Organising for the future in construction

At a meeting of the construction RISC chairs recently, the future of organising in the construction sector was discussed. In particular, the issues looked at, were the problems within the sector, possible solutions, and practical actions that could be actioned.

Some of the problems identified were things like:

  • The Sector is difficult to fit into the 100% campaign because of the somewhat transient nature of the workforce.
  • Despite Conference resolutions, dedicated regional officers are not in place. The Sector does need a certain level of knowledge which other Sectors may not experience.
  • Added to this, officers tend to have complicated and multi-sector responsibilities to organise.
  • Construction is not seen as a priority sector within the Union.
  • Retention of members is a great challenge.

These are the issues that we can all identify with and something that we all have been arguing about for some time, however possible solutions were also discussed, such as:

  • After  the next RISC’s, notice should be given to convene a special meeting within 2 – 3 weeks with a single item agenda – the strategy for the RISC,  with invitations extended to Regional Secretaries and representatives of the Organising Department.
  • More clarity is needed under the following headings:
    • What is the actual purpose of the RISC? What should its objectives be?
    • What is the relationship between the Construction RISC and other RISC’s where       there may be synergy?
    • How can relationships be fostered, and between whom?
    • How would this work?
    • What is the role of RISC members outside of meetings?
    • What is the role of the Chair of the RISC outside meetings?
    • How can we turn the RISC into an action-centred, strategic body?
    • What is the role of Unite full-time officers on the RISC?
    • Are they there to report, advise, direct, or take direction from the lay delegates?
    • How  would the above relationship work?
    • How will we decide accountabilities within the RISC, and how would these apply in practice?
  • A proposal to pilot one RISC for special attention was discussed.  Do we select the most challenging Region, or one where there is a greater chance of success?

This is a debate that we must all engage in. It is important that the fundamental question of what is the point of the RISC must be explored. It must be more than just a talking shop and more than just a vehicle for sending delegates to conference. However, we must all get involved in the debate, also, because of the things that are not mentioned here. There is not mention of sites, other than as part of the 100% campaign. Without real organisation on site, the 100% campaign is doomed to fail. It is about identifying sites and getting agreements early, making it easier to organise. It’s about fostering our activists and building confidence in our members to become shop stewards, safety reps etc., and offering real protection for them.

How do we identify sites early? One way is to get the information from other sectors. If a hospital is going to be built, then comrades in that sector should be helping to smooth the transition from planning to construction. That is one example. We must form closer relationships with other sectors. It is also important to get regional buy in, otherwise any strategy just won’t work. The regional secretary controls the officers in their region, not the national officer for construction, and he must be persuaded to direct resources to implement any strategy. We also, in turn, have to argue for resources to be directed to the region, from the centre.

Of course, we can’t divorce this process from the work of the combine. Direct employment, an end to blacklisting, paid for training, trade union matters and proper employment procedures must be part of the whole solution.

Two regions have been chosen to pilot these discussions, Scotland and NEYH. This is an opportunity that we can’t afford not to take. Get involved.


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