construction workers win swift victory in unofficial action
The following article was written by
Sean Robertson and is reproduced from the
The Point website
02 July On
the 26th and 27th June , around 40 Balfour Beatty foundation
construction workers went on strike with the intention of making
the company stick to earlier promises that workers could expect
a four day weekend in return for working 17 consecutive 12 hour
Protest by electricians against Balfour Beatty in Newcastle
earlier this year.
The vast majority of workers on the Northern section of the
Beauly –Denny electricity transmission project are staying away
from home, many having up to 10 hour commutes to their homes in
England, Wales and Ireland and under the current arrangements
they are given Friday to travel, but must travel back to work on
Sunday, meaning that they only have one quality day in their
homes with their family.
Prior to beginning work on the project, workers were assured by
management that travelling Friday and Monday on the weekend that
they were off would be the norm, but some staff have been on the
project for more than a year and the promise has never
Tensions have been building between management and workers over
recent months with production levels being heavily criticised
despite the fact that gangs have been carrying out unpaid
overtime, commonly until 8 or 9 o'clock at night in order to
ensure concreting requirements are being met.
The tensions finally came to a head last Wednesday 20th June
when the workers decided enough was enough and clarity over the
weekend arrangements was needed prior to the next weekend off.
All Foundation gangs on the northern section downed tools and
had communication from management that if they returned to work
forthwith they situation would be considered and answer to the
worker's demands would be given on Monday 25th June.
Monday came and went, however and no reply to the demands was
forthcoming. It was clear to the workers that they were simply
being fobbed of by management and it was decided that the only
way forward was to again withhold their labour, and on Tuesday
the workers, 90% of whom were not union members, struck once
more effectively bring production on the project to a
The disrespectful attitude of management was again emphasised
when the striking workers were informed that no-one would be
available to hear their demands as the management were having a
A democratic decision was then taken by the workers that they
should withhold their labour for a second consecutive day. On
Wednesday news of the action had spread, and messages of support
came flooding in from trade unionists, socialists and well-
wishers. One of particular note came from Janice Godrich,
National President of the PCS who sent a message of solidarity
from her union.
Unite the union, who had 3 or 4 members amongst the strikers
offered to come to organise the protest had it entered a third
day. Six strikers also decided to sign up to Unite because of
During Wednesday several alternative suggestions were made by
management regarding work arrangements. These were in the main
either irrelevant or threatening and in no way dealt with the
workers' desire for more time at home.
When the workers rejected the last of these counter proposals,
the management's attitude become nothing short of malicious.
They stated that the workers must either return to work
immediately or hand in the keys to the company vehicles and
leave. This put the workers in a particularly awkward position,
given that most had travelled to the Highlands in the company
crew buses they used daily at work. Handing in the keys would
mean they were stranded at work.
In a courageous and highly principled moved the strikers
flabbergasted the bosses when they voted to ignore the order to
return to work, and to strand themselves rather than alter their
stance on the protest, immediately handing in the keys to their
vehicles! This action apparently caused a change of heart in the
management and by around 7pm that evening the workers heard that
they had secured at least a partial victory: the weekends at
home will now be four days in length including 2 travel days, at
least 1 of which will be paid. Payment for the second travel day
is still up for negation and a meeting about the whole situation
is to be arranged shortly.
This significance of this victory should not be underestimated:
Balfour Beatty has been awarded many similar contracts in the
Highlands in the coming years and it is vital that any erosion
of workers conditions is nipped in the bud as early as possible.
Further, it is a perfect example of how a concerted and
principled action by a united workforce can yield success, and
workers in the public and private sector, unionised or
non-unionised, should take heart from this victory for the
battles they undoubtedly face in the coming months and years.
The bosses need us more than we need them. As we have seen, when
we don't show up for work production of a 100's of millions of
pounds contract comes to a complete standstill; if the bosses
didn't show up would you even notice?