An all-out unofficial strike by workers at Cottam power station, between Nottingham and Lincoln, started in late February.
Austrian company SFL, contracted by EDF Energy to build a desulphurisation plant at Cottam, hired both British and East European workers — from Hungary, Austria and Romania — but on different wages and conditions. As in the Irish Ferries dispute, this is a case of a multinational company moving workers around the EU to undercut wages.
SFL hired British workers under the terms of the construction industry’s “Blue Book”, but others on different terms. Everyone was told not to talk to anyone else about wages and conditions. In particular, the Eastern Europeans were told that the British workers were troublemakers who had “silly little tea breaks”. Weekend overtime was allocated only to the Europeans.
Despite SFL’s cackhanded efforts, the workers did talk to each other and found out what was happening. When a group of Hungarians discovered they were on nothing like Blue Book rates, they joined Amicus (both Amicus and the GMB have members at the plant), but were “mysteriously” transferred back to the continent immediately.
On 16 February, welder Barnabas Bito paid for a flight back to the UK and walked for eigh hours in order to explain to his former workmates at Cottam that the Hungarian workers had not been transferred to other jobs, but sacked. 19 GMB construction workers immediately walked out, to be joined by Amicus scaffolders and laggers.
The workers have stood united on the picket line, organising a number of protests which have attracted union support from across the country, including from construction workers at Wembley, who recently won their own dispute. Representatives from across the East Midlands labour movement were due to speak at a rally in support of the strikers in Nottingham on Thursday 9 March.
Fifteen workers have now been sacked for their magnificent act of solidarity, yet both Amicus and the GMB repudiated the action due to the lack of a ballot. The Cottam power workers have shown that they understand more about trade unionism and working-class solidarity than all the “awkward squad” put together.