THERE are thousands of workplaces across Britain and Ireland where union activists negotiate on pay, training and skills.
It is a fact that organised workplaces are safer and better paid — the union “premium.”
Nonetheless many activists have learned to grow thick skins and be resilient when relationships with employers get “scratchy.”
Nine times out of 10 conflict is resolved but victimisation does occur. None more so than in construction. The danger to construction workers of unbridled exploitation is clear in Qatar.
The price being paid by migrant workers is eloquently described by Unite general secretary Len McCluskey following his return from joint Unite-Building and Wood Workers’ International (BWI) delegation to Doha.
Fatalities and injuries are swept under the carpet in the interests of getting the job finished.
At home, construction union activists have for decades been singled out and fallen prey to conspiracies between major contractors, government and police of breathtaking proportions. Regular Morning Star readers will be familiar with construction workers’ campaigns for justice, the Shrewsbury 24 and the victims of systematic blacklisting by the Economic League and Consulting Association.
This special edition of the Morning Star pulls together the many issues construction union activists are grappling with. The old chestnuts are still rife — bogus selfemployment, subcontracting and use of agency labour where, if employers “played by the rules,” there would be a directly employed workforce. But it doesn’t have to be like this.
Direct employment, investment in skills and apprenticeships make good economic sense. Union activists best able to point to potential safety breaches and ensure fair practice are an asset, not a threat, and deserve respect.
Unite stands by our members in construction and who want nothing more than to get Britain building with a fair share of profits, a strong voice and secure jobs.
Gail Cartmail is an assistant general secretary of Unite.