UK building workers to prepare for 2012 Olympics

Olympic construction underway
Olympic construction underway

The Olympics will bring much new construction work to London, and some union activists look to the opportunity for a greater say both in the unions they are members of and in the industry itself.

Submitted by Divisive Cottonwood on December 1, 2006

Building workers met in London on Monday evening 27th Nov to discuss possibilities for union organising during the preparations for the 2012 Olympics.

Members of all four unions associated within the construction industry were present at the meeting called by the newly-formed Building Workers Rank and File Committee.

In an industry notorious for its appalling record in health and safety, views expressed were optimistic that the massive Olympic building project would bring new possibilities for union organising and better conditions of employment.

Steve Kelly, branch secretary of GMB Solo London region and chair of the meeting said that the poor basic rate of pay meant that most builders were “severely underpaid”, adding: “There was a lot of talk of workers at the Wembley construction site earning £1,000 per week, but in order to earn that they had to work from seven in the morning until seven in the evening, seven days a week. I don’t know of any other industry in the country that demands such hours.”

The Building Workers Rank and File Committee is seeking a minimum wage of £20 per hour for a 35 hour week, a greater say for ordinary members in their respective unions’ negotiations with employers and better cross-union cooperation.

“We are looking for a big influence within construction. We are never consulted enough about what goes on. What underlines the agenda of all union officials involved with the building trade is that they have the attitude, We know best. The union officials – we call them “stooges”, which is what they are – negotiate with the employers without ever consulting their members.

“We’re sick of tired of Barry Camfield (T&G Deputy General Secretary) having his nice little meetings with Ken Livingstone and then, before you know it, everything is done and dusted.”

The secretary of Northampton UCATT, Brian Higgans, gave an outline of the prospects for the coming years as well as some frank talk.

His speech reads as follows:

“The Rank and File Committee could be the most significant development in the construction industry since the Builders Charter Movement of the mid-60s which lead to the first and only national strike in the building industry in 1972.

“We must adopt a policy of in the union, yes, but independent of all full time union officials, and the UK Rank and File Building Workers Committee is important and critical in this respect.

“It would be a remiss of me if I didn’t mention that while nearly one billion is being spent on a football stadium at Wembley and many billions will be spent on construction projects for the 2012 Olympics in London – of course costs will rise dramatically – homelessness and the number of families living in substandard housing is at enormously high levels.

“This is a political and social scandal.

“As building workers we’d all rather work on building decent affordable homes that they used to call council housing for our people to live in, but they’d rather spend billions on sports stadiums and war.

“Of course we do not decide what is built, but as the Olympic projects progress we have to do whatever we can to use the extra political, social and economic leverage this gives site workers to stop the killing and maiming and increase the basic wages of all building workers inside and outside London – in fact, UK wide.

“The key questions is how do we do this? I cannot empathise enough – the UK Rank and File Building Workers Committee is critical in this: We must build this into a site workers movement aiming for the next national strike in the industry.

“But most important of all we must realise we cannot, must not, rely on any fulltime union officials – all of them are bound by their respective national agreements for whatever trades or general group of site workers they represent. And none of these agreements give us anything like the basic rate of pay and decent and safe working conditions all site workers need to stop the killing and maiming and improve site and working conditions.

“Building workers have no power or any real voice in parliament or in any of the regional or national offices of any construction union – the bosses control parliament and all union officials.

“The only place building workers have any real power and where they gather in any significant numbers is at the point of production. Old Chinese leader Chairman Mao said, Political power comes out of the barrel of a gun. But in the building industry one should say, Power comes out the barrel of a mixer!

“But we have to organise to harness this power to affect production because we all know the only language these bloody callous building employers know and understand is industrial action.

“Rank and file control over this harnessing and organising of our site power is absolutely essential, otherwise full time union official and stooge convener stewards will organise and control and divide and rule on behalf of building employers.

“If we stand united then we cannot be defeated.”