New strikes over jobs and union agreements have broken out in engineering construction similar to those at the end of January and the start of February this year.
According to Contract Journal (19 May), the dispute started with 50 laggers walking out at the South Hook Liquified Natural Gas terminal in Milford Haven.
Utility Week reported (20 May) “around 200 workers... picketing the South Hook liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminal at Milford Haven. They include some from the nearby Dragon LNG terminal.”
Walk-outs in solidarity were reported from:
• Laggers and thermal insulation engineers at Aberthaw power station in the Vale of Glamorgan.
• Subcontractors at the Fiddlers Ferry power station in Widnes.
• Contractors at the ConocoPhillips Humber refinery in North Lincolnshire,
According to an unofficial engineering construction workers’ website, on the morning of 20 May “around 800 protesters were blocking roads near the [ConocoPhillips] refinery at South Killingholme. Meetings were being held at other sites to decide whether hundreds of workers would continue with the unofficial action.”
The strike wave ended with an agreement between the Milford Haven contractor and the GMB union to remove a sub-contractor employing Polish “posted workers” and to recruit for that phase of the project locally.
The January and February strikes combined two elements:
1. A national union agreement which covers Britain’s engineering construction industry to the undercutting of that agreement. Strikers were combatting the displacement of workers already on site who would normally expect to get jobs on later sub-contracts, and the main contractors bringing in subcontractors employing “posted” workers from other EU countries.
Even if these subcontractors (like the non-union Italian-based subcontractor at the focus of the January-February strike at Lindsey) said they were paying the same rates as the national union agreement, the workers did not believe them, and were denied reliable way of checking.
Subsequent reports, for example in the big business paper the Financial Times, indicated that employers did indeed see breaking union strength as a key motive in using these subcontractors with “posted” workers.
2. Broad-brush nationalist agitation (of a poisonous sort) for “British Jobs for British Workers”.
A report from 2007 that construction workers at the South Hook site struck (illegally, but successfully) against racist harassment of one of their number, Omar Mohammed, much more than just nationalism to their current strike; but we do not know the balance between the elements in the recent action.
• Debate on construction strikes: www.workersliberty.org/node/12109