Rank and file workers in construction are fighting significant battles on major projects this summer—and winning. Workers at Hinkley Point C nuclear power plant construction site in Somerset have launched effective, and unofficial, resistance as bosses prepare to bring in thousands of extra workers.
The nuclear workers’ militancy led to the whole site being closed last Friday. “It’s a rank and file thing, it’s not the unions that are pushing for it,” one Hinkley employee told Socialist Worker. Two weeks ago around 125 mechanical and electrical workers walked out after bosses tried to cut their travel allowances.
They are employed by MEH Alliance—a big employers’ partnership between Altrad, Balfour Beatty Bailey, Cavendish Nuclear and Doosan Babcock. The walkout won the restoration of the money. Then last Wednesday about 350 scaffolders stopped work because employers wanted to change their shift patterns.
They work for Bylor, a joint venture of French firm Bouygues Travaux Publics (TP) and Laing O’Rourke. It has a £2.8 billion contract to construct the buildings that will house the two nuclear reactors. The workers said they would strike every Wednesday until the shifts changed. Last Friday, unable to implement the shift change, the contractor shut for the weekend a day early.
That forced the bosses’ hand across the whole site, which led to the workers having a long weekend, and the new shift patterns being beaten back. According to one worker, “This is already a very big site with over 5,000 people working. But it’s about to get much bigger with thousands more arriving soon.
“So employers are manoeuvring to get those people on the lowest cost. We have to hold the line, and workers are up for the fight. We need to build the unions and make sure people join them and keep democratic control. We should be in a strong position. It’s not easy for these firms to get skilled workers.
“They are already under the number of scaffolders they need and want more. So there’s no need for us to accept less than we have now. We can win.” Meanwhile workers at Stanlow oil refinery in Ellesmere Port in the north west of England “cabined up” to force through a bonus payment they won last month (see below).
This means that, instead of going into work, workers stay in their rest area. The disputes both show the potential for rank and file workers to organise and to win. The contractors on these major projects have sites across the country, so the victories last week could and should spread across the industry.
Bonus from Stanlow action
The threat of a strike by some 450 workers at Stanlow oil refinery in Ellesmere Port saw the bonus for the job go up from 80p an hour to £2.37 an hour. The workers include scaffolders, electricians, laggers, crane drivers, welders, pipe fitters, riggers and steel erectors for a wide range of construction contractors at the Essar-run site.
But last Wednesday the new rate had not been paid, and so workers refused to work until it was. One worker on site told Socialist Worker, “After the lads on dayshift cabined up, we in the night shift followed suit in solidarity.
“We were told by the union officials that the bonus payment had been resolved. But the bosses had reneged on a deal once already so until we had it in writing we were not going back. Last Thursday morning it was confirmed that we were getting the agreed bonus rate and that people would be paid for the time cabined up.”
Bank makes life worse
The Bank of England last week continued with its mission to crash the economy to hold down strikes and wage rises. It announced an unprecedented 14th rise in interest rates in a row. The bank’s Monetary Policy Committee raised the basic interest rate by 0.25 percentage points to 5.25 percent, the highest rate in more than 15 years.
But the main news was gloomy forecasts that point to a sharp rise in unemployment. The committee also predicted a rise in unemployment of around 350,000. And it said average increases in mortgages will hit around £3,000 a year, as households move off fixed-rate deals.
More people miss bills
More people in Britain are missing payments for essential bills, including for energy, water or council tax, as the cost of living crisis continues to hurt. According to an insight tracker for consumer group Which?, 2.4 million households missed or defaulted on essential payments, including for housing, loans or credit cards in the month to 13 July.
This is a return to the high levels seen last winter. The number of people missing payments last month was significantly higher than seen in May. That suggests consumers remain under pressure even in the warmer months of the year when energy costs are lower.
Rents up and landlords evict
The average British rental price has hit another all-time high, increasing by a further 1.1 percent from last month. Every region in Britain has seen a month-on-month increase, according to data released by Homelet, which sells services to landlords.
The average rent is now £1,243 a month. Evictions are up, with 20 percent of private renters being told to move out in the past 12 months, including 12 percent being served a no‑fault notice. This is landlords’ response to the rise in interest rates.
“With rents going up so quickly, Section 21 is used to push tenants into accepting rent rises,” says Wilson Craw from campaign group Generation Rent. “You are within your rights to negotiate but you might fear eviction.”