After nearly two years of trying to achieve union recognition, workers at Cornish concrete supplier Maen Karne have been left with no choice but to take strike action against their employer.
These workers, organised in Unite, operate and drive lorries laden with concrete. This is used in construction projects across the county.
Showing their contempt for their own workforce, the bosses have refused to come to the table and negotiate with the workers collectively. Instead, they are set on smashing the strike.
As a result, having already walked out for four days earlier in May, the Maen Karne workers have rolled up their sleeves and launched nine more strike days: starting last week, from 30 May to 2 June, and continuing all of this week, from 5-9 June.
Maen Karne’s workers will receive Unite’s total support who are striking this week & next for union recognition.
Unite general secretary Sharon Graham said: “Unite cannot accept union busting. Our members’ jobs, pay and conditions are this union’s top priority” ✊#unitetheunion pic.twitter.com/WwK6V689ix
— Unite South West (@unitesouthwest) June 1, 2023
On its website, the company claims that one of its core values is ‘caring’. “People are at the heart of everything we do,” simpers the ‘about us’ copy. “We all look out for one another, and in doing so create a happy, rewarding, safe and healthy workplace.”
The reality on the ground paints a different picture. When speaking to Socialist Appeal comrades about what really went on inside the business, workers on the picket line described a toxic environment of bullying.
The strikers told us about how aggressive managers shout profanities at the workers, and how the bosses threaten them with the axe, or with cuts to their already low pay (of less than £12 per hour).
For years, there has been a policy of promoting ‘yes-men’ into management positions. This is used to try and make workers compliant, and to push long working hours – around 47 per week – on them.
When asked how best to describe the conditions at Maen Karne, one worker said: ‘Draconian.’
Conditions in the workplace have become intolerable, and have pushed the workers to breaking point. “There’s no going back if we don’t win,” one striker stated.
On the picket line itself, only two of the workers had ever been on strike before.
This same process is happening all over the country – and across the world. New layers of workers, who have never taken strike action before, are now being forced to do so, as the bosses go on the offensive, looking to shore up their profits at workers’ expense.
The concrete lorry drivers also described this strike as being about more than themselves. They know that if they don’t win, there is a big risk that they will lose their job. But they also know that whoever is hired to replace them will receive the same harsh treatment that they’ve suffered.
That is why they’re taking a stand. These workers, just as many others are learning across the country, know that the bosses won’t stop with their attacks unless they’re made to. But workers, standing together, have the strength to do exactly that.
Since the strike began, management have refused to negotiate with the workers. They have consistently repeated that they will never recognise the union.
Added to this, Maen Karne’s parent company, GRS, is spending huge sums of money on scab labour.
It’s clear that these union-busting bosses are doing everything possible to crush this strike. They know that if workers win recognition and the right to collective bargaining, this will boost their confidence to go further.
This could include fighting for better pay and conditions, which in turn would hurt the bosses’ profits – something they cannot tolerate.
In turn, the capitalists up and down the country are worried that industrial militancy could be contagious.
Workers everywhere are being inspired by seeing others of their class moving into action: from the railways to the hospital wards. And the bosses’ threats, which in the past might have kept workers in line, are instead now provoking them to form their own pickets.
Workers at Maen Karne are only striking for union recognition. But they are entitled to so much more. The fact is that the business cannot run without them. They know their worth. And through this strike action, they are learning their power too.
Maen Karne must immediately give workers the union recognition that they are demanding. This should be accompanied by a real pay rise, with wages linked to inflation, along with investment to improve working conditions.
If the bosses say that they can’t afford it, then they should open up the company’s books to the workers and trade unions, and show where the money is going.
At the end of the day, the capitalists cannot be trusted to run industry. Their only concern is their profits. That is why Maen Karne bosses are refusing to recognise the union. And it is why the employers everywhere are intent on driving down workers’ wages and conditions.
But workers are fighting back. From the struggles against deskilling at Hinkley Point C and British Steel, to the battles over pay at Fawley refinery and on North Sea offshore rigs: strikes are breaking out across the construction sector, as workers push back against decades of notoriously poor conditions and wages.
The construction industry, as with many other sectors, has been left to the tender mercies of private profiteers for too long. Instead of leaving the economy in the hands of these fat cats and parasites, the labour movement must fight for democratic workers’ control.
We say: Victory to the Maen Karne workers! Fight for union recognition! Kick out the union-busting bosses! Put workers in control!