I have worked in construction since 1983. I am an electrician by trade. The construction industry in 2007 has gone backward.
Employment rights are non-existent, safety and welfare facilities are very poor, especially on small building sites. Seventy-seven workers were killed in the year 2006-7, with thousands more injured, some seriously.
The ragged trousered philanthropist is alive and well in 2007. If you are a building worker and have not read this book by Robert Tressell, then you must. You will find the story is re-lived on many of today’s UK building sites.
I managed to stay on the cards (PAYE) until 2000. It is virtually impossible to get a job on the cards now, due to the blacklist. Most workers are forced to work for companies or agencies that pay through a payroll company. Tax of 20% is deducted, and then you pay your own National Insurance. No holiday pay or sick pay. You are called self-employed which is nonsense.
Self-employed means working for yourself, not for some horrible greedy capitalist who doesn’t give a damn about your welfare or safety. All he wants is for you to work faster, get the job done quicker and pay for his new Mercedes or private jet. You may get paid if you’re lucky, provided the cheque doesn’t bounce.
There are very few organised sites at the moment, with rank and file elected stewards or safety reps. This is partly due to workers being scared of taking stewards’ positions and being sacked. Also the unions are not defending their members properly, often leaving them hanging out to dry as the Manchester electricians have been since May 2006.
The best sites I have worked on in the past were organised sites, such as the Jubilee Line extension. Workers at present need to stand up and be counted, join unions, elect stewards and take strike action in support of their stewards if they are sacked, and set up picket lines. It’s been done in the past and has always worked. Unofficial action will not go down well with the bureaucrats and appointed stooge convenors. But all picket lines are official and must never be crossed. It’s the golden rule of trade unionism.
Migrant workers are often verbally attacked by fellow workers. This is fundamentally wrong and racist. Attack the bosses who are exploiting your fellow workers, unite and fight together. The Olympic sites must be organised by rank and file trade unionists. The best buildings are always built by union labour.
The marvellous book Steve mentions, The ragged trousered philanthropists, is available from Wellred books at £12 including postage.