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Union activists protest against HS2 construction bosses refusing reps' access to workers

UNION activists protested in London today against bosses denying reps access to construction workers building the HS2 railway line.

Unite has accused joint-venture company Skanska-Costain-Strabag (SCS) of flouting an HS2 agreement and not allowing the union meaningful access to a site in Euston, where workers are building tunnels for the publicly funded route to Birmingham.

SCS staff at other HS2 sites — Europe’s largest construction project — have been denied overtime rates, paid holidays and insurance cover for death and serious injuries, Unite charged, with the union’s Jerry Swain telling the large crowd: “We don’t need to ask what they have to hide because we know.”

He confirmed the demonstration was the start of a long-term campaign to stop the union-busting activities of companies such as Skanska and Costain, which Unite warns are renowned for blacklisting union members. 

The protesters responded by directing their anger at SCS bosses with chants of “shame on you” and “blacklisting is a crime.”

In an impassioned speech, Unite’s assistant general secretary Steve Turner urged working people everywhere to stand up to injustice. 

He told the Morning Star: “We’ve lost too many lives in construction, we’ve been denied access for too long, we’ve been blacklisted for too long, and we’ve had enough.

“We’re going to get access to this site, and we’re going to stand up for decent rates of pay, decent health and safety conditions, decent sick pay, and every other thing our members demand on a modern 21st-century site.”

Mr Turner, the United Left-endorsed candidate to succeed Len McCluskey as head of Unite in this summer’s election, added: “Our money shouldn’t be spent lining the pockets of any already billionaire construction contractor, unless there’s organised labour [present].”

Mr Swain, Unite’s national officer for construction, stressed union-busting has to come to an end.

“We will be protesting all along the [SCS] part of the line and any other joint venture that chooses to follow their lead,” he told the Morning Star, adding: “They will not get this built by busting unions.

“They spent decades and decades actually preventing union members from working on their projects, they were exposed, and now they have the cheek to tell workers we’re protecting you by not letting the unions on site.

“You couldn’t make this up. This is just blatant union busting that Unite will not surrender to.”

SCS has been contacted for comment.

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