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London: Report of the fantastic ‘Rank & File’ construction workers meeting

15 August 2011

Some names have been left out deliberately to guard against any employer retribution.

Many will remember the tour of Ireland when Jerry Hicks stood as the Rank and File candidate For UNITE.  Len Mc Cluskey won as the ‘left’ bureaucrat. Jerry came second and has continued with the work of building a rank and file movement.  Below is a report of a recent rank and file meeting in London.(ed)

5OO electricians and pipefitters sent out a clear message to JIB/HVCA employers and Unite the union that they will not accept the de-skilling of their trade or the pay cuts to their national agreements. The meeting, on Saturday 13 August, was organised by Unite rank and file activists from London and the south coast. Conway Hall was packed, standing room only.

The main issues were the pay cuts 8 firms had said they would be implementing in March 2012. There would be 3 new grades for electricians - metalworker £10.50 per hour, £12 for wiring, £14 for terminating. At the moment electrician’s JIB rate is £16.25p per hour across the board.

The meeting opened and elected a Chairperson, who gave an excellent speech saying, it was time for everyone present to stand up and fight these attacks all the way, to spread the word on sites and in their workplaces. It was not about blaming overseas workers, it was our fight and we must be united, disciplined and determined. The battle begins right here right now. We must win this fight. Future generations are depending on us. He also stated the idea that forming a new union should not be considered. It had been tried and had failed miserably in the past with EPIU. Now we are back in the same union we are far stronger.

A blacklisted electrician was the first speaker and was given a standing ovation for his incredible work fighting the blacklist.

Jerry Hicks was up next and gave a thunderous speech, which was wildly applauded. JERRY JERRY JERRY JERRY! the crowd chanted. The mood was electric, the biggest meeting since 2000 - the days of the Jubilee Line. 

There was then discussions from the floor and questions and answers to 2 London officials who were really put on the spot about Amicus/EETPU failings in the past. Even with the new union many of the old guard are still in control, the bad old days of Tom Hardacre are still hanging around with mistrust in new officers. Time will tell whether Bernard Mcauley and his new team are any different.

The rank and file made it very clear that Unite need to perform in this current dispute or the anger shown by many at the meeting will be vented at them. A motion was passed unanimously that ‘Unite must immediately ballot members who are working for JIB firms who have been told that the terms and conditions will be changing in March 2012, and a campaign must be set up by Unite, distributing leaflets to all sites around the country opposing these attacks on our industry and to have regular feedback to the members.’ It was agreed to call for unofficial action ASAP on large sites and that other sites should come out in solidarity, rather than wait for a ballot, as this would put the whole issue out in the open. 

A national rank and file committee was elected by those in attendance: 2 electricians, 2 pipefitters, 1 for the civil and also Jerry Hicks. 

Moving forward, there is a stewards meeting in Leeds 17th August. 2 from the elected committee will be going, armed with the motion and a mandate from 500 people. Further rank and file meetings will be held around the country in the coming months, one before Xmas maybe in Manchester or Liverpool and also other areas next year. This new movement is on a high and we can spread the mood around the country and throughout construction. There will be attacks on other trades too. We should try and build things involving UCATT and GMB members as well.

Finally from the Chair of the meeting “ I personally felt proud and extremely happy as I supped a cold pint of Fosters after the meeting. Thanks to everyone involved - booking of the hall, contact lists, leafleting, and a magnificent collection too, many thanks to one and all. Our time has come comrades, let’s not miss this opportunity. In solidarity”. 


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