All Power to the Sparks


Electricians fighting attempts to tear up their terms and conditions marched, blocked roads and construction sites and occupied one site, this morning, Wednesday.

In London, some 350 workers and supporters assembled at the Balfour Beatty Blackfriars site and blocked the entrance.

A group of building contractors have set up the Building Engineering Services National Agreement (Besna) in opposition to the existing Joint Industry Board (JIB) national industry agreement. The new proposals would cut wages by up to a third.

The workers have been protesting every week since August.

Balfour Beatty has issued notices to almost 1,700 workers saying they will be sacked if they don’t sign new, worse contracts. The workers’ Unite union has announced a ballot of the Balfour Beatty workforce against this attack. The first official strikes are planned for 7 December, the day the new contracts will be imposed.

A Balfour electrician, told Socialist Worker, “The ballot is supposed to start in the second week of November which is cutting it a bit fine to say the least. But the pressure from the protests is growing, we are getting organised.”

Supporters from Occupy London and the Education Activist Network joined the electricians.

There is a national day of protest for construction workers on 9 November – the same day as the national student demonstration in London.

One electrician said, “The students have shown they have supported us, it’s really important we support them. I’m looking forward to 9 November when we will all be on the streets together.”

At Blackfriars, electricians didn’t pass the picket. Members of the NUT, UCU and Prospect trade unions all brought messages of solidarity.

The protest then marched along the road through torrential rain to the Cannon Street station construction site. Gratte Brothers is the electrical contractor on site and is one of those trying to tear up the national agreement.

The protest blocked the road and held up traffic. Police arrested one protester, who was later released without charge.

A number of workers temporarily occupied the site. A huge banner reading, “All power to the sparks” was hung outside the building.

Workers onsite quickly made a cardboard sign saying “No JIB Cuts” and held it up to cheering protesters outside.

Other workers from the site joined the protest. Many inside took an “extended tea break” – for over an hour.

Some told one manager that the contractor wanted to cut pay to £10 an hour. The manager said he “would pay £1 an hour” if he could.

One electrician inside the site told Socialist Worker, “The protest is brilliant. I’m furious at what the contractors are doing. We need to stick together to stop them.”

Protesters demanded that a workers’ rep be allowed address the workforce. A representative of the rank and file did so, and a union meeting has been arranged for later in the week.

Initially managers were reluctant to give back the “All power to the Sparks” banner. But a suggestion that the protest could become permanent focused minds and it was safely returned to protesters.

There were also protests this morning at the Govan shipyard in Glasgow and at Carrington paper mill in Manchester.

In Manchester workers at the mill refused to work despite being told they faced the sack for doing so. Minibuses full of workers refused to cross the picket line and numerous delivery trucks turned around.

In London, the electricians agreed to return to the Canon Street site next Wednesday.

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