Saturday, February 25, 2012

Electricians defeat employers

It is marvellous to read, on the website of the very group of employers who sought to break the national agreement, the announcement of the total surrender of the employers who were trying to undermine the pay rates of electricians in the construction industry. The contractors who were trying to impose a new national “agreement” which would have cost electricians up to a third of their pay have given up completely in the face of rank and file struggle.

I’m sure that this humiliating climbdown has nothing to do with the fact that the employers’ organisation concerned is changing its name next week.

This tremendous victory has been welcomed in places where you might expect it to be welcomed – and other places too. This is a victory of the rank and file, but UNITE’s victory in court against attempts by the employers to challenge an official industrial action ballot has also been an important ingredient in the electrician's eventual success.

The electricians’ victory is the product both of independent grassroots rank and file mobilisation (including a willingness to take the sort of action which trade unions cannot, under the current legal regime, easily countenance officially) whilst maintaining the support of the official structures of the movement. UNITE, under its present political leadership, have shown a creditable determination to support their members.

Perhaps we can all learn from this dispute the importance of building unity between the rank and file and the leadership. There is certainly a lesson here for anyone who thinks that the best way to respond to an attack on conditions of service is to concede - and this dispute offers hope to all those, such as our members in Southampton, who are fighting on.

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