Members of the North London branch of the CPGB-ML have taken their place alongside local trade unionists, as well as other working-class and community activists, in lending their support to construction workers on the much-vaunted Channel Tunnel Rail Link (CTRL).
Building workers employed by multi-million-pound contractor Laing O’Rourke on this prestigious project are having their contracts unilaterally ‘renegotiated’ by management, and one of the main building unions, GMB, was thrown off the site. Workers reacted by having a one-day sit-in calling for maximum solidarity from all working-class organisations.
The CPGB-ML joined the ‘solidarity’ line outside the Kings Cross site, as workers inside confronted management with their demands to have GMB reps on site and for the new contract to be negotiated, not imposed. Outside the site, an anarchist (but nevertheless good and cheerful) samba band, Rhythms of Resistance, played in the mid November drear of the backstreets of Kings Cross. The workers inside said afterwards that both our solidarity presence and the sheer jollity of the band “enormously boosted their morale and helped them” move forward. (Some local residents were unfortunately not so happy – one appeared very angry and shouting, claiming she was a trade unionist herself, but you had to draw the line at protesting before 10.00am in the morning!)
That dismal interlude aside, the essential fight is about the terms of the new contract that management wants to impose. Management (encouraged by Gordon Brown, who intends new legislation on this issue) plans to end CIS (a bogus form of self-employment used in the construction industry where holiday and sick pay are virtually non-existent, and where NI is not paid by the employer) and introduce PAYE. Normally, along with UCATT (which has campaigned strenuously for just this change), CPGB-ML would see a move from CIS to PAYE as progressive. Not, however, if (as in this case) the workers are, in effect, expected to pick up the tab for the employers’ part of national insurance contributions by massive wage cuts!
The changeover from CIS to PAYE should not result in pay cuts but profit cuts.
It’s also perhaps worth pointing out that, at a time when the Labour government is threatening sick pay, incapacity pay and pensions, the changeover from CIS to PAYE, which has been fought and struggled for by UCATT (and other trade unions) over a number of decades, may not present as being so benign as it once appeared.
The battles in the construction industry promise to be as huge as the industry itself and we will be returning to this particular struggle in more depth in a later edition of Proletarian.