Members of the GMB and Unite converged outside Parliament on 3 February to oppose discrimination against British workers and the attempts to undermine the National Agreement Engineering Construction Industry (NAECI) – Blue Book. The demonstration was given “official” backing by the GMB but eschewed by Unite. Those protesting included some who were finding themselves jobless after 25 years’ experience as well as those sacked for union activities.
It was also the anniversary of the Lindsey oil refinery (LOR) protest in Lincolnshire in 2009 and the public exposure of cheap labour imported from Italy and Spain, Poland and Portugal.
A further focus of the demonstration, as reported in last month’s Workers, was the employer’s skulduggery that had been exposed at Staythorpe, near Newark, Nottinghamshire (see feature article). Italian subcontractor Somi was caught surreptitiously undercutting UK rates by as much as £1000 a month per worker. As usual, it was described by the main contractor, French multinational Alstom, as a mistake (yet another) and as with LOR, Mandelson denied it was taking place. But the GMB will not be fobbed off and wants Somi kicked off the site.
After demonstrations at Alstom’s headquarters and outside Mandelson’s department, where letters containing examples of workers being underpaid both at Staythorpe and at LOR were handed in, Paul Kenny, general secretary of the GMB, addressed the gathering.
Kenny promised the full support of the GMB and said they were ready to lead a national dispute to “regain the control of our industry which we should have”. He admitted that the GMB had not at first realised the significance of Lindsey, but now he said “The sheep are rearing up”. He dismissed objections on the grounds of free movement of labour, insisting that, “official” or “unofficial”, it doesn’t matter – the point is to stand and fight, or nothing would ever get done: “When the politicians won’t change, we have to change them.”