th strike of civil servants, teachers and lecturers, and the massive two million strong strike of public sector workers on 30th November (N30).

While the outcome of the pension struggle as with the battle against the cuts has still to be determined, the sight and sounds of millions of workers out on strike and hundreds and thousands on rallies and demonstrations with union placards and banners has undoubtedly raised the profile of trade unions and once again legitimised the idea of workers' struggling to defend their jobs, terms and conditions and pensions from the employers' assault.

It must be more than coincidental that from the end of 2011 through to the opening months of 2012, we've seen a rash of private sector disputes from Unilever to the Wincanton oil tanker drivers and the Stagecoach bus drivers.

This isn't to say that these battles have appeared out of thin air. As with many workplaces, particularly in the private sector, the numerous grievances can burst out into an open dispute depending on the confidence of the workforce. But this has been given a boost by the public sector strikes.

Of these struggles, perhaps the most resilient, tenacious and at times openly combative has been that of the construction electricians over the last six months, who come under the Joint Industry Board (JIB) national agreement.