11 Oct 2011

Sparks resist 35% pay cut

From one of my Green Left comrades, spread the word, do the solidarity.

Sparks De-Skilling And Pay Dispute Ballot Or No Ballot All Out To Defend Our Future

A sometimes angry and consistently passionate meeting of over 100 electricians, or sparks as they are known in the trade, took place at Conway hall central London tonight to discuss future tactics in their struggle against attacks on their pay and terms and conditions. The sparks are facing an entirely calculated and cynical attack by a cabal of seven construction firms Balfour Beatty, Crown House, Spie WHS/Matthew Hall, Shepherd Engineering Services and NG Bailey. The seven have given workers a stark choice either sign new contracts by December 7th or face the sack, the new contracts downgrade the sparks from skilled to semi skilled workers and includes a hefty 35% pay cut, from £16.25 to £10.50 per hour. With inflation running at 5% and food and fuel prices through the roof, the sparks have been left with no choice by their employers, they have to fight back.
This is quite clearly an attempt by the group of seven employers to take advantage of the current economic environment of high unemployment and falling wages, to drive down wages in order to increase profits, Balfour Beatty the biggest of the firms and the instigator of this initiative made profits of £50 million last year. These firms have seen the actions of the coalition government in attacking the pay and conditions of the public sector workforce and taken inspiration from that, if the Condems can get away with slashing the conditions of such a highly unionised workplace as the public sector then what's to stop the private sector doing the same to their less organised workforce.
The sparks are not taking this lying down though, they have not waited for the Unite leadership to direct tactics, the last month has seen protests outside building sites up and down the country with more planned over the coming weeks. This action seems to have upset some of the Unite leadership with Bernard McAuley - Unite National Officer, who was present at the meeting, coming under particular criticism for an email he sent describing the wild cat protest movement as “cancerous” and “divisive”. The militancy of the rank and file, who are crying out for a national ballot on strike action, was palpable at the meeting, and seemed to be completely at odds with the measured tone of Mcauley and Gail Cartmail Unite Assisstant General Secretary. The Unite leadership still seems to be hamstrung by the high court decision in May 2010 that ruled its strike of BA cabin crews illegal, McAuley stressed the need for Unite to have a proper membership audit before balloting, obviously the fear of another court case stalks them. This is no use to the sparks of course the clock is ticking for them and it looks likely they will have to take action without the explicit backing of the union.
It is clear that this dispute is a tester for the rest of the construction industry, these seven firms are dipping their toes in the water to test the temperature of union resistance. A defeat of the sparks here, who are a relatively well unionised and organised section of the construction workforce, would open the doors to a more general wage reduction for all skilled construction workers.
The sparks are determined to continue the fight with or without an official ballot, more protests are planned in the coming weeks which will hopefully build into wild cat strikes and targeted closures of high profile construction sites up and down the country, building into the biggest mass walkout of construction workers in years on November 30th to coincide with the public sector strikes. To do this the sparks are going to need bodies at the protests and picket lines and money fighting fund is being set up to support striking workers details of which can be found  

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