Brian Parkin reports
For over a year construction workers on Teesside have been protesting about the rising numbers of migrant workers being employed at the former ICI Wilton site, where a new energy from waste plant is being built. But don’t despair. Unlike such previous disputes, this one is different.
This time the protesters are welcoming foreign workers to Teesside on the understanding that if they are allowed to join the union and get the right rate for the job it will stop unscrupulous employers using migrant workers as union-busting cheap labour.
Unions and communities united
Alongside the three construction unions – Unite, GMB and UCATT – the local communities have been involved, using nearby workers social clubs as counselling and welfare support centres for foreign workers. The local construction rank and file committee that is running the campaign have drawn on official union resources to ensure translators are available on the picket lines and at counselling sessions.
The committee has produced leaflets for the weekly pickets in Croatian, Punjabi, Italian, French, Polish, Slovakian and Lithuanian. The leaflet reads:
Teesside welcomes workers from around the world but we will not allow undercutting of rates of pay by any employer or client. Unite the union along with the trades unions GMB & UCATT as well as Teesside Construction Committee want to ensure working people are treated equally and fairly and with dignity and respect. You as an individual have the right to join a trade union- your employer cannot stop you, so please join and help us defend the rights of all working people. Please remember: cheap labour is not skilled labour and skilled labour is not cheap labour. Follow us on twitter #Pay the rate.
Showing racism the union card!
On each picket, members of the local Asian communities as well as members of local anti-racist and immigrant welfare organisations are present. And earlier attempts by UKIP and the BNP to become involved have resulted in swift ‘expulsions’. An essential part of the committee’s work has been to prevent employers abusing the accommodation daily rate and putting workers into over-crowded sub-standard housing while pocketing the allowance.
Rank and file sets example
This marvellous show of solidarity contrasts with the shameful behaviour of Unite official Derek Simpson four years ago at the Lindsey refinery dispute on Humberside. There he posed in a Daily Star publicity stunt with union-jack-clad ‘Page 3 models’ under the slogan of ‘British Jobs for British Workers’. After strenuous lobbying by rank and file activists, the unions have firmly distanced themselves from any xenophobic associations. And the exemplary conduct of the workers on Teesside- itself one of the worst UK centres for unemployment- shows the extent to which that message has gone home.