Building workers on a new power station downed tools on unofficial strike early today, as wildcat action and protests over unemployment in the building trades and the lack of allocation of jobs to local workers spread south from the Lindsey refinery at Immingham.
The men joined hundreds of pickets waving flags and placards who blocked the main entrance to the Staythorpe plant near Newark in Nottinghamshire before dawn.
They stopped work after being threatened with disciplinary action if they joined the protest, reported as targeting the Spanish sub-contractors of the power station's main builders, the French firm Alstom. Unions are demanding a share of 850 turbine-building and pipeline jobs at the site, most currently held by Spanish workers, for skilled local men who are out of work.
Some 300 unemployed men were joined outside the plant by 200 supporters including veterans of last week's wildcat action at the French firm Total's oil refinery in Immingham. Chanting "fair shares" and waving banners quoting the Prime Minister Gordon Brown's call for "British jobs for British workers," they called for a deal similar to the one done at Total last week, where over 100 jobs were created in response to the unofficial action and sympathy strikes.
"We built the other power stations round here – we've got the skills, we know what to do," said Saville Wells, 65, one of the pickets whose contract agency Shaw's was outbid for the Staythorpe jobs. "We've no objection to foreign lads coming to work here but we should have been given a fair chance. Instead, they brought in their own people as a package. It was a done deal. It's threatening the system that's worked well for everybody for the 47 years I've been in the trade. That's what this is all about."
The regional officer of the Unite union Steve Syson told the protesters that all they needed was a level playing field. Although Alstom has denied any discrimination in job contracts, he said: "There is clearly no intention of employing anyone here. They've issued contracts out to non-UK overseas employees but we believe local labour is available.
"We also want some transparency to see what wages are being paid."
Scores of police and private security officers sealed off the sprawling site during the demonstration, which later moved into Newark, a couple of miles away. A long file of protesters marched across the Trent bridge and held a further meeting outside the local Jobcentre.