Scaffolders at the British Steel site in Scunthorpe – organised in Unite – are continuing to strike in their struggle for pay equality. To stop this race to the bottom, we need nationalisation and workers’ control. Victory to the scaffs!
Sixty scaffolders at the British Steel plant in Scunthorpe are continuing their strike, having initially downed tools in October last year.
They are fighting employer Actavo for pay parity with rates set out in the National Agreement for the Engineering Construction Industry (NAECI). Currently, the workers – organised in Unite the Union – are paid 10-15% below this, depending on roles.
As the strike continues to rumble on, these workers are increasingly turning to more militant methods to win.
Given the stubbornness of Actavo bosses, the scaffolders have upped the ante and escalated their action.
At the end of January, the scaffolders disrupted an awards ceremony attended by Actavo representatives, demanding that they #PayTheRate. This involved activists from the Blacklist Support Group, bearing hallmarks of similar militant actions conducted by construction union activists in recent years.
But the scaffolders didn’t stop there. Next they blocked the road into the British Steel plant on 28 January. This saw dozens of lorries backed up down the road, preventing them from entering the site for several hours. Such action can really disrupt production, heaping pressure on bosses.
— Reel News (@ReelNewsLondon) January 28, 2022
One of the persistent problems in the dispute has also been the action of other scaffolding firms, who have scabbed on the strikers.
As a result, on 31 January, the striking scaffolders held an unofficial picket at Lindsey Oil Refinery, demanding that industrial services company Altrad pull out of the British Steel site.
Striking Scunny scaffs unofficial picket at Lindsey Oil Refinery today demanding Altrad pull off British Steel site where they’re scabbing on strike. Huge respect to Altrad scaffs and Worley construction workers who refused to start work during picket #PayTheRate #BadBossesBeware pic.twitter.com/b1zJwZnjup
— Reel News (@ReelNewsLondon) January 31, 2022
This resulted in a win, with Altrad no longer working at the Scunthorpe site, where their employees had been crossing the picket line. The same success was repeated with High Peak – another scaffolding firm.
There are now plans to target other scaffolding companies that continue to scab on the strike, such as Brand.
‘We’re sending a message to Brand scaffolding and any other scaffolding company that are crossing the picket line’ – Don’t Scab#NeverCrossAPicketLine #PayTheRate #BackTheScaffs @Actavo_HQ @BritishSteelUK pic.twitter.com/pGHjgqgzzO
— United Scaffs (@UnitedScaffs) February 14, 2022
Such militant methods are very welcome. Defying anti-trade union laws in this way to actively defend the strike is a major step forward. In this sense, these workers are placing themselves at the forefront of the wave of industrial action that is starting to sweep across Britain.
Given the determination of the scaffolders, and the fact that the bosses are dragging this battle out, solidarity from the wider movement has also become vital to sustain the strike.
There has been enormous support for the scaffolders from the local labour movement. Hull Trades Council, for example, has a solidarity shop that has offered to provide the strikers with food. And the Unite branch at nearby University of Sheffield has donated a substantial amount of money to the strike fund.
Solidarity has also come from further afield, such as from Ireland and Denmark. And a group of Celtic football club fans in Scotland have also organised a ‘Celtic Support The Scaffs’ group. This is in response to the fact that Actavo’s majority shareholder, Denis O’Brien, also holds a stake in Celtic.
On 24 January, protests were held outside Actavo offices across Britain and Ireland in solidarity with the scaffolders. This includes in Brigg, North Lincolnshire, where around 60 workers, activists, and locals turned out, including Socialist Appeal supporters.
Scunthorpe Socialist Appeal supporters have also directly raised money for the scaffolders through the local Unite community branch and the North Lincolnshire TUC.
The determination and militancy of the scaffolders is a shining example for the wider labour movement.
Having extended action beyond official pickets at the British Steel site, they have shown that the tactics deployed during strikes should be on the basis of what leads to success – not simply what is legally permitted.
If Actavo doesn’t concede, Unite must be prepared to support the scaffolders in escalating further – including calling out the other 800-or-so Unite members at the British Steel site on strike in support of the scaffolders.
As well as this, Unite should call on other unions to help support the strikers, by building for the maximum presence on picket lines on 22 February, which is set to be a ‘national day of action’ for the Actavo scaffolders, from 6-10am.
As the cost of living crisis continues to bite, the leaders of the trade union movement will need to show the same kind of audacity and courage as these striking scaffolders – both in their political demands and in their industrial strategy.
This means boldly calling for the nationalisation of the commanding heights of the economy, to be run under the control of workers themselves.
Readers can help support the Actavo scaffolders by donating via bank transfer:
Sort code: 60-83-01
Account number: 20173962
Account name: Unite North East Region 1% Fund,
Reference: Actavo Limited.
Or donate by cheque:
Payable to ‘Unite the Union’
Forwarded to Regional Office, Unite the Union, 55 Call Lane, Leeds, LS1 7BW.