Opinion: Can the unions lead a construction strike?

Aaron Morby 12 years ago

It’s all a bit seventies at the moment on the industrial relations front with angry mobs of electricians at site gates while talk of a one-day general construction strike next month rumbles around.

So are we about to enter an era of industrial unrest with sites being hit by stoppages?

In a word no, because the construction unions are in a fairly woeful state and simply don’t have a big enough support to stage any meaningful action.

Ucatt warned darkly this week of the “most extensive industrial relations ballot” in its history as public sector builders are encouraged to join an all-industry protest next month over pensions.

That’s one they may win because union membership is high in the public sector and workers are genuinely angry about their pension changes.

But in the private sector Ucatt membership is dwindling while the comical goings-on at the  union head office have ruined the reputation of a once-proud organisation.

Former general secretary Alan Ritchie is now suspended pending an investigation into alleged expenses irregularities after being removed from office after the election race was declared void.

Ritchie is still planning to stand in the re-run leadership race backed by a raft of officials still loyal to him.

No wonder the average construction worker would think twice about being led to the barricades by that lot.

Things are even more feisty on the M&E side where plans by eight major contractors to leave the JIB have caused uproar.

But the anger so far has been concentrated among the same group of demonstrators traveling from site-to-site.

Protests outside the gates have failed to sway salaried sparks to walk off the job and employers will hope the campaign runs out of steam before it can spread to site level.

Unite is now leading the charge but only after being pricked into action by the rank-and-file campaign which was the driving force behind the original protests.

The employers have been heavy handed in their attempts to modernise the M&E pay agreement.

But they will get away with it because their is no appetite in the current climate for construction workers to risk their jobs in an industrial dispute.

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