Rank and file or broad left? A short history of the Building Worker Group

Pamphlet about the UK rank-and-file Building Worker Group within the UCATT union, published as issue 8 of the series Revolutions Per Minute.

Issue 8 is dedicated to the 3,000 building workers who have lost their lives in so-called ‘site accidents’ since the advent of the Health and Safety at Work Act in 1974. In the year 2000/1 there were 120 deaths on site.

Murder, in fact, would be a better word.

It gives me great pleasure to welcome readers to issue 8 of RPM, particularly as it is so good. As secretary of the Building Worker Group Brian Higgins has been involved in many of the struggles waged by building workers in the last 25 to 30 years for better pay and conditions.

As a result he has been maligned and attacked by the building employers, both large and small, agencies of the State and the trade union bureaucrats, not to mention many of their supporters on the ‘revolutionary left’. A the struggles waged by building workers in the last 25 to 30 years for better pay and conditions.

As a result he has been maligned and attacked by the building employers, both large and small, agencies of the State and the trade union bureaucrats, not to mention many of their supporters on the ‘revolutionary left’. This issue of RPM gives Brian, and the building workers he represents a chance to put ‘their side of the story’.

As such whilst it is a historical document it is also a ‘call to arms’, for action now to prevent injuries and deaths on building sites, improve pay and conditions and ultimately, for workers self control of the building industry.

Whilst primarily aimed at building workers the issues raised in the following pages affect all workers and as such the reader will find RPM 8 invaluable.

Mark Metcalf

Foreword and introduction

Foreword

When I wrote the first edition of this pamphlet in February 1996 I built it around the need to intervene in the 'London Joint Sites Committee' [Joint Sites] with a Rank and File [R&F] perspective. I hoped to counter the broad left approach that dominated the Joint Sites at the time when I wrote the original document, on which the pamphlet was based, in 1992 and when the Joint Sites were a real force amongst building workers. I stated then that the political struggle between the broad left and R&F would "determine success or failure for the Joint Sites or at least any chance of success".

The Joint Sites refused to adopt a R&F Strategy and failed miserably. The erstwhile leader of the Joint Sites Mick Dooley is now a full-time official in UCATT, appointed and thus controlled by George Brumwell the General Secretary. Not so much a matter of being sucked into the full-time bureaucracy as he couldn't wait to get the bloody job!

This edition of the pamphlet is not intended for intervention in any specific building workers' struggle or organisation but is meant as a guide for any current or future militant action or union organisation in the construction industry in particular and R&F Organisation in general, as well as being a short history of the Building Worker Group [BWG]. Of course I retain much of the wording of the first pamphlet as it is historically correct and doesn't need changing. I also repeat some of the words used in the foreword to the first edition as they are as relevant today as then, with some slight adjustment as, for instance the Colin Roach Centre/Resistance who originally published the pamphlet no longer exist. - So here goes.

Given that the history of workers' industrial struggles actually written by workers who participated in and helped fashion them is an absolute rarity in all literary circles, I thank RPM for encouraging and enabling me to do this, again! This also helps to combat the industrial and political isolation imposed on me by the blacklist with the economic and social constraints this brings. Not forgetting the effect this has had on my wife and family. Many many years of blacklisting.

I supply the words in this history but above all it is one of a truly collective struggle over a period of 26 years and one that proves the ability of militant rank and file workers and a R&F Organisation to survive against all the odds.... and sods! Writing this is also a powerful way of stating "The bastards will never grind us down"!

I add that over many years the Northampton Branch of UCATT [Union of Construction, Allied Trades and Technicians] has stood four square and immovable alongside the BWG not only in exposing the financial corruption and ballot rigging rampant in UCATT in the 1980's but also in fighting the official cover up of this and the subsequent insidious destruction of democracy this gave and continues to give rise to in the union. We continue to struggle against this and endeavour to counter this into the new century and Millenium! This pamphlet is a tribute and testament to all involved.

Brian Higgins, Secretary of Building Worker Group and Secretary of Northampton UCATT
February 2001

Introduction

As with the Foreword the introduction in the original issue of this pamphlet in 1996 was mainly about and meant to relate to the 'London Joint Sites Committee'.

However today, what better way to introduce the second edition of the pamphlet than to notify all that the first edition was among quite a few pieces of 'Building Worker' literature cited by Dominic Hehir the broad left full-time London UCATT Official in the High Court Writ for Libel and threat of an injunction he took out against Brian Higgins as secretary of both the BWG and Northampton UCATT Branch on November 9th 1996.

This was clearly an attempt to silence Brian Higgins and those we represent in the BWG and UCATT. Hehir thought he'd go down in history as the man who silenced us. This is something the building employers and the UCATT bureaucracy have been dying, and on occasions trying, to do for years. Yes Hehir did go down... but to defeat. He humiliatingly withdrew his High Court action against Brian Higgins on January 28th 1999. More on Hehir and the High Court later but neither Brian, the BWG or Northampton UCATT would be silenced by Hehir, the High Court or any of those supporting him including the building employers. We carried on writing and organising!

Freedom of speech and to organise in the construction unions and industry, and in all industries and unions in general, have been won by generations of workers in struggle and are far too precious and important to surrender to those who would remove them - especially a renegade Trade Union official.

Read on to find out why they tried to silence us and what they are afraid of and why we must and will continue our struggle.

John Jones and Kenny Irvine – Building Worker Group

Chapter 1: Rank and file in construction

Political

Before going on to what we mean by R&F it is important I register this is a political as well as industrial document; reflecting the fact that R&F Organisation is a political and industrial task. This needs stating at the start to counter the effects of what is politically termed 'The Popular Front' between the employers, state and trade union and political bureaucracies who are much better organised than rank and file workers on a UK wide basis at present and have been collectively planning and acting for many years against the interests of workers in general and, in our case, building workers on the sites and in the unions, in particular.

This has been particularly evident in the political move [sorry stampede] to the right by the trade union and labour movement [essentially this means those loyal to the Labour Party] in the face of the prolonged capitalist offensive begun under the labour Government of 1974 - 79. This intensified when Thatcher came to power with the introduction of the anti union laws and now being continued by Blair and the 'new' labour Government - with every section of the full-time union bureaucracy, left, right and centre, completely capitulating to this offensive and now collaborating with it.

Republican

My experience has now led me to conclude that workers will have to adopt a 'republican' approach [i.e. act as free citizens and not loyal subjects] to succeed in an all out struggle, including building workers if they go into this, against the very British, Loyal and Bureaucratic Popular Front.

Capital R&F

This is used to distinguish it from the more general use of rank and file as in workers. Rank and File is a revolutionary political concept, bringing together revolutionary workers [i.e. those who believe in some reforms but who have no faith in parliament or parliamentary democracy and see the only road to working class emancipation in extra parliamentary political organisation and activity] - and the more militant reformist workers, [by far the majority, who feel the system can be reformed in favour of the working class via parliament and the established political parties and industrial organisations if enough pressure can be applied] - to counter the effects of a capitalist offensive and the popular front in their specific workplaces and industries as well as the fact that it is the inherent nature of the full-time union officials to reach unprincipled compromises and sell out workers' wages, jobs and conditions.

A united front Rank and File Organisation should be formed to meet the more immediate needs of workers in the workplace, building sites in our case, and unions. Longer term policies and objectives are required to counter the ability of the employers to repeatedly come back at workers and claw back any gains made during periods of heightened class struggle, activity and organisation.

United Front Independence

The main emphasis of any serious R&F Organisation must be on action and organisation, completely independent of the trade union and labour bureaucracy, around a set of agreed United Front policies and objectives. Supporting workers in struggle is vital. Initiating and leading a few also!

By United Front we mean a minimum package of policies and principles which those in the united front can agree with and that will unite those, usually more militant workers and others (who will disagree socially and politically on some perhaps even many issues) in maximum action and organisation in a specific industry and union or unions. In our case the construction unions and industry.

As well as this there must also be one general umbrella R&F Organisation with a common platform which will unite workers, particularly in struggle, in one big united front that can successfully counter all attempts to 'divide and rule' by pitting worker and against worker in different industries, unions and occupations.

Narrow sectionalism and craft chauvinism are the enemies of worker's unity and solidarity. For example, surely all must unite around a policy for the defiance and repeal of all anti union legislation and especially support for any and all workers who find themselves in struggle against any of these utterly unjust laws.

A R&F organisation is open to all workers associated with a particular industry or union be they employed or unemployed. It will also endeavour, very much; to win the support of the more conventional forms of workers' rank and file organisations such as shop stewards committees and trade union branches. Essentially, the united front maximises agreement and minimises differences.

It will also take on board some of the more difficult social and political issues and adopt a principled working class united front position on these. This will mainly develop over time. R& F Organisations should cover these in their publications and some of their activities. Not to do so will inevitably lead to embarrassing walls of silence when workers (as some always do) ask the R&F organisation - where do we stand on this issue, that issue?

It is recognised that, in the short term, it is only the so-called bread and butter, 'economic issues’ that will get maximum support and unity in action from a majority of workers on site. However the R&F Organisation should be the bridge between the more popular economic and day to day site issues and the more difficult but equally [some would say in the long term much more] important ones.

I stress just as an example - what about the rights of the Irish, Scottish, Welsh and English people to national self-determination, and independence from the British State if they so choose, now that the British ruling class via Blair and the 'New' Labour Government have raised and heightened democratic expectations and aspirations, in an attempt to keep the very shaky [British] Union together, with the devolved Parliament in Scotland and the Welsh Assembly?

Building Worker Group

Next, for the purposes of this section on R&F Organisation, I refer to the 'Building Worker' Group, which is the only organisation in the construction industry which has consistently adhered to United Front R&F policies and organisational principles since its formation in 1974. It has always been totally independent from the trades union and labour bureaucracies.

26 years of struggle, often against the employers, but always against UCATT and TGWU officialdom. This has been mostly against tremendous adversity and in circumstances extremely unfavourable to R&F Organisation and activity. This is none more so than today with New Labour and the likes of the three B's Blair, Brown and, 'Chicken' George Brumwell ruling the roost.

The BWG was formed on the initiative of the International Socialists [IS, the immediate forerunner of the SWP] as a way of recruiting workers into the IS and to replace the Communist Party of Great Britain [CPGB] as the main industrial influence on the revolutionary left. This was after the CPGB's left reformist political [faith in Parliament] and industrial [your full-time official right or wrong] credentials were brutally exposed in quite a few workers' struggles in the 1970's and they stopped pretending they were interested in R&F Organisation.

The IS, and then the SWP as it became in 1977 recruited many workers in this phase but lost them just as quickly. In fact, the joke among building workers in the IS/SWP at that time was that they had a bigger turnover of labour than George Wimpey did! They never did replace the CPGB, at least not as the main industrial force on the revolutionary left.

Not having the politics necessary to deal with the Capitalist Offensive, anti-union laws and all, the SWP moved rapidly towards supporting a Broad Left Industrial position and they are now in fact tailing the main broad left forces in the official trades union and labour movement. Meaning in fact they are an adjunct of and very subservient to these.

The R&F organisations formed in 1974/75 were in fact seen as nothing more than party fronts by the IS/SWP leadership. However those of us in the IS/SWP at that time, who helped to form and build the 'Building Worker' Group in its early days, did so with a total commitment to the principle of the united front. We did not realise the party front intentions of the SWP leadership as they quite carefully and fraudulently disguised this from their industrial militants. Of which I was one!

Thus when the SWP wrongly diagnosed what to do in response to (what they determined was a downturn in workers' struggles and combatively due to purely economic factors] a full blooded capitalist offensive they bureaucratically and dictatorially ordered all R&F Organisations to close down and for members to retreat to our geographical branches to await the (mythical) upturn. By the way, the year long miners' strike in 1984-85 was some downturn!

Tony Cliff told to F*** Off!

At a meeting of the BWG in Manchester in July 1982, Tony Cliff of the SWP Central Committee, who had been invited by me to address the meeting and encourage us in our efforts, ordered us to close down the paper and group. We were astounded and very, very angry. Cliff was told the BW Group was a united front and as such was composed of and open to workers of varying political persuasions and thus it did not belong to the SWP and it never would, and neither the SWP or SWP members in the group had the authority to close it down. Nor did we want to work for this! He was told the way to respond when the going got tough was not to sound the retreat, as there is absolutely no credibility in this.

Rather, political and R&F Organisations should strive all the harder to strengthen their organisation and resolve and give a positive and definite alternative lead, with policies, to that of the craven capitulation and collaboration of the official trade union and labour movement. Otherwise you become part of this dungheap.


The year long miners' strike was some downturn!

The meeting voted, with only one against, to keep the Building Worker paper and group going. In fact Cliff, who was considered by many (including himself!) to be among the foremost revolutionary political thinkers and leaders of that time, was politically routed by a group of 'rag, tag and bobtail' site and political militants.

Tony Cliff was reminded that the Building Worker Group had supported many struggles outside as well as in the building industry. We had also led many struggles in the industry, such as at Lawrences in London in 1974, Macinerney's in London and Henry Boot in Northampton in 1975. At Shanleys in Bedford in 1976 we organised a political strike in solidarity with public sector workers against the cuts.

On the day of the strike in November 1976 the bus we hired, to take workers who wanted to go to the anti cuts demo in London, pulled up outside the site.

80 or so workers gathered in the canteen, the others who didn’t go stayed at home and as we left to board the bus Shanley’s contracts manager Pat O’Neil was heard to say “fuck sake what’s the building industry coming to when a hod carrier [before I became a bricklayer!] is running the job”!! Now there’s a thought. Workers could run the industry much more proficiently and safely than the bosses!!

The BW Group organised what must have been one of the most successfully and comprehensively organised sites in the UK, since the 1945 war, on Fairweathers in Clapham Junction, London. Three successful strikes were held on this site. Workers from many parts of London came to the stewards committee (which was organised deliberately to include Asian, Black and women workers) for advice and support.

BW meetings of 25-30 were regularly held in South London as well as in Central London. An example of the successful support given to other building workers was when the Fairweather workers and the BW Group picketed the Thames Barrier and forced Tarmac to reinstate a convenor they had sacked on a site in Brixton.

The BW and Fairweather stewards committee called for and got mass picketing of a huge Wandsworth Direct Labour Organisation (DLO) job where two shop stewards had been sacked. Pickets came from as far away as Manchester. The stewards were reinstated. The Fairweather and related activity took place in 1977, 1978 and 1979. Flying pickets came up to Northampton in 1980 and closed down a large site that was part of the Symes Group of Companies.

Close down such an organisation, Cliff was asked? Fuck off, he was told. I was expelled from the SWP shortly after this for refusing to work for the closure of the Building Worker Group and paper. This was the highest political compliment the SWP can ever pay you! Building Worker supporters took a brave stand on a Crouch job in London against the lump and gangster systems of employment. Two men were brutalised by a sub contractor's hit man. One was seriously injured and his health is still seriously impaired. Such are the risks sometimes associated with organising a union on site in the building industry. Struggles were also led in Milton Keynes, Hatfield and Welwyn Garden City, and others too numerous to mention.

Laings Lock Out Committee

The culmination of all of this and undoubtedly the most important and significant struggle led by the Building Worker group and worth a separate mention was the 'Laings Lock Out Committee' of 1985/86 where our cumulative and collective experience was most thoroughly and seriously put to the test.

Our bricklaying gang, all BW supporters, was sacked by sub-contractors Jonoroy on a site in Surbiton in October 1985 on the instructions of Laing Homes, who were quite openly and blatantly operating the blacklist against us.

We went into immediate struggle. With our very limited numbers and resources it was obvious we would have to fight a guerrilla, hold the site we were on and hit and run, war with Laing and the Building Employers Confederation. We sought and got support from many industrial and political sources.

We formed the 'Laings Lock Out Committee'. We were so successful in our use of the flying picket tactic that we halted or severely restricted production on 8 sites in London. In all, we picketed 14 different sites. The outcome of this was Jonoroy (Laings actually) offered work on a Galliford site in Banstead in Surrey, ostensibly until the site in Surbiton was ready, or so we were told. We knew the employers would come back at us in the very short term. We had to put a picket on the Galliford job to get on it. We had to threaten a strike after we got on it to ensure they took on a hod carrier who was with us, but hadn't been at the beginning of the Lock Out.

They told us to go back to Surbiton, as that site was ready. We went to Surbiton. We were told "there's no way Higgins and the others would work on a Laing site". Our picketing was restarted and stepped up. We hit the British Library and Hays Wharf among others. The employers were shitting themselves.

They took out a high court injunction against us that threatened us with two years in jail and fines of many hundreds of thousands of pounds if we did not stop picketing, meeting and even speaking about the Lock Out. The injunction was issued in February 1986.

We took a decision in line with official TUC, UCATT and TGWU policy at that time (though they always supported the anti-union laws in practice) and much more to the point in defence of the basic freedoms of the right to speak, meet and picket, to defy the injunction and carry on. We stepped up picketing, meeting and speaking.

In the months before the injunction was issued we had visited many workplaces, and rank and file trade union organisations, and had addressed many mass meetings. So much groundwork had been done and many workers knew of and supported our struggle against the blacklist. However when the high court injunction was issued on the basis of the 1982 anti-union laws, the main issue then became the overt political one of the anti-union laws themselves. Thus, we stepped up our campaign on this basis and got a tremendous response from workplace after workplace, mass meeting after mass meeting. We had always gone and continued to go straight to the rank and file. To hell and the High Court with the bureaucracy!!

{Text of the injunction:-

1986 L. No. 443
IN THE HIGH COURT OF JUSTICE
QUEEN'S BENCH DIVISION

B E T W E E N:

LAING HOMES LIMITED First Plaintiffs

JOHN LAING SERVICES LIMITED Second Plaintiffs

LAING MANAGEMENT CONTRACTING
LIMITED Third Plaintiffs

SOUTHERN BRICKLAYING LIMITED Fourth Plaintiffs

JOHN LAING PLC Fifth Plaintiffs

JOHN LAING CONSTRUCTION LIMITED Sixth Plaintiffs
- and -

BRIAN HIGGINS First Defendant

THOMAS WALSH Second Defendant

DAVID LAVERY Third Defendant

RAYMOND MILLS Fourth Defendant

DAVID WILLIAMS Fifth Defendant

****************** Sixth Defendant

end of text}

An example of the kind of enthusiastic support we received was when I addressed a meeting of about 1,000 Islington DLO workers. Among them were bin men. They told us if we were put in jail (Pentonville was traditionally where they put 'political' prisoners in London, arising out of industrial disputes) then they would blockade Pentonville Road with their lorries until our release, as they had done for the 'Pentonville Dockers'. I addressed a meeting of 4,000 print workers. Again, there was tremendous support for our struggle against the anti-union laws. It was the same everywhere.

Needless to say this sort of support and the promise of political strike action by many thousands of workers, if we were jailed, gave us great inspiration and enabled us to carry on our struggle. No doubt, it gave the government and the High Court the opposite! We went to see the UCATT Executive Council and general secretary, A Williams at that time, and asked for their support, just for the record. Naturally they didn't give it to us but instead told us to give up our struggle. I told them they were a bunch of spineless, cringing, crawling, backstabbing bastards and we were now in open defiance of them and the High Court. George Henderson, General Secretary of the TGWU construction section, and those other spineless bastards at Tooley Street (TGWU construction section London Headquarters) took the same approach as the UCATT Executive Council. Surprise, surprise.

During the dispute I received open death threats from the employers - twice during official negotiations. It really is a nice industry to organise in! They were told there would be no more Crouches (see earlier) and that if any of us or our families were harmed then the main employer Laing and its directors would be held physically and personally responsible and we would be avenged. No equivocation!

I was also banned by a court from the Tooley Street area of London [Laing had a massive job at Hay's Wharf there which we were picketing] for a period of time during the 'Lock Out'. I managed to circumvent this on occasion but was arrested once and held in jail, overnight and just happened to miss an employer/union conciliation panel which took place the next morning!!

For two months we openly and successfully defied the High Court and the anti-union laws, a tremendous political victory which has immediate implications for today's struggles. However on the industrial front A Williams, the UCATT general secretary, in secret negotiations signed a document with the employers' national secretary which removed all official recognition from our dispute be it at Surbiton or anywhere else. We didn't have enough building workers involved to force a negotiated settlement outside of the official machinery, which is what it would have taken, and after six months of tremendously hard struggle we called off our struggle against the blacklist with the knowledge it will have to be fought another day. Hopefully not far off now.

However, we set London alight for six months and exposed the gangster system of employment in the industry. We gave hope to many building workers; we proved the anti-union laws and High Court could be successfully defied! We exposed the full corrupt depth to which P Kavanagh, the London regional secretary of the TGWU (Tooley Street), had sunk and forced the TGWU to sack him. Unfortunately, he is only the tip of a very huge corrupt official iceberg.

The Federation of Brick Contractors was formed as a result of our struggle; meaning the brutalisation of a physical nature would lessen but they would now, and do, court official union support and corrupt it horribly in the process to counter any repeat of the 'Laings Lock Out' type of action. Before and since the blacklist has kept quite a few of us off the sites. Some have been so demoralised with this, and the state of the unions and the left, that they have given up the struggle.

But there were enough of us left to continue the struggle and how. Shortly after the Laings Lock Out in 1986 we were involved in supporting workers on a McCarthy Stone site in Sutton in Surrey. I was arrested on the picket by Special Branch, taken to the local jail and told if I didn't leave the area and stay away I'd spend a very long time on remand in Brixton Jail! To our knowledge this was unprecedented in an industrial dispute and shows the political threat we posed after successfully defying the High Court and the anti union laws!

Chapter 2: Southwark 'New' Labour council in London

We were involved in quite a few battles in the intervening years, particularly in UCATT fighting corruption [see that section], and in support of site and other workers in struggle. However since the Laings Lock Out the most significant industrial dispute we were involved in 'on site' was in the public sector. Southwark Council Direct Building Works Department to be precise.

This took place in 1995-96 when a BWG supporter John Jones a brickie and UCATT shop steward - who had long been a thorn in the DLO Management's side and also very relevantly that of the UCATT Convenor Steward Tony O'Brien - was singled out and victimised by management and told he'd have to accept a transfer to a private building contractor named Botes or be sacked.

To disguise the attack on this militant shops steward, as is often the case, they told another few DLO workers they'd also have to accept such transfers. Terry Mason a plumber in the EPIU/TGWU took a stand alongside John Jones against the transfers reminding Southwark Council they had a grievance out against the transfer to Botes with the Council.

The Council then came up with one of the most idiotic pieces of management claptrap the BWG have ever heard and believe us we've heard some! They said Botes would deal with their grievances against being transferred to Botes! Incredible but true. All of this utterly contrary to nationally agreed union/management procedures for dealing with grievances.

O'Brien, the Convenor Steward who is on the broad left and Hehir, a full-time UCATT regional official, both of whom are on the broad left in UCATT, and J Rouse, TGWU/EPIU official, then entered the fray and guess what? Promptly backed the management's sacking of John and Terry and agreeing their grievance procedures should be heard by Botes! Astonishing but true!

There then followed this series of events that are worth repeating [with updates] in the same detail as in the first edition of this pamphlet in 1996 particularly as the main trade union 'villains of the piece' are still very active in UCATT and that obnoxious scab O'Brien is still masquerading as some sort of champion of worker's rights via the completely pseudo and toothless 'Construction Safety Campaign'.

13th November 1995. The council were given a week by the two workers they'd sacked to reinstate their grievance procedures in line with the rule book. When this eminently reasonable request was refused John and Terry decided to put a picket on the Frensham Street Building Works Depot, the largest. The BWG was asked to support the picket. We did so wholeheartedly and not one DLO building worker would cross the line of about twenty people. O'Brien then bullied and pressurised the DLO workers into crossing the picket line. He also told some of them they'd suffer the same fate as John and Terry if they didn't cross. The picket was lifted on the promise of a mass meeting but this was broken.

20th November 1995: After a week another picket was put on to try to force the council's hand. Again, not one worker would cross. Again, O'Brien bullied them over. Disgustingly, the SWP publicly backed the convenor's scabbing. So S stood for Scab Workers Party.

11th December 1995: Picketing was stepped up that day and a lobby put on the meeting of the London and South East Regional Council of UCATT. The lobby demanded a mass meeting and for the workers at this to have the right to vote for reinstatement of the grievance procedures. O'Brien, who was on the Regional Council, and Hehir were completely opposed to this.

The lobbyists were told Southwark Council had given UCATT ten days to get the picket off or they would face a high court injunction, putting massive pressure on the Regional Council. We reminded the regional council, and Brumwell the General Secretary who was lurking about in the building, of the 'Laings lock Out'. To their tremendous credit the regional council went completely against O'Brien and Hehir by deciding a mass meeting should go ahead and to call on the Council to reinstate the grievance procedures. The power of the picket! Without the picket John and Terry would have been long gone!

20th December 1995: The mass meeting voted overwhelmingly for reinstatement of the grievance procedure and there was a definite feeling for industrial action to support this vote. Such was the feeling the TGWU/EPIU official J Rouse went straight to his office and penned a letter to Southwark Council requesting reinstatement of the grievance procedures. Some change of heart but welcome! Someone asked what sort of action would it take to move the council. A strike and picketing said the two workers and the BWG.

February 16th 1996: On this day a meeting of London and South East Regional Council of UCATT was told Hehir had taken legal advice and this was that the two workers would have to accept the transfer of their grievance to Botes - who would decide the outcome. Of course legal advice and action can and has been ignored but the Regional Council meeting felt it had no alternative but to go along with this advice.

What legal advice? John and Terry won Industrial Tribunals! John and Terry had taken the precaution of applying for Industrial Tribunals, knowing they wouldn't be able to sustain the picketing in the face of the Convenor's scabbing and him and Hehir supporting the council in sacking and victimising the two workers. They won the subsequent Industrial Tribunals for unfair dismissal hands down. Obviously the Tribunals [industrial courts!] were not too impressed with the validity of Hehir's so called legal advice.

Meanwhile back to O'Brien Not content with the most disgusting, unprincipled and unprecedented display of scabbing we've ever heard of or witnessed by a convenor steward, O'Brien with the assistance of the now thankfully defunct Workers Revolutionary Party [WRP] and one Dot [some say Dotty] Gibson smeared us quite heavily in the, now also thankfully defunct, 'Workers Press' newspapers of 2nd, 9th and 16th of December 1995 respectively. We and the two sacked workers are accused of.... mounting a "Fraudulent, sectarian 'picket line' " and of "this provocative action" and they ask, "are we an anti trade union group or what?". That's called smear by speculation!

O'Brien was given the whole of the two middle pages of the December 16th issue of 'Workers Press' to attack and smear us and we're talking tabloid-sized pages here. Tabloid size, tabloid journalism I suppose. In his article he actually boasted of 'leading' the workers across the picket line. He also told the readers he was charging some of us in BWG [turned out to be me, Kenny Irvine and
John Jones, talk about adding insult to injury] through the Southwark and Bermondsey UCATT Branch, effectively with picketing and called on the union to discipline us for it. This is particularly loathsome and it is unprecedented for any section, or person, in a union to effectively charge 'fellow' trade unionists with picketing. It clearly lined him up with the anti-union laws.

In reply to these smears [of which there have been many down the years, particularly against me, and I expect a few more!] we in the Building Worker Group write A Picket is a Picket, is a Picket. A Convenor who forces workers across this against their wills is a Scab, is a Scab, is a Scab.

Regional Council throw out O'Brien's charges. The London South East Regional Council meeting who heard the charges against John Jones, Kenny Irvine and I threw them out. To be honest they and we almost laughed them out 'of court'. O'Brien lied that I had threatened him with violence and the only witness he called [obviously none of the workers wanted anything to do with the charge] was a transport supervisor, a member of the management, who's first utterances were to launch a tirade against trade unionism in general which didn't exactly endear him or O'Brien to the Regional Council.

We suppose management felt they owed him a favour as he'd supported them so staunchly and decisively in the sacking and victimisation of John and Terry. Enough said!

Victories in Northampton On a brighter note victories in Northampton Direct Labour Organisation. Twice in recent years painters in UCATT employed by Northampton DLO Contract Services [i.e. Building Maintenance] came to the UCATT Branch, of which I'm secretary, for help and advice when told on the first occasion compulsory redundancies were pending and on the second notices were issued.

At the meetings they attended 'en masse' with their shop steward, with the UCATT Convenor Steward there, they were advised the only way to save their jobs, if the council went ahead with the compulsory redundancies was by striking and putting a picket on Westbridge the massive DLO Building and Transport Maintenance Depot near the town centre. We asked them if they were prepared to do this, they said yes to a man.

I then conveyed a message along these lines, and no doubt the word went out by 'word of mouth', to the Labour Council in letters to the leader of the council and left him and them in no doubt we'd back whatever action the painters decided was needed to save their jobs. In the first instance the pending notices were issued, in the second they were withdrawn. Since then some left voluntarily, as sometimes happens, but we did win the day against compulsory redundancies. Once more the power of, even threat of, the picket!

Of course in Northampton we were never faced with a scab convenor who'd backed management in sacking these workers and ordering other workers across any picket lines we set up against the sackings if they'd taken place. It shows what can be achieved when workers and trade union unity, solidarity and principle are the order of the day!

Chapter 3: The broad left in construction: popular front

It is important for readers to realise there is a distinctive [political] difference between the BWG and the Broad Left in the construction industry and unions, particularly in UCATT and that you also know the truth about this. This is especially important amongst any new group of militants who are emerging, as what they hear will be very heavily prejudiced by the politics of those speaking about us.

This document also states very clearly where we come from and the experience we bring and can offer any emerging movements. I feel the real proof of any working class organisation is not so much in what it says but much more what it does in practice, in action. This is proof we mean what we say.

We have learned many important lessons in our struggles and many years of existence. Many of them are vitally important for today and tomorrow. But what of the Broad Left?

The first thing to establish is that the main political and ideological difference between the Broad Left and Rank and File approach is that the broad left is entirely committed to putting pressure on left wing full-time trade union officials and also political figures. These will then put pressure on the other union and political people. Who will then put pressure on the more 'liberal' employers, who will presumably put pressure on the other employers and this will be to the benefit of rank and file workers. In this sequence of events, of course, the employers have the real power and they use it to dominate and control all the others in the interest of their own greed and class.

This combination is known as the popular front approach, i.e. a popular front between bosses politicians and union officials. This is, of course, completely to the detriment of rank and file workers, whereas the R&F united front approach means organisation and action completely independent of any popular front and against this.

As this sounds largely theoretical and theory is proven in practice, what is the practice of the broad left? I give a few examples with a wee bit of their history included. The Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB) essentially formulated and initiated this popular front/broad left approach and theory. They dominated earlier examples of this before their political disintegration and demise.

In the mid-'60s to early '70s the CPGB initiated and controlled what they pretended was a Rank and File industrial organisation in the construction industry called 'THE BUILDERS CHARTER'. They quite cynically launched the Charter as a pseudo R&F organisation to attract workers to them and to use these workers as a 'stage army' to build and enhance the reputations of CPGB militants with a view to implementing the CPGB's real industrial strategy, which was winning and holding on to full-time positions in the unions. Thus CPGB militants were elected into full time positions in UCATT on the basis of their reputations gained in the Builders Charter movement. There are plenty of other examples of 'militants', both as individuals and in political organisations, using workers' struggles to get a full-time union position; but the CPGB were the main proponents of this in the building industry.

The 1972 National Building Workers Strike


A Union to Build - The Story of UCATT by Leslie Wood 1979

The culmination of the Charter Movement and the most clear and worst example of the CPGB's cynicism was when they initiated and apparently controlled the 1972 (inter) national UK wide strike in the building industry. This strike won the highest percentage wage rise ever conceded in the history of the building industry, i.e. 'national' wage rise.

It could have been a lot higher and most importantly working conditions improved immeasurably. But the real price and popular front nature of the CPGB/Broad Left Leadership of the 'Charter' were soon to be callously and brutally exposed. During the strike, sites were allowed to work where the employers conceded wage rises, the Charter thus breaking all rules and principles of working class solidarity.

The Charter also agreed to ask the striking workers to forego desperately needed strike pay if the UCATT Executive Council would continue to give the strike its official backing. What a deal - imagine the signals these events sent to the employers and the British State! Most damagingly, a few months after the strike, tactically waiting till things had quietened down a bit, a state/employer conspiracy was mounted against some pickets in the North Wales and Shrewsbury areas.

As a result of this, some pickets were sent to prison on trumped up charges. Among them were Des Warren, (a CPGB member!) and Ricky Tomlinson in UCATT and TGWU respectively. They served three and two years apiece - the longest sentences.

When the 'Shrewsbury Pickets' were arrested, during the trial and after the sentences, many sites and building workers came out on strike for their release from custody. They were told to go back to work by the 'Charter' leadership and full-time officials of the unions. They said it should be left to the UCATT and TGWU Executive Councils, who promptly left it to the Labour Party and TUC. They passed it to that slug Roy Jenkins who was Home Secretary then. He left them in jail. Appeals were made to nice liberal employers and members of the ruling class. They stayed in jail. Des Warren is now suffering from advanced Parkinson's Disease as a result of the drugs forcibly administered to him to subdue him while in prison. The broad left/popular front CPGB 'Charter' leadership were just as guilty of putting and keeping the pickets in jail as the union officials, the state, the employers. The popular front in action! Compare this with the Building Worker Group and the 'Laings Lock Out'.

Earlier Joint Sites

There was an earlier 'joint sites' in London in the later sixties to the mid-seventies. All activities and policies were subject to the main broad left consideration for and thus subservient to left trade union officials. Action was continually sabotaged and sacrificed because of this.

The Building Worker Group after its formation repeatedly made appeals to the earlier joint sites, and to the broad left in construction ever since, for the broad left and BW Group to join together in one united front Rank and File Organisation. We sought policy agreements in order to go forward to construction workers with these. It was hoped that the unity achieved would prove to the workers on sites and in the unions that we could still maintain our political differences and opinions but unite on specific policies and issues for maximum action and organisation. This could only inspire workers and would mean they would be much more likely to take a lead from such a united front, rather than one organisation saying and doing one thing and the other something else.

The Building Worker Group initiated united front campaigns from time to time and appealed to the broad left to join us in these. One was 'The UCATT Democracy Campaign' that was formed in February 1987 with the specific objective of countering and opposing the ballot rigging, and those responsible, which came to light in the elections for the UCATT EC in 1985. Dominic Hehir (CPGB at one time and darling of the left of) the broad left UCATT Regional Organiser in London resigned his full-time position in protest at the ballot rigging, or so he said. He was actually manoeuvring for a more senior position in UCATT. He appeared on a 'UCATT Democracy Campaign' platform with some others from the broad left.

The major strategy of the campaign was quite simple to go to the rank and file membership and call on them to root out the corrupters and demand the total reform of the union.

Dominic Hehir ‘serial litigator’!

Shortly after this, Dominic Hehir with the full backing of the broad left, promptly deserted the R&F road and took UCATT to court. He got the London Regional Secretary's job he was after but of course the corruption continued as this became a secondary issue once he was in office and he wasn't about to rock the official boat. This effectively saw the end of his personal crusade against corruption. It also eventually saw the end of his time as regional secretary when he was removed from office by the votes of UCATT members - who were not too impressed by the fact that rather than settle disputes he had in the union via the rules and machinery for this his first recourse was now to consult lawyers and threaten legal action! He was fast acquiring a reputation as a 'serial litigator'!! So much for the broad left acting in the interests of the rank and file!

Construction Safety Campaign

A more prominent example of a 'Building Worker' united front campaign was the Construction Safety Campaign (CSC). This was set up on the initiative of the BW Group as a united front R&F organisation with agreed policies and rules with which to govern and discipline all activities. Or so we thought.

Unfortunately, the CSC with its huge potential for mass picketing and strike action over safety was hi-jacked by the broad left in the guise of the secretary T O'Brien, chair T Finn and treasurer A Higgins. Definitely no relation whatsoever!

The broad left nature of these three was most clearly and disastrously seen when two workers were killed on the Holborn, MacAlpine Prudential job in the space of one week in November 1989. The CSC put a lobby on the job. I was there and many workers going on to the job told us if the lobby had been a picket they would not have crossed it! I and some others realised we had come as far as we could with lobbies of parliament and coroners courts and building sites. It was now time (as workers were telling us!) to step up the campaign. The logic was inescapable, building workers are not killed in parliament or coroners courts. Lobbies of sites do not effect production and until we started to do this then the employers would go on killing building workers at an appalling and ever increasing rate.

It was now time to implement the CSC policy of "picketing sites where serious injury or death has occurred". In line with this, I took a fairly moderate proposal to the CSC National Committee Meeting of 25th November 1989. I was vice chair of the CSC. I proposed a picket be placed on a site for a couple of hours one morning where a death or deaths had occurred, mainly with a view to stopping transport but also asking workers not to cross. But if a worker told us he would be sacked for not going in then unless we were prepared to put an indefinite picket on until any workers sacked as a result of our picket were reinstated (which we weren't at that time) then we would advise those workers to go in. The limited picket would be a good way of testing the water and if signs were favourable picketing could be stepped up from there.


Employers go on killing building workers.

The vote was 3 for this and 2 against with one abstention. Quite simply, the secretary, chair and treasurer refused to implement this democratic decision and instead started to work to undermine it. Shortly after this these three 'stooges' announced they were going to appoint a full-time worker, coincidentally who just happened to be one of the three of us who voted to start picketing but had been persuaded to change his mind in the meantime!

This appointment was vehemently opposed on the basis that a R&F organisation must be totally opposed as a principle to the appointment of any and all officials be they in the union or most particularly in a R&F organisation - otherwise as in any appointments system you end up with 'jobs for the boys and girls' and only those favoured by the select few get the position. Many felt the appointment was made to ensure that I did not have a chance of getting the job as I would have in an election.

The broad left, including the SWP and Militant, at the 1990 CSC AGM voted for the appointment policy and they also voted against picketing! It was then obvious the CSC had been turned into a toothless broad left bureaucratic machine which was and is being used to enhance the reputations of those on the National Committee in London, with utterly meaningless lobbies of coroners courts and a policy of providing 'jobs for the boys'. As a result, the Building Worker Group and quite a few UCATT branches withdrew their support for the CSC. We now witness the CSC calling on the state as their main policy plank, i.e. the police, courts and judges to put their friends the employers in jail for killing building workers. Pigs will fly!! Even if by some remote possibility a boss or two were put into jail, this would not stop them killing building workers. Killing building workers is actually a very profitable business for these bastards. All emphasis has now been directed away from the sites where building workers are actually, we say, murdered and instead appeals to the popular front ad nauseam are substituted.

Prevention is better than compensation

The UCATT backed very broad left CSC is now so toothless and tame that it figures quite frequently in the pages of what we can only term the official UCATT scab version of our paper which George Brumwell and his poodles have the gall and effrontery to call "UCATT Building Worker". We were formed in 1974, they started in 1994. Seems scabbing is second nature to some!!

On the front page of the New Year 2000 issue of that journal there is a photograph of a building worker in a wheelchair waving a cheque with the caption "UCATT WAS THERE WHEN HE NEEDED HELP". This begs the question and we ask, where were they before he was put into a wheelchair? We think exploiting a badly maimed building worker in this manner is deplorable. What's next, coffins with a union official waving a cheque for compensation?

Good luck to the site worker who won the compensation but surely the true boasting on this issue from the union which calls itself the largest and only one for construction workers should be if they ever put a stop to the appalling rate at which building workers are put in wooden boxes and wheelchairs as a result of so called site accidents. Even better put a stop to it. Now that would be something to boast about and shout from the rooftops! But it's only when site workers get militantly unionised, organised and mobilised that this will and can happen. We must try to speed up this process.

"Prevention is better than compensation" should be our motto, our watchword. This issue probably illustrates in the most graphic and practical manner the real difference between the official union/broad left approach and ours to organisation in the construction industry.

Broad left in union elections

They used to ask those they supported in UCATT elections (mainly for full-time positions) to endorse one or two what they termed progressive policies. ( As the TGWU appoint their full-time officials then they could not have an electoral policy for it!) But in the stampede to the right in recent years the broad left, right, left, right have given up even this pretence and now vote for what in effect is a policy of the best of a bad bunch. Nae kiddin. They even got this disastrously wrong when they supported A Williams in the election for UCATT General Secretary, which he won in 1979 and then again in 1984. He was and is an out-and-out crook, the rest, as they say, is history. Unfortunately for us and the UCATT membership very recent history!!

They supported the current UCATT General Secretary G. Brumwell in the two elections in which he stood for that position after Williams. But nothing changes as Brumwell was on the Executive Council who, with evidence to prove it, were guilty of orchestrating the relatively recent ballot rigging and all of the horrendous corruption in the union.

Steel erectors struggle

The London Steel Erectors Stewards Committee who led a wages and conditions (exclusive to steel erectors) movement in the mid to late eighties was another workers' organisation that appeared to be controlled by the rank and file. But in reality, not having a policy of independence from their full-time trade union officials, they were largely controlled by the London Regional Secretary of the AEU, who in turn was controlled by the General Secretary MacLean, who was controlled by the employer!!

Eventually a deal was done by MacLean, some leading stewards were sacked, Joe Harrod the rank and file leader was transferred to the nether regions and the steel erectors brave revolt was effectively over.

The BWG said then, and still do, that the two main ingredients missing from the erectors struggle were their failure to adopt a policy of independence from their full time officials; and to adopt a strategy to involve other building workers in a wages and conditions struggle, thus keying into the all too apparent anger of other site workers at their wages and conditions and present the employers and union officials with one big united front. In not doing this, other building workers saw the steel erectors struggle as largely elitist and not too much to do with them.

An interesting observation is that I repeatedly asked the CSC secretary and chair, who were in regular contact with the erectors stewards committee, to ask them to send a delegate or delegates to the CSC National Committee. I also asked to be invited to speak to the steel committee. Nothing was done to involve them or to let me speak to them. The word was clearly out. Don't let Higgins near the steel erectors or them near to him - i.e. the broad left word!

Offshore Industrial Liaison Committee (OILC)

Many onshore and offshore construction workers were involved in the struggles of the OILC for safety and the continental shelf agreement in the UK oil industry in the late eighties. Again, a construction workers' organisation, this one with massive immediate potential, economic and political power, adopted the fatally flawed and failed broad left approach. They actually and openly declared they were in existence to restore some faith in official trades unionism among oil workers who had been badly let down by the unions on quite a few occasions in the past. Once this was done, the OILC would hand over the reins to the union officials.

Needless to say, with such an approach, the full-time officials let them do a job of work in recruiting thousands into the unions. Then when the OILC had done this the officials quite cynically and brutally sold out the oil workers again and the oil workers' brave struggles were over once again. Some of the conditions the full-time officials settled for are actually worse than the ones the workers were struggling against!

It is also worth mentioning that the OILC Standing Committee, which ran the struggle, was not elected by anyone and was therefore largely self appointed. There were no democratic elections to control the conduct of these OILC officials, rank and file at that! No delegate conferences took place to enable the rank and file, and it was supposed to be a rank and file organisation, to decide policy, rules or constitution.

Particularly crucial here was that there was no policy of defiance of the anti-union laws. Thus, when these were used against the occupations of the rigs (undoubtedly the highpoint of the oil workers' struggle) the OILC Standing Committee and leader Roddie MacDonald completely capitulated and called off the occupations.

I had written a few articles on behalf of the Building Worker Group in their rank and file paper 'The Blowout' and was in quite close touch with two of the Standing Committee. As soon as the occupations took place the OILC issued an order "no more rigs were to be occupied!" The BWG argued with those we knew; - every f'ing rig in the North Sea should be occupied and oil construction workers onshore should picket the many oil-related building site onshore!

Not having a R&F Strategy the OILC miserably failed the oil workers and continues to do so. Once more a workers' struggle was squandered and sacrificed on the altar of the broad left/official approach to class struggle ...and oblivion. Like all workers they need a R&F organisation which is workplace delegate based and capable of initiating and leading a struggle and carrying it on in defiance of the anti union laws and courts and full-time union officials and whatever else the employers and union establishments throw at them.

Joint sites take ball away

There’s no better way I can illustrate the broad left nature and decline of “The London Joint Sites Committee” from its hay day in the very early’90s, when it was a real force to be reckoned with, to what it is today than to recount the following, much of it reported in issues of the ‘Building Worker’ paper.

About mid 1998 we were approached, as were the Joint Sites, by a few sparks on the Jubilee Line fresh from one of their most noticeable struggles and victories, to discuss forming one united organisation representing the sparks, Joint Sites and Building Worker Group. This could then go to site workers with one message and give a more powerful lead than separate organisations. As this has always been BWG policy we wholeheartedly agreed and took part in a series of meetings to discuss and decide on these matters.

Eventually at a meeting on January 14th 1999 agreement was reached that the new organisation would be named “Builders United” with a paper of the same name. This name and football analogy was proposed by one of the leading lights (not a spark!) in the Joint Sites. We agreed with this for the sake of unity while realising policies and activity are much more important than names.

I now quote directly from an article in the “Building Worker” Bulletin - Summer 1999 …. At a meeting of Builders United held on 11th March we were shocked and angry when people from the Joint Sites argued and voted to completely reverse the previous decision and effectively sabotaged Builders United before it could even start organising on behalf of building workers. Attacks were launched on the BW paper and the secretary of the BWG. Some unity!

A leading role in this was taken by Mick Dooley, who had not been present at any of the previous ‘unity’ meetings but who now declared he would continue to produce the JSC paper “Builders Crack” and call JSC meetings and would not cooperate with the BWG. It was then we found that Dooley was being offered an appointed full-time position in UCATT by General Secretary George Brumwell. It all became clear. It can be no coincidence Dooley turned up at the meeting and performed the way he did. Mr Brumwell will be well satisfied.

BWG policy has always been to organise within the unions but independent of the full-time officials and we are critical of these officials when warranted. Which is quite often. The JSC believe in working with and relying on these officials most of the time. Once more a chance to build one big Rank and File organisation for building workers, saying and doing the same things, had been lost – this time because the JSC were afraid their carefully nurtured relationships with the full-time officials of which many of them aspire to become, mainly in UCATT, would be destroyed. It is now painfully obvious it’s the UCATT bureaucrats and not the rank and file who control the Joint Sites.

With Brumwell well in control. End of this quote from BW. By the way the sparks abstained from voting at the March 11th meeting. As well as Brumwell and company’s finger in the JSC pie we in BWG also detected the warped hand of the SWP Central Committee in the proceedings!

Mick Dooley gets a special mention as he founded and was the undoubted leader of the Joint Sites in its best days and as such was admired and respected by many site workers. Site workers also know rank and file leaders like Mick (was) are often offered full-time union positions as a way of removing them from their rank and file base, i.e. on the sites, and putting them under the control of senior union bureaucrats and thus neutralising them in the process.

The BWG had quite a close and good united front working relationship with Dooley and the Joint Sites in its most militant days. Incidentally, Mick was in the TGWU in those days. Perhaps he joined UCATT to increase hiscareer prospects! He also knew we in the BWG in UCATT had a long running battle with the full-time UCATT Bureaucracy and the current General Secretary George Brumwell. Brumwell must have been rubbing his hands and laughing quite a bit when Dooley took the full-time appointed position he offered him in UCATT. Thinking two fingers up to the BWG and site militants at the same time. As ever we gave the clenched fist salute in response and fight on.

Steve Hedley joins Dooley.
Steve is another erstwhile rank and file leader (of rail workers in the RMT mind you!) who deserted the rank and file road to go down that well trodden broad left path to full-time union officialdom. As we had quite a close working relationship with him at one time (particularly when he was in struggle for his railway job) he is another one worth going into a wee bit more detail than usual.

Steve was a well known Rail Maritime and Transport (RMT) militant and was involved in a struggle about three years ago for reinstatement after being sacked by GTRM (rail maintenance firm) during a national official RMT dispute over wages and conditions. During this he asked for and was given the BWG’s support and advice. In the course of this he invited me to speak at a railworkers’ meeting in Willesden (London) called to rally support for him in July 1998.

I argued they could and should not rely on their full-time officials (two of whom were sitting on the platform of the meeting!) and they’d have to defy the anti union laws if used against them as we had in1986. Also that they should send out flying pickets to spread the dispute once they went into struggle. It appeared I’d fired them up so well they were ready to go out on strike there and then! The RMT officials were not happy men! Steve Hedley said to me “you were fuckin’ brilliant, thanks”. A few days later the men at his depot in Euston went out on strike and went to other depots. But Hedley backed out of calling for the dispute to be spread by flying pickets and instead decided to go down the broad left road and rely on the full-time union officials. We told him he didn’t have a dog’s chance in hell of getting his job back via the union officials. He didn’t.

What did happen is not long after this he was appointed to a full-time position as a development officer in UCATT effectively by the General Secretary Brumwell although these appointments are rubber stamped by the Executive Council. Like Dooley Hedley knew of our battles with Brumwell and company and of our total opposition to appointed positions in the union. Needless to say we were saddened and very angry Steve had chosen to ignore the principles at stake and take the ‘low road’.

Sacked by Brumwell.
The only thing which can be said in his favour is that at least he didn’t exactly toe the Brumwell line (mainly by refusing to do check off deals with sub contractors where union subs are stopped by employers and paid directly to the union, in many cases with men not even knowing they’re in a union!”). As a result he was sacked by Brumwell, over the phone, in March 2000. The UCATT EC [i.e. Brumwell’s] decided to suspend Steve Hedley pending an investigation [into what?]. Needless to say the EC [for Ever Compliant!] eventually rubber stamped the General Secretary’s decision to sack Hedley. We suppose if he hires you he can fire you just as easily. Such is the utterly undemocratic and unaccountable [except to one man!] appointments system!

Steve’s also got a very hard neck. He asked the BWG and me for support against his sacking. We gave it of course but emphasised we do not support appointment of any union official on site or in the union.

Dooley toes the Brumwell line.
Quite soon after Hedley was sacked Dooley was called into a meeting and interviewed by Brumwell re. his job (Dooley’s!). He kept it. Obviously it wasn’t ‘toe to toe’. Petrified and nullified, nuff said about Dooley. Either way neither Dooley or Hedley are of much use to site workers. What price the broad left? Obviously a full-time union position!

Militant Sparks organisation in the AEEU.
A group of building workers well worth giving a bit of extra space and time to. I’ve put them in this section on the broad left in construct ion for political reasons. Halfway between R&F and broad left would perhaps be the correct way to describe them but it’s who has the political influence which defines this and it’s certainly not the R&F. I’ll define politics further on.

Their militancy and organisation are ‘legend’. Time after time they’ve gone into battle against their employers the electrical contractors and full-time AEEU officials and won national wages and conditions struggles and local ones over victimisation on site. They quite rightly use their specialist skills and fact sites can’t be finished without them and organised strength for this.

Jubilee Line.
This was particularly the case on the dome extension to the Jubilee Line in London in the run-up to New Year’s Eve 1999. Where they ran the employers and AEEU full-time officials ragged and won struggle after struggle against sackings of stewards and leading militants and for improved wages and conditions, especially safety, and against attacks on these.

Mass meeting support against Hehir and High Court.
Not that long after I was served with the High Court Writ in November 1996 one of the stewards on the Jubilee Line invited me and the BWG to address a mass meeting of sparks on that job. I hammered it out to about two hundred electricians in the canteen. I asked for their support for my and the BWG’s stand against the High Court and this attempt to silence us and said we’d be calling on them to go on strike if I was jailed. I also emphasised the need for all building workers to unite and fight on all major issues that affect us all on site and in the unions. In response they stood up to a man and nearly raised the roof thumping the tables and walls in support as they did so. I think if it was a call to come out there and then they’d have done so! This gave me and the BWG tremendous inspiration and with support like that Hehir and the High Court could do their damnedest!

I think the response must also have frightened the shop stewards committee, where there was quite a bit of SWP influence, as they never invited me back to another site meeting on the Jubilee Line!

How it can and is done, but SWP impose limitations.
The militant sparks show it can and is done on a sectional basis … and how!! However, their organisation and struggles have never been generalised and used to involve and assist other site workers and sections to get organised and join one big battle, one big united front organisation to improve the wages and conditions of all building workers (after all we’re all on the same sites!) and put a stop to the killing and maiming in the industry. Why?

The SWP always had and still has considerable influence with the AEEU contracting sparks (i.e. those who work on building sites), particularly with many leading stewards and militants. Being in favour of a broad left approach (but knowing sparks won’t lie down to full-time union officials) the SWP use their political influence to ensure the militant sparks organisation and activity is confined to sparks on a purely sectional basis and goes no further. Meaning the sparks don’t use their organisational strength in a very unorganised industry to mount a general challenge to the building employers and full-time officials in all construction unions against the anti union laws. No! No! This is heresy and would constitute a challenge to the SWP’s industrial politics and philosophy as well as that of the others mentioned and could result in some form of workers control of the unions and industry. God (i.e. The Central Committee, who think they know better than the workers) forbid!

Of course the sparks, like so many workers, have shown they will support other workers in struggle. But if they or any other group of workers wait for the SWP (S.P. or SLP) to do anything which generalises and widens workers’ struggles they’ll wait forever. As such generalising and widening of industrial struggle, particularly by the use of flying pickets and in defiance of the law, is above all a political question and one of political leadership. This will only happen when there is a big enough revolutionary workers’ political/industrial organisation in existence and or if a significant number of workers in struggle decide to go for it. There’s nothing like this around at present, BUT COME THE DAY!

Chapter 4: The main unions in construction

The broad left's much bigger brother. I quote Des Warren, the jailed 'Shrewsbury picket', who in his book "Key to my Cell", when writing on his attitude to the trade union bureaucracy and how he saw their role in the struggle for their release, said: "You have to crawl over the trade union officials to get at the employers. Yes we put demands on the trade union officials, but in the meantime praise the lord and pass the ammunition". Quite a healthy attitude to trade union officials.

However, I go in advance of Des and state: "nowadays you have to crawl over the broad left to get at the full-time trade union officials and they won't let you near the employers." We have to choose another route!

It's a complete waste of time putting demands for strike action over victimisation, sackings and imprisonment and such issues of principle on full-time union officials and the TUC for such as Des Warren was asking, as we know that this bureaucracy will capitulate and sell out workers in struggle especially when the law or the threat of it is used.

We should take our R&F demands and campaigns, as should all workers in struggle, directly to rank and file workers and trade unionists in their workplaces, the workplace and not the union being the most basic requisite, because the point of production is the only place workers have real economic power. Workplace sovereignty, control over production - only this can enable them to win all out and difficult struggles against the employers, the courts and the full-time trade union officials who always collaborate with the employers and courts in these situations. Yes, workers need to be continually recruited into the unions, and be prepared to organise and act independent of the full-time officials, and workplace struggles and campaigns are the best way to do this!

It is surely now manifestly obvious that no meaningful battles or advances can be won unless workers are prepared to fight and defy the full-time trade union bureaucracy as well as all the other forces arrainged against them.

However, parallel with this, the BW feels we must mount and support campaigns for the total reform and reclamation of all unions in construction (and everywhere else for that matter) lock, stock, rulebook and barrel from the bottom up. Undoubtedly the only way to do this is with militant R&F site/workplace organisation, policies and action. We rightly urge workers to join the unions. When we do so surely we then have a duty to tell them the state the unions are in and urge them to put the unions under workers' control. Make them subject to workers' democracy and no other - because, rest assured, without democratic workers' unions there can be no real workplace/site democracy and vice versa. It is only when unions are under democratic workers' control that we will be able to really control the conduct of union officials. Given the present grossly undemocratic and corrupt state and nature of the unions we cannot trust, or rely upon, any full time TU Officials.

New independent workers unions? The TUC and its constituent unions are in such a bad state and it's so bloody obvious the bosses and most certainly not the members or workers in struggle who control them that there's some talk about and feeling for the formation of new workers' organisations, independent from the current union establishment, to counter the unholy alliance they have with the bosses and the state. The OILC in the recent past and currently the militant electricians in the AEEU and postal workers in the CWU, who've taken successful industrial action, independent from their full-time officials (in fact as much against them as the bosses), are an embryonic manifestation of the need and desire for new independent workers' organisations/unions.

Workers should owe no loyalty to organisations such as the TUC and constituent unions who've been nothing but disloyal to those they are supposed to represent, particularly in struggle and also when it's blatantly obvious 'corporate trade unionism' (i.e. working hand in glove with the employers and big business, I think they call it 'social partnership') is increasingly becoming the order of the day for the TUC. With the anti union laws and the courts doing most of the ordering!

Witness the sickening sight of the TUC 2000 conference and leaders of its constituent unions and a majority of delegates calling for workers to scab on the blockades and picket lines mounted on oil depots during last year’s extremely popular fuel tax revolt! Witness the nauseating sight of Bill Morris, who’se on the Bank of England Committee which decides interest rates calling on T&G drivers to scab. Most ignored him!

In these circumstances new independent workers' organisations are both a tactical and political question, in fact almost a necessity! Tactically if enough workers decide to form new independent unions in whatever industry then they should be supported and encouraged in this. Politically we would have to call on such workers to ensure any new organisations are a massive (i.e. revolutionary) democratic advance on what they were 'replacing' and that the members of such new unions in the workplaces, where they should have regular mass meetings inside or outside the gate! should exercise absolute democratic and sovereign control over these and all officials at all times. Most especially in struggle. In fact they could only be forged out of and would need to be based on struggle!

UCATT The national UCATT full-time machinery was proven to be corrupt to the core (see more on corruption in next chapter). Unfortunately, but inevitably, this corruption being a political cancer (based on the old political/bureaucratic excuse of needing to 'arrange' the ballot to keep the dreaded communists out) spread to some parts of the rank and file as well. This was covered up by a conspiracy of silence between the broad left, right and centre.

The popular front in UCATT! Look at how they collectively conspired to cover up the results and findings of 'The UCATT Inquiry' and prevented these being shown to the UCATT membership for deliberation and whatever discipline they democratically decided was necessary. Many expulsions would have followed.

Most of the corrupt UCATT national officials of that era, approximately 1984 - 94, were voted into office on a broad left ticket - as were many regional ones. For example, the last General Secretary, the notorious Albert Williams. Also Charlie Kelly and Jack Henry who sat on the Executive Council which was proven to be utterly corrupt. The current General Secretary George Brumwell sat on the same EC as Kelly and Henry. Kelly was voted on to the next EC, with broad left support, in 1991 and sat on this with fellow broad left officials John Flavin, and Peter Lenihan and, although not associated with the corruption of the previous EC, apart from Kelly and covering up for it, to be honest it was not a lot better for the membership than the one they replaced. They got their comeuppance when voted out of office by the membership - as you'll read in the next chapter.

Dominic Hehir of the broad left (one time the darling of it!) and High Court infamy has done so many unprincipled somersaults that he more resembles a circus acrobat than a UCATT Regional Official. Apologies to acrobats everywhere! The financial corruption and ballot rigging might have gone but the political cancer malingers on and, as it has not been surgically and incisively removed, because of the cover-ups, the remaining cancerous cells continue to eat into and destroy the democratic body politic of the union.

This refusal to decisively deal with and remove the political malaise has led to and takes the form of the insidious destruction of democracy within the union, where the General Secretary George Brumwell, with the acquiescence of the current UCATT EC, is stripping away all remaining vestiges of democracy in the union and concentrating and centralising ever more bureaucratic power in his hands, with the support of the broad left for a system which see's him appointing, and thus in control of ALL national and regional full time officials in UCATT. How long before he appoints the EC who are currently elected in a national (i.e. UK and Ireland wide) postal ballot? Talk about 'Turkeys voting for Xmas'!! Such is the disgraceful and pitiful state of UCATT. Who can blame workers for wanting alternatives to such as this?

TGWU Before anyone says "Ah, but the TGWU is not as bad" - they do not even elect their regional officials. This is a gross corruption and dereliction of democracy. To my knowledge and that of quite a few others, all TGWU construction regional organisers and national officials have done, and are doing, dirty deals as much as their UCATT counterparts. I've some personal experience of being brutally sold out by Henderson, O'Neill, Blenerhasset and Crase in the Laings Lock Out in 1986. To my knowledge they are all still with the TGWU.

During the 'Laings Lock Out' in 1986 while me and another lad involved in it were talking to Brian Crase in the TGWU Offices in Tooley Street I noticed Crase was wearing a Laings tie. He was telling us how he advised Laings not to take out an injunction against us as we'd probably ignore it. He was right on that! I playfully pulled his tie and reminded him Laings were poised to put us in jail while he was cavorting about in their tie and I asked him to remove it. I think he did.

AEEU Misled by the benighted Sir Ken Jackson, their regional officials are also appointed but of course thanks to the 'Golden Jubilee Boys' and the militant sparks the bold Sir Ken, who infamously told the 1998 TUC Conference there was not need for workers to go on strike and then the sparks did exactly that!, is not as much in control of his troops as he'd like to be or imagines he is!

Corruption in UCATT

- The UCATT Inquiry and the 1994 National Delegate Conference

I've put this small section after 'The Unions in Construction' to avoid confusing other construction unions [although they're bad enough!] with corruption in UCATT. I've also 'separated' the subject matters and give them a section of their own as they warrant this.

The first thing to register and state categorically is that the BWG and Northampton UCATT branch are the only two organisations in the industry which have ceaselessly, openly and democratically campaigned against the corruption which engulfed and was rampant in UCATT from 1984-94. We are also the only two organisations who exposed much of this, NAMING NAMES in the process, within UCATT and in the 'Building Worker' paper. We continue to fight the after effects of this corruption today.

The broad left has always displayed extreme sectarianism towards us. However a section knew they desperately needed our support against the (broad left!!) UCATT Executive Council who were intent on taking UCATT into TGWU and they ensured that two of us in the BWG, Kenny Irvine and myself, were delegates to the 1994 UCATT National Delegate Conference. The broad left largely controlled the system for electing delegates to conference and still largely does although their influence isn't as strong today due to quite a few retiring and no one replacing them at present. A 'dying breed?' Perhaps physically but not politically!!

The UCATT inquiry - Hand report - ‘hand job’. The UCATT Inquiry' was set up by the EC of that day after an extremely damaging programme on Channel 4 'Dispatches' in May 1991 called 'The Ballot Fixers' which was a massive expose of, naming names of many involved in ballot rigging in the union.

Ostensibly the EC announced the inquiry was set up to investigate and root out the corruption and corrupters or words to that effect. Bullshit, we said, some of the corrupters would be in control of the inquiry and the evidence presented to it. It's a bloody cover-up!!

Two lawyers, John Hand QC and Jennifer Eadie, conducted the inquiry on behalf of the EC, which those wretches on the EC had the audacity to call 'Independent', honest! Albert Williams, the General Secretary when it was set up, had total control over the EC and thus inquiry and he was under investigation! George Brumwell then assumed control via his control of the EC when he first became General Secretary. Yet he also must have been under investigation as he was on the EC which the Channel 4 programme quite openly and clearly accused of orchestrating the ballot rigging along with Williams. Independent? Don't make us puke we said.

Eventually a report and the findings of 'The UCATT Inquiry' was produced and called 'The Hand Report', which we christened 'The Hand Job' (by the EC and General Secretary), as this did not contain the 55 page report on the financial aspects of 'The UCATT Inquiry'.

This contained and contains damning evidence of financial corruption yet to this day has been kept from the membership of the union. Democracy demanded and still demands, in fact screams out, they see and are able to deliberate on this.

VOTE OF NO CONFIDENCE. The BWG somewhat managed to counter the cover-up of the financial report and general secrecy (freemasons would be proud of!) surrounding the whole Inquiry. A copy of the 55 page financial report was sent anonymously to me and we took it to the members we could reach via Northampton UCATT Branch, the 'Building Worker' paper, the 1994 National Delegate Conference and on the sites where the paper was sold.

I moved a resolution from Northampton UCATT to the 1994 Conference which proposed a vote of no confidence in the EC for their handling of 'The UCATT Inquiry' and 'Hand Report'. A show of hands (nae pun intended!) was too close to call by the chair John Flavin. He was forced by the floor to call for voting cards to be held up and tellers appointed to count the votes. The EC and General Secretary who were on the platform had a decidedly uncomfortable half hour until it was announced the motion had fallen, but not by much! White handkerchiefs wiping sweaty palms and brows were much in evidence on the platform. Some of the broad left on the floor were sweating quite a bit as well, after all they'd helped 'to put the platform' in office! Once more we'd proved we might be small but we are a force to be reckoned with!!

We produced an anti-corruption special issue of the 'Building Worker' paper for the conference and it is no exaggeration to write we almost took the conference by storm. The banner headline of this paper was "Save UCATT, Sack the Executive Council".

In the spring of 1995, 87% of the UCATT members who voted supported the removal of the sitting full time Executive Council (EC) and for their replacement with a lay one. A tremendous vote and result and one which was enormously heartening for the BW Group. We do not claim sole responsibility for the removal of that EC but the vote proved we were very much in touch with the feelings of the vast majority of UCATT members on this issue. Our campaign had put tremendous pressure on and exposed the EC and was partly responsible for their removal. Not bad for a tiny wee R&F Organisation.

However, to show we have our feet planted very firmly on the ground and in political reality, we have warned all who read our literature, a change of personnel alone, be it lay or full-time, essentially alters nothing. Only new policies and the struggle for these can alter things in favour of the rank and file and democracy.

Not one official named in 'The Hand Report', including the 55 page financial one, as being guilty of dubious conduct or practice (euphemisms for corruption) was or has been disciplined or punished in any way for this.

Some are still in the union! Of course we continue to call for records and files held at UCATT's General Office and ALL evidence presented to and a part of 'The UCATT Inquiry' to be opened up and made available to the membership and investigated by a fully representative lay committee elected specifically for this purpose. The perpetrators of this horrendous corruption and its cover-up have gone 'scot free'. The membership have been excluded from any real knowledge of the inquiry and its aftermath and from democratically deciding who and how, they should be punished as well as how the union should be restructured and reformed to ensure this doesn't happen again, UCATT is in terminal decline.

I'm positive our continual campaigning on the issue of corruption in UCATT and the need to root out and punish the guilty, and don't tell us building employers were not involved, was one of the reasons the High Court Writ and threat of an injunction was served on me in 1996 in an attempt to silence us. But 'the struggle continues', exposition of corruption included!!

Chapter 5: High Court writ served - injunction threatened

'The Irish Post' (I.P.) newspaper had a long tradition of covering issues concerning the building industry and unions and the workers in both. It also had a democratic tradition (the only one of the mainline press) of publishing letters about these matters from building workers and trade unionists of which I and others in UCATT, including the General Secretary George Brumwell, had taken advantage to air our views in the early to mid-1990s.

In line with this, I wrote the letter dated 16.9.96. shown here to the I.P. The letter was subsequently published in the I.P. of 5th October 1996.

{Text of the letter:-

UNION OF CONSTRUCTION,
ALLIED TRADES AND TECHNICIANS
NORTHAMPTON
BRANCH No. UF 214

2 Bitten Court,
Lumbertubs,
Northampton.
16. 6. 96.

The Irish Post,
Uxbridge House,
Hayes,
Middlesex.

Dear Editor,

In the Irish Post of September 7th you report on UCATT and Denis Flavey winning an industrial tribunal and that Johnny Gould was the UCATT official Involved. I was on the picket line at Vascroft which secured reinstatement for the workers outside the gate before Vascroft decided to single out Denis Falvey and the other bricklayer who was in the TGWU. Congratulations to Denis, Johnny Gould and all concerned in this tribunal victory.

However I also notice a photograph of Dominic Hehir, a full time UCATT official in London, figures very prominently in the article and he is quoted as saying, among other things. "We made a decision right from the start to defend our man." What a resolute fellow Dominic appears to be.

Not so in the case of John Jones, a UCATT shop steward in Southwark DLO, who was singled out with another worker, a plumber in EPIU, and sacked by Southwark Council under the guise of TUPE last October. These sackings happened in spite of the fact John Jones and the other worker had a grievance procedure out against the council at the time of their sackings but which the council totally ignored. This utterly contrary to the union/management procedures clearly laid down in these matters.

John Jones and the other worker put on a picket. They asked for support on this picket line and my UCATT Branch and the rank and file Building Worker' Group, of which I’m secretary, were among quite a few trade union and other working class organisations who gave support.

In conjunction with this the two sacked workers initiated proceedings for an industrial tribunal on the grounds of unfair dismissal. As a UCATT member John Jones rightly asked Dominic Hehir, who was the full time official concerned with this situation in Southwark, to represent him at the tribunal. Hehir and UCATT were also asked to test the case in a court of law as TUPE, a European Employment law, was clearly being breached In this instance.

To their eternal disgrace Dominic Hehir and Lou Lewis the UCATT Regional Secretary for London and the South East, backed by the Southwark DLO Building Works UCATT Convenor Tony O’Brien, steadfastly and resolutely refused to represent John Jones at an industrial tribunal or to test the case in a court of law.

The two workers bravely carried on picketting but had to give up their struggle for reinstatement of their grievance procedures and jobs. When a mass meeting in April of this year voted against supporting them any further.
Johnny Gould was not of course the UCATT official who let John Jones down so badly in Southwark. But what did happen there doesn’t exactly square up with his statement “UCATT will vigourously defend the trade union rights of its members in the courts and employers should think twice before attacking genuine trade unions." He would have been more correct to have said "some of its members”!

Pity Dominic Hehir didn't decide to defend John Jones, a UCATT member and shop steward, right from the start in Southwark, or even half way through.

Incidentally is it coincidental Hehir just happened to be standing for election as a UCATT regional organiser this September that he appears and says what he did in your paper of September 7th? Strange how officials like him never

appear or give quotes about their more dastardly deeds. Perhaps this letter might change that.

Yours Fraternally,
Brian Higgins,
Secretary.
end of text.}


The letter as it appeared in The Irish Times of 5th October 1996

Family and I shocked and dismayed, but I was undeterred.
No sooner had the paper 'hit the streets' (out Wednesday before 5th October) when I received the letter from Christian Fisher Solicitors dated 4th October 1996 as shown here. I have to admit my family and I were quite shocked and utterly dismayed that a full-time UCATT Official Dominic Hehir could have threatened me with High Court action for exercising the right of Northampton UCATT Branch to criticise his conduct as a UCATT Official. We thought surely it's only employers who resort to the courts to discipline and punish workers and trade unionists. Even they don't issue writs for libel or threaten injunctions when criticised, which happens quite often!!

I was further dismayed that he had included the first edition of this pamphlet and other 'Building Worker' literature, as well as my Northampton UCATT Sec's letter to the I.P., in his threat of legal action against me. With such a 'catchall' approach this smacked of a political conspiracy to me, Northampton UCATT, the BWG and our supporters.

Louise Christian?
Neither could I quite comprehend how Louise Christian, who had been UCATT's Official Solicitor and wrote in the union newspaper 'Viewpoint' for a number of years and had a reputation as a 'well respected civil rights lawyer', (what about mine, Northampton UCATT's and the Building Workers?) could lend her name and legal weight to this utterly unprincipled and disgraceful legal attack on my, Northampton UCATT's and the BWG's civil and democratic right to freedom of speech and to criticise the conduct of a union official concerning union business.

{Text of the letter:-

CHRISTIAN FISHER

SOLICITORS

42 MUSEUM STREET BLOOMSBURY LONDON WC1 A 1 LY
TELEPHONif.- 0171-831 1750 FAX: 0171-831 1726
DX 35737 BLOOMSBURY

YOUR REF: DATE: 4 October 1996

OUR REF: LC.RG5564.S

Mr Brian Higgins
Secretary
Northampton Branch UCATT

Dear Sir,

RE: MR DOMINIC HEHIR

We act for Mr Dominic Hehir and write in relation to a letter from you which appeared in the edition of the Irish Post dated 5th October 1996. We are also writing concerning a pamphlet entitled "Rank and File or Board [sic] Left: Democracy v Bureaucracy" and two leaflets entitled "Building Worker" of which you were the author.

The letter in the Irish Post and the other material contains highly damaging allegations against our client which are quite simply untrue. You allege that our client "steadfastly and resolutely refused to represent John Jones at an Industrial Tribunal or to test the case in a Court of Law". This is completely untrue as it was Mr Jones who decided that he was not prepared to be represented by Mr Hehir.

The allegation that Mr Hehir was not prepared to defend his members' interests and the further allegation that he was opportunistically appearing in a photograph in the newspaper to secure advantage in an election (which election did not in fact take place) are extremely damaging to our client's reputation as a well known and highly respected official of UCATT. The allegation in the Irish Post and the further allegations in the booklet and leaflets, which have been widely circulated, have caused considerable loss and damage to our client.

We are instructed that unless we receive from you an unconditional apology and retraction and an offer to pay substantial damages and legal costs within the next seven days, proceedings will be issued against you in the Queen's Bench Division of the High Court without further notice. We look forward to hearing from you or solicitors instructed on your behalf by return post.

Yours faithfully

CHRISTIAN FISHER

PARTNERS: MICHAEL FISHER LOUISE CHRISTIAN
ASSISTANT SOLICITORS: SARAH CLEARY SADIQ KHAN
SENIOR LEGAL EXECUTIVES: RAY FARR COLIN VIVIAN

end of text.}

Writ served - shock and dismay turn to great anger.
On what I consider to be that infamous day of 9th November 1996 my door was knocked at about 6.00pm by some individual who seemed to be skulking about in the evening shadows (quite appropriate for such a dirty deed) and he served Hehir's High Court Writ for libel and the threat of an injunction on me.

My wife could hardly believe Hehir had done this but I experienced only two feelings at this. One was a great anger that a full-time union official, on the broad left to boot, and NOT a building employer, could threaten my very liberty and the well being of my wife and family in this way. The other was extreme revulsion!

Family fear for my life - what next, they thought?
As a UCATT Official in this region, Hehir knew and knows of my history as a trade union militant and that this has resulted in my severe blacklisting and that serious death threats have been made against me on occasion because of my militancy. If he claims he didn't know he must have after reading the pamphlet!! He must also surely have known that by resorting to such unprincipled, unprecedented and intimidatory (because this is what the High Court is) means to try to silence me that this would reawaken the worst fears of my wife and family for my physical well being.

This is exactly what it did and they had a terrible sense of impending doom and that if a full-time union official could do this 'they', i.e. building employers, who me and my Defence Campaign felt must be behind this legal attack on me as libel is an extremely rich man or company's law would stop at nothing to silence me. This was a very real and living fear for my family, although I helped to assuage their fears by telling them 'they' didn't need to kill me as they've already corrupted and murdered democracy in the building unions (apart from small pockets of resistance) and industry anyway. I should also have added as have employers done to the trade union movement (i.e. TUC controlled) in general!

Powerful threat, but answer same as to Laing’s injunction.
The High Court is a very powerful, frightening and oppressive arm of the British State. The building employers collectively (they have a few organisations) are also very powerful and have considerable political clout. You don't take a threat from such entities lightly. However, I felt as we didn't give in to the High Court and building employers with Laing's injunction in 1986 then there was no way we would concede the same basic freedoms at stake to a full-time UCATT official and whoever was supporting him. Of course, there was also the very important fact I/we could substantiate and justify everything cited in Mr Hehir's writ.

I decided to fight and defy Hehir's High Court Writ and threat of an injunction with the full support of Northampton UCATT, the Building Worker Group and 'Defence Campaign'. We decided to do the same as we'd done against Laing's injunction in 1986. We went straight to rank and file workers in their work places and unions to ask for their support. We didn't create illusions and waste time pretending full-time union officials would support a stand against the law! No bloody way!!

With the 'Defence Campaign' we quickly got the support of rank and file workers and their rank and file organisations and this gave us the inspiration and encouragement needed to carry on our struggle. Some of this was from construction workers in the USA, Canada and Sierra Leone, which was organised by the International Workers of the World, the 'Wobblies', who have some influence in these countries.

UCATT General Secretary Brumwell and EC give Hehir tacit support.
For tacit read political. The UCATT Executive Council and General Secretary showed whose side they were on (in a struggle such as this there are only two sides, 'them and us') by steadfastly refusing to censure, discipline or condemn Hehir in any way for his utterly unprincipled and reprehensible legal attack, contrary to all known and respected trade union and working class principles, on me in spite of being asked to do this by Northampton UCATT on more than one occasion. In fact, they suspended a disciplinary charge brought against Hehir for his conduct under the rules of the union until Hehir's High Court action was exhausted or withdrawn. They also suspended a charge Hehir had brought against John Jones and me under UCATT Rules for the same BW literature and I.P. letter as cited in his writ. The High Court, i.e. British Bourgeois Democracy including the Constitutional Monarchy, and anti union laws, obviously reign supreme with British Trade Union Officials and workers' democracy and rights can go to hell when faced with British Justice! Not so say us and we fight on!!

Got legal advice and support.
As it was a legal attack, on the recommendation of a building worker who'd already been helped by this legal firm, I went to B. M. Birnberg's for legal advice and representation. He gave this unstintingly to me as a 'litigant in person', meaning I legally represented myself for some of the time and I think having such a prestigious 'civil rights' lawyer as Birnberg representing me gave Hehir and Christian Fisher serious food for legal thought.

I'd rather go to jail than surrender freedoms at stake.
The 'Defence Campaign' (set up to support and promote our stand and the principles involved) and I let it be known to Hehir, his backers, UCATT and all workers we could reach that I'd rather go to jail than surrender any of the freedoms at stake with Hehir's legal attack on me. The 'Defence Campaign', who were tremendous to me and my family throughout the period of the legal threat, eventually called on Hehir to take me to trial or withdraw his action, i.e. 'put up or shut up'!!

Hehir ‘discontinued’ his action on 28th January 1999.
Faced with this and the refusal of myself and the 'Defence Campaign' to back down in any way, Hehir finally and humiliatingly backed down and withdrew his High Court Action when I received his 'Notice of Discontinuance' dated 28 January 1999 processed through the High Court, Queen's Bench Division to be precise! Wonder who the coach was?

'The Irish Post’ looked sick and silly!
After apologising to Dominic Hehir in the paper of 12th October and paying him about £3,000 to 'stop' him carrying out his threat (pure bluff) to take legal action against them, the I.P. must have felt quite sick and just a wee bit silly after Hehir discontinued (i.e. withdrew) his legal action again me. What a vindication of our stand!!

I wrote a letter dated 11.10.96. to Donal Mooney, editor of the I.P. at that time. In the letter, among other things, I asked for answers to the following points, which are printed verbatim here, for myself and the members of Northampton UCATT Branch on whose behalf I wrote the letter published in 5th October's I.P.

1. How can you apologise for a letter that I wrote, without any
consultation whatsoever with me about the apology.

2. How do you know it contained (to quote your letter of 8th October)
"allegations which are unjustified"?

3. Why did you allow Dominic Hehir's first legalistic 'shot across your bows'
to panic you in this manner? Why such unseemly haste? Why wasn't I
consulted?

4. As without a full investigation of all the facts with all the parties
involved, what you have written in the apology could be construed as
being quite injurious to me. Why did you take such a calculated legal
risk?

5. Could you please explain exactly what you mean in your letter of 8th
October by "we can only do so, (exercise free speech) I'm afraid, within
the context of the law." What law?

I went on to write in the same letter...... In the interest of the right of free speech, to reply and of balanced, fair and principled journalism, I ask you to publish the following letter/statement in The Irish Post:

"As the writer of the letter in the issue of 5th October referred to in your apology to Mr Dominic Hehir in your paper of 12th October 1996, I want your readers to know:

I was not consulted about and had no part whatsoever in writing this apology. I disagree with it. How can The Irish Post state my letter "contained allegations which are 'not justified'" without a full investigation of all the facts involving all the parties concerned? Why didn't The Irish Post mention they'd received a letter from Mr Hehir's solicitors that led to the apology. I also received a letter from Mr Hehir's solicitors that, among other things, threatened me with court action. I reacted differently to this.

I assure the readers I can and will substantiate any public criticisms I make of Dominic Hehir if called upon to do so by any appropriate organisation or interested parties. The High Court most certainly shouldn't be one of these but if it is I will. It is also worth remembering Dominic Hehir has the right of reply to my letter in The Irish Post. Why didn't he exercise this?
In fact, it is painfully obvious Mr Hehir can stand any amount of praise in The Irish Post. But woe betide and off to the High Court with anyone who dares to criticise him!"

B Higgins,
Secretary, Northampton, UCATT UF 214 Branch

Of course the letter wasn't published by the I.P. The long, if not free, standing democratic tradition of publishing letters from trade unionists in the I.P. ground to a sudden halt when Hehir and his friends resorted to the utterly undemocratic High Court in his completely failed attempt to silence me and those I represent in UCATT and the BWG. So much for bourgeois traditions and standards of democracy"!!

Tremendous victory for free speech and R&F organisation.
Make no mistake about it. As well as an attack on free speech and the right to criticise a union official concerning the conduct of union business, this attempt to silence me and those I represent in UCATT and the BWG was also an attempt to stop us organising in the building industry and unions, particularly UCATT. Because to silence us would effectively stop us organising. You only have to consider to whose advantage this would have been or be to realise who must have been behind this sinister and insidious legal attack on our democratic rights.

Like our victory against Laing's and the High Court in 1986, we have shown the use of the courts and legal action to suppress and remove what should be our trade union and democratic rights and freedoms as workers by the bosses and now even renegade full-time union officials can and must be successfully defied. This is absolutely essential in the current era if our movement, our class is to have any industrial rights and measure of democratic control and say in the years ahead. Thanks again to all who helped us achieve such a notable victory.

Political footnote; Broad Left letdown.
Support for my and the Defence Campaign's stand against Hehir's legal action from political organisations such as SWP. 'THE MILITANT' (S.P.) and Scargill's Socialist Labour Party was conspicuous by its absence. This was undoubtedly because of their support for a broad 'left' (putting pressure on full-time officials) rather than a R&F (action and organisation independent of all full-time officials) approach to industrial politics and organisations.

Perhaps this explains why Louise Christian (who was in the SLP) supported the broad left Dominic Hehir and the SLP influence within the leadership of the Liverpool Dockers led, much to our surprise, to the dockers not responding to a request for support for our stand against Hehir.

Chapter 6: 'The struggle continues'

As in the first edition I finish the second one with a chapter entitled 'The Struggle Continues'. This will outline and bring you up-to-date on some developments showing how the struggle continued since the last pamphlet and why Hehir and Company tried to silence us and they'd still like to!

Xmas/New Year 1996/7. Concrete stopped by picket. Victory in Milton Keynes.
On 6th January 1997 a bricklayer who was a member of Northampton UCATT Branch phoned and told me he and another 12 brickies had been sacked that morning on returning from the Xmas/New Year break and 8 others started in their place. The sacked men asked if I could help. I said yes and did.

I established they were entitled to one week's pay in lieu of notice and that the employers, Kings Associates, owed them a week in hand. Quite a bit of money they were being robbed of. As they only had a couple of weeks left on the job the men understandably didn't think it was worth fighting for their jobs back but said they'd do battle for wages owed and money in lieu of notice.

They elected a representative and he and I went to see their employer and the main contractor SDC. We told them if the wages owed and money in lieu of notice were not paid that day a picket would be put on the job and we'd picket the whole SDC site to a standstill. They laughed and obviously thought we were bluffing. They didn't pay and the next morning the picket went on. Kings Associates were still laughing but this stopped abruptly when we halted a concrete lorry, with more queuing back at the yard, which was the first for a big pour! Within an hour the lads got all money due and a wee bit extra for aggravation caused to them. I left Kings Associates with the parting shot "funny you're not laughing now"!! We'd wiped the smiles of their faces. The power of the picket!! Lou Lewis, who'd been sent up by Brumwell (he could hardly send Hehir!), was very impressed with our action and end result. He supported us all the way.

1997 UCATT PAYE campaign.
In response to this we in Northampton organised a public meeting in the town hall and went round many sites here and in the surrounding areas with union literature. Lou Lewis was with us on a couple of these site visits. As well as the message about PAYE, as ever I was hammering it out on the sites about safety and working conditions and the need to get unionised and organised.

The employers were clearly getting rattled. I forecast the phones would be ringing and Brumwell would be asked by angry and worried building employers "why the hell are you letting Higgins and Northampton UCATT loose on the sites" and that they'd order' Brumwell to wind down the site campaigning to ensure I was kept off them.

The public meeting we organised took place on 21st April and 75 - 80 from local sites turned up, an astonishing attendance in an area where there had been no site organisation or even union presence in the private sector for about 20 years. This showed the effectiveness of UCATT's PAYE and our local campaigning. However, we in Northampton UCATT are sure that under the orders of the General Secretary. Lou Lewis, the Regional Secretary, droned on for over 50 minutes on the platform and literally sent some men to sleep and quite a few home. This effectively put the PAYE Campaign to sleep as well and like all official campaigns UCATT didn't follow up their initial launch. Brumwell and the building employers must have been well pleased with Lewis's lullaby!!

We tried to resurrect the campaign locally but without union funding it proved impossible. However, one event proved the potential for a R&F campaign and how much the employers feared this. We produced a local bulletin entitled 'Stop Death on Site - Get Unionised - Get Organised' and put it into many local sites. I received the letter of 25th July 1997 from Mr Bradley BSc, C.Eng., MICE (squeak! squeak!), MI. (I worked on that as well!) Struct.E., Build Director. Phew, notice no real experience of actually working on site!. Obviously a fantasy builder with more credits than Walt Disney. Mickey Mouse also springs to mind! Letter from Bradley and my reply of 30.7.97. shown here.

{Text of letter:-

Bovis Homes Limited
Central Region
Castle Bromwich Hall
Birmingham B36 9DF

Telephone: 0121 747 4861
Facsimile: 0121 748 1307
DX: 23252 Castle Bromwich

Registered Office: Bovis House, Lansdown Road
Cheltenham, Gloucestershire GL50 2JA
Registration Number: 397634 Registered in England

UCATT
Branch Office
2 Bitten Court
Lumbertubs
Northampton

For the Attention of Mr B Higgins, Branch Secretary

AB/LKHLA/0927
25th July 1997

Dear Sirs

SITE VISIT (NORTHAMPTON)

I am writing with regard to a visit made to our Towcester Road site on Wednesday 23rd July by one of your officials.

It appears that your official was on site for a considerable part of the morning. Apparently he wandered around the site, speaking to many of the workers and distributing copies of the attached leaflet. Our site manager was very busy that morning and was only made aware of the visit after your official left site.

I am very concerned about your officials actions, he had not made prior arrangements for the visit and did not even inform the site manager of his presence. I very much doubt that he wore a safety helmet and protective footwear.

These points are particularly disappointing when one considers that Health and Safety on site seems to be the main topic of your leaflet.

Could I suggest that you need to speak to this official and establish a safe procedure for visits to site.

I have no objection to your union making contact with the operatives on our sites, provided that it is by prior arrangement and provided that appropriate Health and Safety measures are adopted.

Could you please ensure that this does not happen again.

Yours sincerely

A Bradley
BSc., C.Eng., MICE, MI.Struct.E
BUILD DIRECTOR

cc B M Johnson
K R Parsons
G Barbet
UCATT, National Secretary, Head Office

end of text.}

{Text of letter:-

Mr.A.Bradley, 2 Bitten Court,
Build Director, Lumbertubs,
Bovis Homes Limited, Northampton.
Central Region, 30. 7. 97.
Castle Bromwich Hall,
Birmingham B36 9DF.

Dear Mr. Bradley,

Thanks for your letter of 25th July 1997 Ref AB/LKHLA/0927 entitled 'SITE VISIT [NORTHAMPTON]'. Members of this branch did indeed visit the Bovis site you write of and quite a few others with the leaflet of which you enclosed a photocopy in your letter of July 25th.

First things first.The main topic on the leaflet was not as seemed to you, to quote "Health and Safety on site", unquote. It is much more about the complete lack of this in the building industry. Which was so apparent on all of the sites we visited with our leaflet.

Regards your writing that you "very much doubt he wore a safety helmet and protective footwear" in reference to UCATT personnel.

I've never known or heard that walking around a housing site was considered unsafe or put life and limb at risk.To my knowledge it is working on, and not purely walking around, a construction site which seriously puts life and limb at risk.

Hard hats and protective footwear are a sensible precaution. But of course building workers are continually killed and seriously injured on 'Hard Hat Sites' and where protective footwear is worn.

The vast majority of workers killed or seriously injured on site are not killed or maimed by small objects falling or hitting them on the head or feet. Most are killed or seriously injured in falls from heights, often not that high, or crushed down a trench or by site plant/transport or by extremely heavy objects or loads falling on them.

Invariably these things happen in unsafe working conditions. For which building employers; as the owners or custodians of construction sites and who are in sole control of working conditions on sites where there is not a strong democratic workers' union organisation with elected shop stewards and not management/union appointed stooges; are entirely responsible.

I'm afraid that without all the other conditions in place which are necessary for a completely safe construction site and indeed industry then hard hats and protective footwear are purely cosmetic, a sop and virtually of no use whatsoever in protecting building workers from death and serious injury.

You state we need permission to visit your sites. I ask you and other building employers who gives permission for the killing and maiming of so many building workers in so called site accidents?

You end by ordering- "Could you please ensure that this does not happen again." I end by asking you and other building employers.

Could you please ensure that there will be no more deaths or serious injuries on construction sites.

Yours sincerely,
Brian Higgins,
Secretary.

c.c. G.Brumwell UCATT General Secretary,
R.L.Lewis UCATT Regional Secretary,
B.E.C.,National Secretary,Head Office.

end of text.}

Support for Republicanism. Building Worker and TU militancy!
There are those who say we are too militant, too political and have no real support in UCATT. So why are the building employers so worried and the union bureaucracy so afraid of us?

At the UCATT National Delegate Conference in Scarborough in June 1998 some of us in 'Building Worker' were having an argument with George Brumwell in the foyer in front of quite a few delegates and a couple of international TU visitors. Brumwell looked at me and said quite loudly in words to this effect: You've no support whatsoever and represent no one but yourselves in the union and you've never tested your support in an election against me because you're frightened to! I said I'd love to stand against you but the control you and the broad left exercise over UCATT Branches means I can never get the ten branch nominations necessary and if I did a selection panel which are always controlled by the general secretary would remove me from the ballot anyway!

However, as fate would have it, the next best thing happened when the election for a place as a representative of the London South East Region on the National Executive Council came up in September 1998. As there are not the strictures on this as there are for the G.S.'s position, I stood for the EC, knowing this was a bit of a litmus test. I stood on a platform that called for a United Ireland and democratic republics in England, Scotland and Wales. Also on the very militant 'Building Worker' industrial platform.

In a three-way contest against two moderate officially favoured candidates I secured 15% of the votes cast in a postal ballot for that EC position. This without being able to mount a real campaign and more or less relying on my election address. This must have given Mr Brumwell serious palpitations and laid the 'lie' to rest that neither the BWG or I had any support in UCATT.

Even we were surprised at the vote for republicanism but this equated with the fact this is quite popular in Britain at large and surely this must be reflected in trade unions UK-wide. No doubt his absolute majesty George II (George Smith was the first UCATT G.S.!) was deeply shocked and perhaps even thought about abdicating. Still his courtiers and flunkeys on the EC would have comforted and reassured him the people still loved him!!

1999/2000.
Apart from Hehir discontinuing (isn't legal jargon truly wonderful!) his legal action in January 1999 as already mentioned, there were some developments of real significance in the last couple of years.

EU working time directive & UCATT holiday pay campaign.
From October 1999 Health and Safety Legislation under the European Working Time Directive means that building workers are legally entitled to 20 days holiday paid at the average daily rate and building employers SHOULD have a statutory obligation to pay this. But of course we all know how reluctant building employers are to pay anything to building workers, even their wages at times!!

UCATT mounted a campaign to bring the EU Holiday Pay entitlement to the attention of site workers and to show them how to claim it and encourage them to do so and join the union. A particularly high profile campaign was launched around the entitlement to 11 days holiday pay for the Xmas/New Year 1999/2000 site shutdown.

As with the PAYE campaign we in Northampton UCATT took up the holiday pay campaign very enthusiastically and with union funds and support we took it on to the all-important sites in and around Northampton and Milton Keynes. As we were talking about anything from £70 - £120 per day for many workers then the campaign definitely struck a chord with site workers.

Struck by site manager.
So successful were we in taking the campaign on to the sites that it was definitely upsetting quite a few building employers. So much so that the site manager on the Westleigh site in Wellingborough Road, Northampton, struck me in the chest when trying to stop me and another Northampton member from leafleting the site. The leaflet still went in and I told the manager I'd be back and if he ever attempted to do this to me or any other union official again I'd put a picket on the site and picket it to a standstill. The General Foreman clearly believed me as he apologised profusely for the site manager's conduct and said it was out of order. Some site agents threatened to call the police if I didn't stop leafleting and talking to site workers. I was battering out the usual messages on site after site, canteen after canteen. The employers were obviously worried and the campaign was having quite an impact on site.

You'd have thought I was trying to foment revolution and insurrection. Maybe in future! But all we were doing was telling site workers about their legal right to holiday pay and how to claim it and urging them to get unionised and organised. Once again, I've no doubt Brumwell's phone was ringing non-stop with building employers telling him to stop me going on to the sites or else. Or else what? Check off deals for a start and full-time union bureaucrats are as afraid of democratic site organisation and militancy as the employers!!

We organised a public meeting. It may have been a coincidence but the Regional Secretary forget to put the advert for it in the local paper, after being continually reminded to do so by me, and as a result only a handful turned up. The hand of George Brumwell or a pure accident? I leave you to decide.

But undeterred we organised another meeting and put the advert in the local paper ourselves. This took place on 21st February and between 25 and 30 site workers attended. They told us, as workers on the sites we visited also did, that their bosses had told them if they went to any union meetings, applied for holiday pay or joined the union, they'd be sacked. Mention of the blacklist was also thrown in for good measure. It was to their great credit the numbers who turned up at our meeting did this.

Lewis spoke at the meeting and did a good job and thankfully was a lot livelier and more interesting than he'd been at the PAYE meeting at an earlier date! To our surprise he quite bravely mentioned the fact there had been corruption and corrupt officials in UCATT (as most 'older' site workers were aware) but that it had been sorted out and was now based on a much sounder footing these days. I mentioned some of the corrupt officials were still in the union and they should be chucked out! Our honesty seemed to impress the lads at the meeting as quite a few joined the union at the meeting and some said they'd do so soon. They did. We recruited quite a few into the union with the holiday pay campaign and more significantly held on to them!

Piece de resistance - Byrne Bros - Bovis site Milton Keynes - December 1999.
Undoubtedly we met with our greatest success when Northampton UCATT took the holiday pay campaign on to the massive Bovis high prestige site at Central Milton Keynes Shopping Centre. Two Northampton members worked for Byrne Bros, shuttering contractors on the job. The London and South East Regional Council and the secretary Lou Lewis gave us a lot of encouragement and support.

Historic breakthrough - shop steward elected on Bovis site!!
I addressed an impromptu meeting of chippies and brickies in the canteen on the issue of holiday pay not that long before the Xmas/New Year 1999/2000 break. I got quite a good response. However, absolutely key to the democratic and organisational breakthrough was that one of the Northampton members said he was prepared (and I add brave enough!) to stand for the election of a shop steward to represent the carpenters working for Byrne Bros.

Hehir was the official sent by UCATT (I think it was Brumwell's idea of a joke) and I was invited to the meeting by some of the chippies with the full knowledge and support of the regional secretary. Hehir and I addressed the meeting but Hehir didn't mention the shop steward's position or election. I did and hammered it out (that's my style as you've probably guessed) and emphasised to the 50 or 60 chippies at the meeting that if you elect a shop steward you must also be prepared to stand by him or her through thick and thin. The steward was elected and they also voted to stand by their steward whatever management might try!!

The steward's ELECTION must have sent shock waves through Bovis as they were one of the main villains in the abominable practice of appointing stooge convenor stewards and which appointment UCATT and the TGWU then rubber-stamp. There's also the fact that shop stewards on site in today's building industry is an extreme rarity! The after shock must also have reached the Building Employers Confederation to realise there are still quite a few UCATT members around in the private sector prepared to take a stand for democratic elections and site organisation. They've been so much in control of UCATT and the TGWU they must have thought workers' democracy was extinct!!

Undoubtedly because of the confidence and feeling of solidarity engendered by the meeting and election of a shop steward, 24 UCATT members working for Byrne Brothers applied for tribunals to secure their entitlement to holiday pay. What another breakthrough and just as standing for a shop steward's position it took quite a bit of courage for these 24 site workers to put their heads above the parapet like this in today's building industry.

Shuttering cartel call for meeting with Brumwell and Lewis.
The ELECTION of the steward on the Bovis site and the application of 24 chippies for industrial tribunals to secure their holiday pay forced the shuttering employers cartel (composed of the likes of Byrne Bros., O’Rourke, Harringtons and Michelson) who employ many building workers UK wide, to call for a meeting with George Brumwell and Lou Lewis of UCATT.

More shock, and this time horror, waves! These men and their ELECTED steward on the Bovis site, coupled with individual workers on sites all over the place, applying for tribunals to secure their holiday pay had given UCATT some authority, clout and credibility with the building employers for the first time in many many years. It’s a long time since democratic site organisation had forced building employers to call for a meeting like this!!

We’d like to see the minutes of this meeting but we were told the employers asked Brumwell to back off with the holiday pay campaign, slow down and they’d come to some agreement without going to tribunals and in return they’d ensure they met their full statutory obligations on holiday pay in the future. It’s too much too soon said this bunch of multi-millionaires!! The threat of cancelled check off deals with UCATT must also have hung heavily in the air.

Apparently Brumwell said “No Deal” the 24 applications will go on and we’ll back our members all the way. Such resolve, such steadfastness!! No doubt that as well as trying to see if Brumwell would ‘cut a deal’ the employers were also ‘playing for time’ knowing the longer the tribunals take to materialise the fewer men who normally apply and turn up!

How ‘prophetic’ this proved to be as only 4 men were left when the actual tribunal took place. The ‘deal cut’ with UCATT must have been to drag the process out as long as possible to ensure no one turned up. But four lads were determined this wouldn't happen. All members of Northampton UCATT!!

Enter John Flavin, UCATT member, Employers’ Rep.
As is the nature of the beast, the employers came back at the 24 UCATT chippies in March and April of the year 2000, on two occasions, representatives of Byrne Bros., including Mr John Flavin (Industrial Advisor to Building Employers) went onto the Bovis site in Milton Keynes and called many of these UCATT members individually into their site office and tried to ‘persuade’ them, many felt they were being coerced and intimidated, into giving up their legal rights to holiday pay and industrial tribunals to secure this.... Not so veiled threats of the blacklist were also thrown in.

These UCATT members, as were all others when they found out about it, were especially angry with John Flavin. This as he was on the UCATT Executive Council as late as 1995 and they understood he was still in the union! He is still a member!! When he and the other full-time EC members were removed and replaced by a lay EC by the votes of the UCATT membership in 1995 he stepped into a job advising the building employers almost immediately. Nothing unusual here as fulltime officials often consider part of their role is to advise employers how to deal with ‘awkward’ and militant workers and trade unionists.

This should come as no surprise. He chaired the 1994 UCATT National Delegate Conference in Llandudno at which I was a delegate. When I was at the rostrum speaking after the successful resolution to remove building employers’ representatives from the conference, I turned towards the UCATT General Secretary and EC on the platform and said "There’s still a few employers’ representatives here!" Judging by the round of applause a majority agreed with me!!

Having written this, of course, it is an absolute disgrace and nothing short of scandalous that John Flavin is still a UCATT member. Northampton UCATT Branch charged Flavin with acting against the interests of the union and bringing it into serious disrepute and called for his expulsion under the rules of the union for his reprehensible conduct as a UCATT member at Milton Keynes. Predictably the EC (who are completely under the control of the general secretary) dismissed Northampton’s charge against Flavin and with this the opportunity to deal decisively and incisively with what has been a festering sore within the union for far too long now. This is because they feared Flavin would use the law against the union to ‘defend’ his right to UCATT membership.

There’s also the fact that a lot of present and ex full-time UCATT Officials ‘have so much on one another’ and know so much about past corruption [which is very recent in relative terms] and whatever is ‘going down’ at present that UCATT Officialdom is loathe to discipline any of these in case they ‘spill the beans’. They stick together ‘like shit to a blanket’. Mind you, even a High Court judge would be hard pressed to defend an employers’ representative’s right to belong to the same union as those whose legal rights to holiday pay and tribunals he’s blatantly (and presumably illegally!) trying so hard to remove!!

The two are irreconcilable but of course if workers have to rely on a High Court judge to defend their democratic rights they’re in deep shit!!

Like the ‘Laings Lock Out’ and Hehir’s High Court action, when our rights are under legal attack the law must be fought, then defied if necessary, if UCATT or indeed any form of meaningful and principled trade unionism is to have any future in the construction industry.

Brumwell writes he will use Tribunal to tackle Flavin and Co.
In a letter to Northampton UCATT Brumwell wrote, in an attempt to justify the utterly unjustifiable decision not to discipline Flavin, that the EC intended to use another avenue, other than our charge, to tackle Flavin [and Co] and stated that they would bring the coercion, intimidation and threats of blacklisting to the attention of the tribunal and ask them to tackle the employers about this and this would achieve the objective of our branch.

Our reply was that as a tribunal has no power or authority whatsoever to expel anyone from a trade union then basically Brumwell and the EC were ‘talking’ a load of crap.

August 15th 2000 - Hehir agrees to call employers reps’ to tribunal.
At a meeting of Northampton UCATT on August 15th 2000, called because claimants were worried about lack of information from Hehir about the tribunal, Hehir agreed to process the names of the employer’s representatives to be called to the tribunal and questioned by UCATT over evidence given in statements by claimants of coercion, intimidation and blacklisting. Part of this would include reference to a form from Byrne Bros which the UCATT members on the Bovis site were asked to sign and if they did it stated they had given up their claim to holiday pay. Some signed it, the braver ones didn’t. The UCATT members were subsequently told those who signed it would be given work on the Simmons site in Northampton, those who didn’t wouldn’t.

At the meeting Hehir told me to write a letter to Lou Lewis the Regional Secretary with the employers reps’ names [four from Byrne Bros, one from Bovis] on it and request they be called to the tribunal to be questioned about coercion, intimidation and blacklisting and Lewis would ensure this was done. I wrote the letter but neither Lewis or Hehir processed the reps’ names!

October 16th 2000 Hehir turns turtle over Employers’ Reps.
On that date the ex UCATT shop steward and safety rep for Byrne Bros workers on the Bovis site phoned Hehir and asked him, among other things, if he’d processed names of employers’ reps as agreed on August 15th at the Northampton meeting.

He was dumfounded when Hehir told him he hadn’t as it would be against the claimants interests to do so. In fact it was very much in the employers’ interests not to be called to the tribunal.

Here were building workers, UCATT members, brave and committed enough to give hard evidence and proof of coercion, intimidation and blacklisting by a major building employer, in an industry where this is all too common. Men who thought that challenging, exposing and fighting blacklisting was just as if not more important than claiming holiday pay. Men who genuinely thought UCATT would back them wholeheartedly in this.

‘Fraid not. Here was a full time UCATT official, undoubtedly who couldn’t have done this off his ‘own back’ sabotaging the intent of these brave workers to truly tackle these issues at a tribunal while being very aware of the risks at stake. This after the UCATT Official agreeing to process the names in question at the August 15th meeting in Northampton and the Regional Secretary being made aware of this and undoubtedly the General Secretary was too as he ‘misses nothing’.

We called on the UCATT EC, via the General Secretary to discipline Hehir for this despicable act, thinking….. well if the General Secretary and EC meant what they said about tackling Flavin and the employers’ reps over these issues at the tribunal, as they’d led us to believe then they’d back us against Hehir. Of course they backed Hehir! Spineless B’s and not just for Bureaucrats!! Their actions can only encourage building employers to continue to coerce, intimidate and blacklist building workers. Especially those who respond to an official union campaign and ask for their legal rights as a result . This is treacherous and reprehensible in the extreme.

Three postponements and then preliminary and full hearing.
Byrne Bros were granted three postponements without a whimper or murmer of protest from UCATT. Talk about dragging it out. Yet Lou Lewis told us if the union asked for one postponement they just didn’t get them and in fact one lad had to come back from his holiday abroad as they wouldn’t postpone one! So why no protest at three by the employer?

The preliminary hearing took place near the end of last year to decide if a full hearing was warranted. A bit bloody much after three postponements and waiting over 8 months since claims first made! At this Flavin was the employers’ only representative who gave evidence. During this the chair remarked he found it interesting [which meant surprising] a UCATT member was giving evidence and representing the employers at a tribunal. He could have added against UCATT members. The claimants thought [apart from what a creature Flavin is] the other employers reps should be there but at least Flavin, who was the employer’s main ‘enforcer’ being there and giving evidence from a prepared statement meant he could be questioned by UCATT and the chair at the full hearing which had been arranged for January 15th/16th. OH YEAH!

Tribunal January 15th 2001 in Bedford.
Only four from the original twenty four turned up which meant the delaying tactics nearly worked, but not quite. I was also there. Hehir [who, incidentally the claimants had told the UCATT Regional Council and Secretary they had no confidence in and didn’t want him to represent them, but he was foisted on them anyway] told the four claimants Byrne Bros had made an offer to settle for 11 days holiday pay, for Xmas/New Year holiday period 2000/01, on condition all agreed to offer, drop all other claims, including one for unfair dismissal and not to go into the tribunal. The men were livid and told Hehir to tell Byrne Bros they wouldn’t accept any offer made outside the tribunal, as they could have made this months ago!! With the agreement of the other three one lad said he would accept 11 days as this was all he was claiming for. He was told he’d only get it if the other three also accepted it!

Employers offer and letter ignored by Hehir.
The claimants told Hehir to bring Byrne Bros offer, made immediately prior to it, to the attention of the tribunal as it represented ‘de facto’ proof and recognition of their status as workers and employees. It would also surely form the basis for any settlement and set much of the agenda and ensure the tribunal would decide in their favour in less than two days!!

For good measure Hehir was given four copies of a letter from Byrne Bros dated 18th September 1999 and signed by M.J O’Donnell [Byrne Bros foreman on Bovis Milton Keynes site] which recognises two of the four claimants as Formwork carpenters, mentions them by name, and states the date upon which they commenced EMPLOYMENT with Byrne Bros. Hehir was asked by the claimants to hand the letter out to appropriate people in the Tribunal, such as the chairman and then naturally use it to advance the claims. in fact, he did not bring either the offer made by Byrne Bros or the letter signed by O’Donnell to the attention of the tribunal.

Neither was Flavin called as a witness by Byrne Bros in spite of him being the only one at the preliminary hearing as forementioned. They were allowed to call a Pat Collins, Byrne Bros Financial Director, in his place without a murmur, a word of protest from Hehir. Yet Flavin was the main ‘enforcer’ in the whole long, sad, sorry and disgraceful process!

The Tribunal did not last the two days allocated. It was ended abruptly on the first day by the chairman who said they [on the platform] would use the next day to go through documents and evidence presented to them on the 15th [but not the offer by Byrne Bros or O’Donnell’s letter of course, OH NO!] and decide if the claimants were workers and qualify for holiday pay and if the lad claiming unfair dismissal, as well as holiday pay, was an employee or they were all ‘sub contracted’ to Byrne Bros. The way in which it ended ensured there would be no questioning of the two employers’ reps Collins and O’Donnell about coercion, intimidation and blacklisting which had been referred to by claimants in their evidence. Coincidence, accidental or what? Don’t think so!! We rest our case and like the claimants await the decision of the tribunal at the time of writing. The well oiled wheels of the industrial bureaucrats turn so slowly!!

Lessons learned? Strike when the irons hot!
When I was going round the sites with the UCATT Holiday Pay Campaign before and after the Xmas 2000 holiday period I mentioned the union was telling site workers to go for tribunals and would win these. I also told these workers that the tribunal process was a very long and uncertain one and if they wanted their holiday pay when it was supposed to be in their wages, or as near that time as possible, they’d have to get together, get organised and use their collective strength and at the very least threaten to stop production i.e. go on strike, and if they did then the money would be paid. I also reminded them they would have to do something while they were together on the one job, as men are scattered to the four winds once any particular job is finished.

A few of the chippies, including the shop steward on the Bovis site in Milton Keynes were in favour of going outside the gate to hold a meeting over the holiday pay and telling Byrne Bros if money not in their wages after Xmas/New Year holiday then they’d be faced with strike action. Which is what I advised them to do. Unfortunately they were told by a full-time official not do this and advised to leave it to the officials and a tribunal.

The rest, as they say is history! Some still being made [or is it unmade??] in Bedford.

We will bring the readers up to date with a flyer in the pamphlet once we know the tribunal decision and UCATT’s, and most importantly the claimants, response. If against all the odds and expectations they win the tribunal decision it will be totally in spite of UCATT’s Fulltime Officialdom, who’ve quite brutally, deceitfully and callously let them down, and because of their own courage and determination.

UPDATE

The Northampton UCATT members won their industrial tribunal on March 13th 2001, the written decision informing them that "The unanimous reserved decision of the Tribunal is that: Each of the Applicants is a "worker" within the definition at Regulation 2 (1) Working Time Regulations 1998, and accordingly their claims for holiday pay succeed."
This victory was a fantastic achievement with major implications for building workers everywhere. This was probably why their employers (Bryne Brothers/Merricks) appealed against the decision.

The appeal is now due to be heard on September 18th 2001 at the Tribunal appeals body. Meanwhile the workers fight on to get what they're legally entitled to.

Chapter 7: UCATT National Delegate Conference in Killarney, June 5th - 9th 2000

Conference proper. British Building Workers’ Union. Why Killarney? The National Delegate Conference of a UK-based building workers’ union, where the vast majority of members and sites are located in cities and towns in England, Scotland and Wales, and where about one third of all construction work in the private sector of the UK building industry takes place in London and surrounding areas, with many thousands of UCATT members there (where a UCATT Conference has never taken place!), was held in Killarney, Co. Kerry in Ireland. WHY?

The reason given by the UCATT General Secretary and (his poodles on) the Executive Council is that it was time for the conference to take place in Ireland as it’s never been held there before where we have some members. But not a lot in or around Killarney, I’m sure. So why has a conference never been held in London where we have many thousands of members?

The real reason is that UCATT Conferences, since the union was formed in 1971, have traditionally always been held in towns and areas as far away from any concentration of building sites and UCATT members and the BWG since our formation in 1974, as the General Secretary and EC can get away with. Places such as Llandudno, Dunoon, Perth, Bournemouth, Scarborough and Killarney, to name but six. At this rate it’ll be the Outer Hebrides next! All this means no large lobbies of site workers and UCATT members pressing delegates to vote for policies, such as on wages and conditions, which are actually in the interests of site workers and UCATT members and against those favoured by the General Secretary, EC and building employers!!

But why deepest Kerry this time? A beautiful place but extremely remote and hard to get to even for a UCATT Conference. In my opinion, and of the BWG’s and quite a few UCATT members who’ve learned of them since, the dark deeds perpetrated by the General Secretary and EC on the first day of conference go a long way to explaining why they were ‘hiding’ the conference in deepest Kerry.

First day skullduggery. Treachery afoot! On that day, June 5th, the first real business on the agenda was ‘The Standing Orders Report’, which included debating and voting on what is called ‘reference back’ of resolutions which have been removed by the Standing Orders (of the general secretary) Committee. Those resolutions removed in this manner can only be put back on the conference agenda (then debated and voted on) if a majority of delegates vote for a reference back and against the Standing Orders Committee’s decision to remove it.

The main ‘reference’ back debate and vote was on the London South East (of England) Regional Council resolution which was that NO SETTLEMENTS on wages and conditions claims in the private and public sectors should be reached without ballots of the membership agreeing to whatever was the ‘final’ offer. All were aware Brumwell and the EC, and most especially the building employers in the private sector (quite a few of whom were in the hall during this debate!), wanted another three year deal with a pitiful % wage rise like the last one.

However, if the London South East resolution was voted back on to the agenda and won in the subsequent debate then the deal the employers and UCATT Officials had given the nod and the wink to, and all but agreed, would go to a ballot of the membership and how could they vote for such a turkey!! This would scupper the employers’ and union officials’ plans, at least for the time being.

Irish Fiddle? No! Definitely made in Britain!! The debate and vote on the ‘reference back’ on the London South East resolution took place against this background. It was obvious there was quite a lot of support for the resolution being put back on the conference agenda. (Which probably meant for the resolution itself). Brumwell, who was on the platform and the chair of conference, John Thompson, looked decidedly worried.

At the end of the debate the chair called for a show of hands. The vote was clearly about 2-1 in favour of ‘reference back’. The chair didn’t even attempt to count the vote but instead announced the ‘reference back’ was lost.

There were a few shouts of ‘fiddle’ and such like. Also calls for another vote and tellers to count it. When the chair saw he wasn’t going to get away with overturning the 2-1 vote for the ‘reference back’ he latched onto the call for another vote and tellers and announced this would take place. Tellers were not elected and to my knowledge the general secretary appointed them!!

Brumwell ‘flips his lid’.
Delegates and union visitors then witnessed what must surely have been on of the most outrageous, extraordinary and scandalous sights ever seen in the history of British Trade Union Conferences.

The UCATT General Secretary stepped down from the platform and onto the floor of conference, walked among the delegates and began eyeballing some of them and was clearly trying to ‘persuade’ them to vote against the ‘reference back’. After the vote was taken he then went to some of the tellers totting up the votes on their respective pieces of paper, lent over them, pointed to (what could only be the figures written there) while simultaneously saying something to these tellers.

The vote the chair declared was 30 FOR the reference back’ and 32 AGAINST it. Many delegates were clearly unhappy at this and there was a feeling it was ‘too close to call’ given the unprecedented interference of the General Secretary with the vote. It left a very bad taste in the mouths of many - but not the building employers of course. They were licking their lips!!

Union/employer ‘CABAL’ do dastardly deed that evening.
The reason for the General Secretary’s and chair of the conference’s (who’s also chair of the EC) desperation and agitation and shameful behaviour became abundantly clear when we (at conference) learned the GS, EC, and representatives of the building employers federation met at 6 o’clock, almost right after the conference finished on Monday, in the Great Southern Hotel and the utterly treacherous and reprehensible three year deal was ‘rubber stamped’ by this ‘CABAL’. Imagine the consternation, wringing (instead of shaking) of hands and beating of breasts if the first show of hands had stood and the next vote had been conducted in a fair and democratic manner and a ballot of the membership had won the day!!

The UCATT GS, EC and building employers would have had to go back to London and figure out and concoct another way to foist the unacceptable on the unsuspecting! A ballot would also have given us and the many others in UCATT utterly opposed to three year deals time to go to the UCATT membership and onto the sites and organise a campaign against this three year deal and most importantly for the Rank and File alternative to it.

Without any alternative on the conference agenda the three year deal was voted in as one of the many things included in acceptance of the EC’s ‘report’ on wages and conditions. A sad day for UCATT and site workers. Those officials in UCATT (and the other unions TGWU and G&M - let’s not forget them!) who stitched up this latest sell out will live to regret it as building workers, many of whom are on £15ph plus, piss themselves laughing and see construction unions who negotiate such deals as an irrelevance and naturally will not join them or see any need to. And who can blame them?

"The party’s over” said George.
During the debate on ‘Wages and Conditions’ and the (terrible) state of the building industry George Brumwell actually said "We’ve got to tell the employers THE PARTY’S OVER". He must have been referring to the one they had with them to celebrate the three year deal, with some great fiddlers bending their elbows, in the Great Southern Hotel in Killarney!!

He also came up with the usual claptrap that the deal was as good as they could get and blamed the membership for this, saying UCATT had mounted a national campaign on the wages and conditions claim (which was a joke for a start!!) and after two very poorly attended national lobbies no one turned up for the third one.

Yet in Northampton we managed to get 25-30 site workers, not even in a union!, from local sites to come to a meeting after work to discuss the ‘UCATT Holiday Pay Campaign’. The moral to this tale is that if we in a small UCATT Branch in the ‘sticks’ can get 30 to a meeting then think of how many the national union could get to a national lobby if they really tried. The truth is they didn’t!

Q. How many site canteens did Brumwell and members of the EC visit and
how many gatherings of UCATT members did they address to
encourage these workers and UCATT members to support the
‘National Wage Claim’ and Campaign including attending lobbies of
meetings held with the building employers to ‘negotiate’ the claim?

A. NONE!

They call for campaigns and lobbies over wages and conditions, do absolutely nothing to build these and have been known to wind them down if they look like taking off and then use the fact very few UCATT members or site workers get involved as the excuse for selling out!! It would also help if the claims coming out of UCATT, TGWU and G&M were worth organising, mobilising and fighting for. They’re not. Most definitely not!!

Gen. Sec. tries to bar me from UCATT social evening/dinner.
On Tuesday the 6th we sold the Summer 2000 issue of ‘Building Worker’ at the conference. As ever it sold like hot cakes. The UCATT General Secretary seems to think ‘The Geordie Bumalot Column’ by the General Secretary of FATCATT, the largest construction union in the pockets of the building employers, is a parody or spoof of him and UCATT. Whatever makes him think that??

He definitely doesn’t like our paper as we continually expose what they’re up to (but was not averse to stealing our title ‘Building Worker’ for the pathetic rag Traduced, sorry produced, at UCATT General Office). In an act of petty and spiteful revenge he told me he wouldn’t allow me in the UCATT Social Evening/Dinner being held that night in the Great Southern Hotel. I said "while building employers are invited and crawling all over the place , we’ll see about that."

Johnny Jones and Kenny Irvine, both delegates said we’ve got to get the support of conference delegates against Brumwell’s ban and set about doing just that. A union conference is SOCIALLY (NOT POLITICALLY!) a ‘close knit’ community and word I’d been barred from the social went round like wildfire. I went to the Great Southern Hotel (incidentally this is where the conference was held) and sat in the foyer while Johnny and Kenny did some serious lobbying! Delegate after delegate came up to me and said Brumwell won’t get away with this, don’t worry. To cut a long story short, a delegation of delegates with a couple of full-time officials went to Brumwell and basically told him if I didn’t get into the social/dinner then none of the delegates would go in. I was in! Talk about eating humble (steak and kidney) pie!!

However, to see the representatives of building employers, who are responsible for the deaths of about two building workers every week, sitting at tables with the different delegations made me sick to the pit of my stomach. Needless to say there wasn’t one at the London SE table we in BW sat at!!

Northampton Republican resolution politically dominated conference.
As this was the first time a UCATT Conference was being held in Ireland some of us in Northampton UCATT and the BWG felt there should be a resolution on Ireland on the agenda, reflecting the continuing partition, division and occupation of that country by the British State and the political controversy, social strife and division among the working class this causes. Subsequently the following resolution was debated at a meeting of Northampton UCATT Branch and it was agreed by a majority vote to send it for inclusion on the conference agenda.

"Conference recognises that the only way a lasting and just peace will be brought to Ireland is when the whole country is united in one Republic and Independent Sovereign State that is completely independent from the British State. Furthermore Conference supports all political movements towards a 32 County Republic of Ireland and the right to self determination of the Irish people as a whole as the most democratic and progressive way to achieve one United Republic and Independent Sovereign State".

As I said at the Northampton meeting and since, it is not a matter of winning or losing the vote (which we knew would most certainly happen) but by far the most important thing to establish was the political and democratic right to debate and vote in terms other than the ‘British Consensus’ on this matter and issue. In fact this consensus has always led to resolutions on Ireland which didn’t toe the British Line being removed by the Standing Orders Committee or, if one got through this, being remitted. That is being left to the General Secretary and EC to do something about it and they do sweet FA but bin it of course!

Our first political surprise, nay shock!, was that the resolution had not been removed by the Standing Orders (of the General Secretary) Committee. Perhaps George Brumwell has a soft spot for a ‘United Ireland’. He certainly indicated this at the UCATT Social/Dinner referred to in the last section, when with a few pints in him and clearly romanticising about Ireland and the Irish he said "like the Irish I look forward to the day there is a united Ireland". As one lad from the ‘Northern Irish’ delegation (made up of nationalists and unionists) said “fuck sake he’s played right into your hands”. Another said the only thing missing was “Danny Boy”!! I said “It would bring tears to a glass eye”.

Remit! Remit! The cry was heard.
We knew the Northampton resolution would cause a bit of political furore especially as UCATT has members on both sides of the political ‘divide’, caused by Britain in Ireland and no matter how unlikely it was to succeed it would be viewed as a political challenge to "The Good Friday Agreement". It was never that but such is the current state of British/Irish politics. However, we also realised if workers and trade unionists in a British Trade Union such as UCATT in this case, and indeed British Trade Unions in general, are denied the right to debate and vote on serious political and social problems, for which the British State is politically and socially responsible in Ireland, then there will and can never be a solution which will end the division and unite our class, the working class in Ireland and here in common cause and purpose. We felt ours was a small but significant contribution towards this.

However it seemed every time I turned round in the foyer of the conference hall, or socially in the pub in the evenings after it, sometimes even when in the toilet!, there was always someone there trying to persuade me to remit the Northampton resolution. As explained earlier, this means no debate, no vote and instead leaving it to the EC, which in effect means the GS. I told all of these people that I did not have the authority to remit the resolution, only Northampton UCATT Branch can do that and they’re not here and I’d no desire to do this either! Nor had the delegates who would be moving and speaking to it. They were just as resolute as I was. Incidentally a couple of us were also told we wouldn’t be too welcome around the Shankhill Road, to put it very mildly! Have republicans from anywhere in the UK or Ireland ever been since 1969!!??

TU and political heavies sent in. First Peter Cassells.
Neither did we realise the political importance and significance that would be attached to the Northampton resolution by the official Irish Trade Union Movement (and that also means the Irish Government!) or the British State. Peter Cassells, the General Secretary of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, did not refer directly to the two resolutions on Ireland on the agenda, numbers 48 and 49, but he made it very obvious in his speech which one he and the people he represents were supporting and asking delegates to do likewise. And it wasn’t the Northampton resolution!!

Hel Jackson, Under Secretary of State for N. Ireland interferes.
The two resolutions on Ireland, number 48 calling for support for ‘The Good Friday Agreement’ and number 49 the Northampton resolution, were on the agenda of the last day of conference, Friday 9th June.

Helen Jackson MP, Under Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mandelson’s deputy) was flown in and immediately prior to the opening of the debate on resolutions 48 and 49 she addressed the conference, supposedly on the general situation in the north of Ireland. During the course of this she quite clearly said she thought resolution number 48 was a very responsible and reasonable one and thus of course, by implication, number 49 wasn’t!!

To our knowledge such blatant and direct political interference by a British Minister of State on an item on the agenda and up for debate and voting at the conference of a British Trade Union is unprecedented and completely out of order. It also shows how worried the same state is when organised workers break with the British tradition of ‘Economism’ and decide to debate and vote on something overtly and unequivocally political which the British State and politicians think should be their exclusive political domain!!

The debate proper.
We honestly thought we’d be much maligned politically and socially and told we were giving succour to those ‘dissidents’ opposing the ‘Good Friday Agreement’ by the UCATT Bureaucrats (i.e. GS, EC and Regional Secretaries) there. However, we also knew there was support for republicanism in Britain and a United Ireland in the wider union as I had stood for an EC position quite recently on a platform for republics in England, Scotland and Wales and a United Ireland and returned a very respectable vote in a three way contest. And the conference delegates were probably quite representative of that EC election and votes. So the bureaucrats also had a wee political problem if they tried to single us out and accuse us of other than what was in the resolution.

The chair started proceedings and asked John Jones, the mover, if he would remit. He shook his head vigorously and said NO! The debate then began. John moved it and in the process turned round and looked at the platform where George Brumwell was sitting and said "thank you George for supporting the Northampton resolution in saying you hoped for a United Ireland at the UCATT Dinner on Tuesday evening". That, we think, took care of George!! A delegate from a Sheffield UCATT Branch seconded the resolution and it did well. This took some political courage and we thanked him for this. Kenny Irvine delivered a strong message in support.

Jimmy Brown, the UCATT Convenor Steward at Harland and Wolf’s Shipyard in Belfast, stood at the rostrum and said he’d no problem with debating the resolution. Undoubtedly this helped set the democratic tone for the rest of the debate. He also said he was an Ulster Protestant and proud of it and that we’d no right to interfere in Irish business and the people of Ireland were telling Kenny and Brian to get lost. Or words to that effect. What he gives with the left hand he obviously thinks he can take away with the right!! Fortunately the other delegates and union officials who spoke preferred Jimmy’s ‘no problem with debating issue’ as no one else echoed his ‘get lost’ sentiments.

As a visitor and not a delegate I couldn’t exercise the right to reply. If I had this is what I would have said: "I’m a working class democrat and proud of it and welcome everyone here and encourage you all to exercise your political and democratic right to speak in the debate on this issue. I see the British State as seriously and grievously interfering day and daily with the rights of Irish people as it has done for generations. I see the Northampton resolution as giving political and democratic support to the many thousands of Irish people longing to be rid of this gross interference and for the United Ireland which can only become a political and social reality when Britain goes.”

We were pleasantly surprised, nay amazed!, when a delegate from the SW Region of England stood at the rostrum and said his delegation supported both resolutions (on Ireland). The debate was very even handed, fair and fraternal, showing what organised workers can do when they win and exercise the political right to on even, perhaps especially, those issues deemed most controversial. Although we could’ve and would’ve handled whatever was ‘flung at us’, even Allan Ritchie (the Scottish Regional Secretary) who we thought would ‘cut loose’ on us, as he indicated he might at a broad left meeting on Monday evening June 5th after conference, said he had some sympathy with the Northampton resolution but his region wasn’t supporting it . Thanks for being so sympathetic Mister Ritchie! No one attacked us in the manner we thought some would. The bureaucrats had obviously done their homework, right enough!!

The Northampton resolution got about 20 - 25% of the vote taken. Very respectable and encouraging. Think of what could be done if working class republicans had a political and industrial organisation with which to intervene and campaign in trade unions and most importantly workplace after workplace. I add here the BWG is not a republican organisation but a united front industrial one composed of workers of various political persuasions united in support of our policies and especially our opposition to the machinations of full-time union bureaucrats. We do take up and debate important political issues like ‘Ireland’ and do our best to support those struggling against state oppression. Be it national, as in the case of Britain in Ireland, (many in Wales and Scotland are not too enamoured with what Britain is doing to their countries either!) or by the use of such as racist or anti union laws in the UK.

Principled working class politics and democracy must reign supreme!!
They don’t in UCATT or any other union of course. But above all at the conference we proved it’s not always size and numbers that count but often the principles on which workers stand and are prepared to promote and defend no matter what. For a small UCATT Branch in the East Midlands of England and the wee BWG we didn’t half make an impact and give the ‘established order’ a run for their money in Killarney! For the first time in the history of UCATT a resolution on Ireland, which did not toe the official political line of the day, was NOT remitted but debated and voted upon. We are extremely proud of that!!”

Chapter 8: Conclusions - moral to the whole tale?

That full-time union officials and employers have none when it comes to the conduct of business!! I’ve written this pamphlet over a period of 12 months, mainly due to awaiting the result of holiday pay claims, which no one in their wildest imaginations thought we’d still be waiting for over 12 months after the holiday pay campaign began.

But we are sure, like the BWG, site workers will conclude if they want to win any real advances in the building industry and improve their wages and very basic conditions and put a stop to the killing and maiming of site workers which is happening in ever increasing numbers they cannot and must not rely on full-time union officials who are clearly part of the problem and not the solution.

The killing and maiming will stop, the basic wages and life threatening and taking conditions will only improve when site workers get organised and are prepared to take action completely independent from full-time officials. And indeed carry on whatever action they are taking against these officials and employers and whatever else is being flung at them such as legal action – when these officials inevitably tell them to stop that site action and organisation and leave it to them, the officials, and obey the law if used against site action and organisation.

If workers don’t do this then the killing and maiming will go on and the lack of a decent basic guaranteed wage and working conditions, which give rise to the killing and maiming will continue. A hard message and task. Yes, but one which is inescapable.

The famous trade union militant and communist revolutionary of yesteryear James Connolly once said and it’s as true today as it was in the early 1900’s – include full-time officials among the ‘great’!

THE GREAT ARE ONLY GREAT BECAUSE WE ARE ON OUR KNEES.

LET US RISE!

If you would like to join or contact THE BUILDING WORKER GROUP then write to:-

2 Bitten Court, Lumbertubs, Northampton NN4

Speakers at your meetings can be arranged

Order copies of ‘The Building Worker’ newspaper to sell to your friends

Assistance with organising at work

Help with picketing

If you would like to make a donation towards the group’s work then that would be great

Stop press

NORTHAMPTON UCATT UF 214 BRANCH

Secretary - Brian Higgins, 2 Bitten Court, Lumbertubs, Northampton

December 18th 2001

PRESS RELEASE - IMMEDIATE

LANDMARK VICTORY ON BUILDING WORKERS RIGHT TO HOLIDAY PAY

Within the last ten days four carpenters, members of Northampton UCATT Branch, received the news that their long hard fought battle of 21 months to secure their right as 'self employed' building workers to 20 days paid holiday a year under the European Working Time Directive [E.W.T.D] has succeeded in victory.

This was confirmed when Byrne Bros [Formwork] Limited, shuttering contractors, did not appeal against the Employment Appeal Tribunal judgement of September 18th [although the men were not notified until November 23rd of this decision] to dismiss Byrne Bros appeal against the decision of the Industrial Tribunal held on January 15th this year [2001] which adjudged the four carpenters 'workers' and thus entitled to holiday pay under the terms of E.W.T.D.

This is a tremendous and very significant landmark victory and breakthrough. It was the test case in the UK Construction Industry and it is now 'enshrined' in British as well as European Employment Law that hundreds of thousands of 'self employed' building workers are now legally entitled to holiday pay.

But, of course, workers' rights being 'enshrined' in law is very different from actually receiving what we are 'legally' entitled to. History teaches us workers are not granted rights but have to fight for these every inch of the way. This is especially true in the construction industry as the long struggle of the four Northampton workers proves.

Even then building workers will not get this holiday pay automatically but will have to demand it. They are entitled to 10 days holiday pay, at whatever their current daily rate is on site for the enforced shutdown of the building industry for two weeks during the coming Xmas/New Year 'holiday' period. They can also claim these ten days holiday pay for up to 12 weeks after this shutdown begins, which means till the end of March 2002.

The victory was also a Rank and File one in every sense. The four workers with the support of Northampton UCATT Branch, the London and South East Regional Council and the R&F 'Building Worker' Group, all lay bodies, won in the face of intimidation, coercion and threats of blacklisting by building employers.

Most significantly we also had to fight full-time officials in UCATT, from the General Secretary down, who put as many obstacles in our way as the building employers. This resulted in the 24 workers who originally claimed holiday pay in March 2000 being reduced to four brave Northampton UCATT members by the time of January 15th Tribunal. So much for 'Social Partnership' deals!

The E.W.T.D. as a Health and Safety Law is meant to ensure that workers, not previously legally entitled to holidays with pay, get a break as working all year round without one leads to mental and physical exhaustion which can result in serious injury and even death in so called 'accidents' at work. With the appalling death and serious injury rates on construction sites, 120 deaths were recorded for the period April 2000-March 2001, paid holidays and relaxation this affords can literally be a matter of life and death for some construction workers.

We also ask why stop at holiday pay? Why not sick pay and pension schemes and other employment rights and conditions millions of 'directly' employed workers take for granted? This victory should be used as the basis for a campaign to 'Decasualise the Building Industry' and put a stop to the killing and maiming of building workers in so called site accidents which go hand in glove with the Casual nature of employment in the industry.

But, of course, if building workers wait for the TUC and full-time officials in UCATT, TGWU, AEEU or GMB to mount such a campaign they'll wait and be killed and maimed forever. They'll have to do what the four Northampton UCATT members and their supporters did. i.e. do not rely on or leave it to full-time union officials. The reality is if building workers on site are to win sick pay and pension schemes and a good basic rate of pay for all and Decasualise the construction industry then they'll have to fight both the employers and full-time officials.

In the unions yes, but when it comes to the crunch workers should rely only on their own 'self-organisation' and activity and depend on full-time officials for nothing. Then like the four Northampton building workers victory can and will be achieved.

END

Update 22/1/2002

Bryne Bros eventually settled with the four claimants, two got £700 each, one £200 and the other £000(?). The company wanted to make this deal outside the Tribunal but all the men insisted that it was ratified in front of the tribunal panel to ensure that Bryne Bros could not wriggle out of any verbal agreement.

This was magnificent victory for these men who were originally told they'd get nothing and who stood against all attempts to coerce and intimidate them including threats of the blacklist.

The cash settlement well and truly cements the 'bigger' victory they won entitling hundreds of thousands of building workers to holiday pay. Needless to say UCATT nationally or regionally has done nothing to advertise this.

This pamphlet will already be out of date once it has been printed. If you would like to be kept up to date with the work of the Building Worker Group then you may be interested to know that it is proposed to create a BWG web-page on the Red-Star research site in the not too distant future. If you would like to be kept informed on this development send your e-mail address to:

revopermin@hotmail.com

or write to:
RPM,
BCM Box 3328,
London
WC1N 3XX

Revolutions Per Minute,
BCM Box 3328,
London
WC1N 3XX

RPM is a radical publishing project that aims to help liberate the working class internationally. This requires a revolution and the replacement of a system based on profit with one based on people’s needs. RPM feels it can best contribute towards its aims by producing pamphlets and sponsoring web-sites such as Red-Star-Research [see below], so as to aid discussion, debate and the distribution of ideas and information. Where appropriate RPM will also help other publishers to distribute their works.

Alongside this RPM will aim to produce a range of quality merchandise such as enamel badges of well-known and loved class struggle heroes, t-shirts, poetry and music.

In time it is also hoped that RPM will be able to help fund struggles and aid those who have suffered from taking part in them.

RPM is funded by sales, donations and from supporter’s standing orders. If you can help in any way with distribution and sales of any publications or merchandise please make contact.

RPM would like to thank the SOLIDARITY FEDERATION who have helped to pay for part of the publishing costs of this issue.

The Solidarity Federation is fighting for a system of Workers’ Self-management of production and the end of the Wages System. Self-management means that workers own and manage the enterprise they work in collectively. Only the workers who do a job know best how to do it efficiently, safely and well. We are opposed to the Wages System because it is the means by which we are paid less than the value of our work, with bosses, shareholders, etc living off the difference.

Instead of the exploitation, we want to create a society based on the principles called Libertarian Communism. This is a society where people contribute to social production according to their ability and, in return, receive back from society what they need for a decent standard of living. We oppose the existence of the state because it exists to maintain the power of the privileged elite of bosses and workers that enrich themselves by the exploitation of our labour. We seek to replace the state with a system of direct democracy in which the people govern themselves.

These long-term aims can only be achieved by organising effective action around immediate issues to force concessions from the bosses and the state. This will enable us to rediscover our power as workers, and use it to change society for good. It is therefore essential for us to fight in the workplace for higher wages, better conditions and to fight redundancies.

Struggle in the community is as important as struggle in the workplace. Those concerned with profit and political advantage control our housing, transport, healthcare, education and childcare. Our environment, food and water are polluted because profits mean more than our lives. Our struggle to defend services and the quality of the environment are vital to the achievement of our eventual revolutionary aim.

We reject the trades union/political party division embraced by both the official Labour Movement and the ‘revolutionary left’. Workers’ organisation must both fight back and work to change society, and its organisational principles must avoid ‘leaders’ and ‘followers’. Political parties seek to take control over the state and become part of the ruling class. They represent the interests of different factions of the middle class not the working class. The Solidarity Federation, therefore, does not seek to form itself into a political party but a revolutionary union. The establishment of revolutionary unions to fight for rights of the workers and the ultimate aim of Libertarian Communism is known as anarcho-syndicalism.

How Revolutionary Unionism Works

All decisions affecting workplace issues are made by Workers Assemblies – regular mass meetings for all workers – with the power to make binding decisions and with control over all committees and delegates elected by them. Everyone who accepts the binding nature of decisions, and takes part in any action has the right to participate in Workers Assemblies. The right to have a say in decisions cannot be bought by payment of union dues [nor denied to those who don’t pay dues but who meet the above conditions]. Class solidarity demands that scabs and management are kept out.

The anti-union laws aim to isolate workers and to force us to fight alone, and we need to attack them by giving and demanding solidarity between workers, by picketing and boycotting. The best form of action to take must be decided by us as workers, based on our knowledge of what will be the most effective. Unlike the established unions we must not allow the anti-trade union laws dictate which action we can and cannot take.

The revolutionary union should not rely on ‘campaigning’, having union officials or politicians plead for them. Neither should it rely on getting middle class journalists to give it fair coverage – militant workers are a threat to the middle class and will not receive fair coverage from the media on any sustained basis. The union must achieve its aims by forcing its opponents to give in through tactics such as industrial action, tax non-payment, rent strikes and occupations. This is Direct Action and it is the guiding principle of revolutionary unionism.

For more information about the Solidarity Federation contact
Solidarity Foundation, PO Box 1681, London N8 7LE.
Telephone 020 8 374 5027 or see www.solfed.org.uk

During the recent General Election campaign Haringey Solidarity Group were good enough to publish and distribute a leaflet attacking Louise Christian, a Socialist Alliance Candidate, for her support of Dominic Hehir. They were also organising a public meeting on Health and Safety, with Brian Higgins, as their guest speaker. Haringey Solidarity Group was formed by a collection of individuals from diverse backgrounds involved in the successful anti poll tax campaign who believe the only effective way to get rid of capitalism - a global economic system that values profit above human need and the environment - is by taking action in communities and workplaces, engaging everyone in decision making and practical activities, and building up the skills and confidence to run things without relying on politicians and other self-appointed ‘leaders’.

Haringey Solidarity Group PO Box 2474 London N8
Phone/fax 0208 8374 5027