National Executive Council Elections

The National Executive Council elections for 2014 are upon us and ballot papers will be sent out between the 26th and 28th of March. The Union is currently going through the nomination phase at the moment which will close on the 18th of February.

For our purposes there will be three vital categories where we will cast our vote. We will vote for the Regional Seats, for the Industrial Sector Seat and for the National Equalities Seat.

There are two seats available for the Scottish Region and the Scottish Rank and File are endorsing Davy Brockett. Most of you will know Davy and will be aware of the tremendous support that he has given us since our inception, during the Besna Campaign. Davy campaigned on demonstrations up and down the country during Besna and beyond, and was blacklisted from the Southern General site. Davy is still very much involved with the Rank and File and continues to give us vital support. Davy is also the United Left candidate along with Dawn McAllister.

 There is one seat available for the Building, Construction and Allied Trades Industrial Sector and far as we are aware, there are two candidates, John Sheridan and Meurig Thomas. The Scottish Rank and File are endorsing John Sheridan. John is also very supportive to the Rank and File and played a pivotal role in bringing together the Rank and File and the union during the Besna dispute. He was involved in the Crossrail dispute and subsequent leverage campaign and continues to be supportive of the Rank and File. John is also the United Left candidate.

There are four seats available in the National Equalities category which should be made up of one Woman, one BEM member, one LGBT member and one Disabled member. The United Left candidates are, Jane Stewart, Mohammed Taj, Jenny Douglas and Sean McGovern.

The count will take place on the 24th and 25th of April.


Wishes for 2014

As we move into another new year (they keep coming faster and faster), it is maybe worthwhile re-examining our priorities for the year ahead. It may however feel like we’re repeating ourselves, but here goes:

  • An end to blacklisting.
  • Proper compensation for blacklisted workers.
  • Blacklisted workers back at work.
  • End to agency working and bogus self employment.
  • An adherence to National Agreements.
  • No deaths or serious injury on sites.
  • Repeal of anti trade union laws.
  • Trade Unions that act in the interest of its members.
  • Dignity at work.

This seems to be the very least that we should expect as we go about our working lives. Yet there are people who vehemently oppose these principles.

Are we asking too much? or are we forever going to be the victims of big business in their pursuit of ever increasing profits? The greed is good brigade will do anything to maintain their way of life.

I’m afraid its going to be another on of those years. Oh well!


Right direction or cynical pretence

On the 3rd of October, the Scottish Government introduced the Scottish Procurement Reform Bill to the Scottish Parliament, with many taking the optimistic view that this would be present fantastic opportunities to exclude companies from tendering for public contracts, if they blacklist workers. To cement this, the government issued a policy note on the 20th November entitled ‘Exclusion from public contracts of companies which engage in blacklisting’.

On the face of it, it looks like a step in the right direction. The key points are; the ability to exclude companies from bidding if they commit an act of grave misconduct unless they can prove they have taken ‘appropriate remedial action’, three added questions to the pre qualification questionnaire and a new clause which provides for a termination of contract if company breaches relevant legislation, during the course of that contract. The note also attempts to define ‘remedial action’.

Sound good so far? Then lets get down to the issues. The problem with the policy note is, that it isn’t biding in law and the grounds for exclusions are discretionary. The difficulty with discretionary grounds of exclusion is that any exclusion must be proportionate to the scale and nature of the offence or misconduct. Each case has to be taken in its own merit. The first key point, mentioned above, talks about the company showing that it has taken the ‘appropriate remedial steps’. What do they mean by appropriate? Could it be seen to be ‘appropriate’ if the company, by taking part in the Construction Workers Compensation Scheme offers an ex employee £1,000? The same rules apply to the termination of a contract during the course of that contract.

To further muddy the waters at the weekend, the press reported that those companies involved in the joint venture delivery company, hubCo, which was set up by the Scottish Futures Trust, an arms length organisation of the Scottish Government, to deliver infrastructure projects, is to be excluded from the new bill. Companies like serial blacklisters, Sir Robert McAlpine and BAM would be excluded.

So, to summarise, all that is on offer, that is better than we currently have, is that we’ll have three added questions to the standard Pre Qualification Questionnaire, except for those companies that are part of hubCo.

All of this means that we have got a lot of work to do. We must step up our campaign, working with Unite and Neil Findlay to get amendments to the bill that tightens up the current legislation. This must also be backed up with statutory regulation or mandatory guidance. Finally, there must be no exemptions. The companies that are part of hubCo are still working on public contracts and should be treated the same as any other public contract.

The Scottish Government, I think, have still to get the message.


The time is right?

On the face of it, we have never had a better opportunity to make or demand the changes that are necessary to fulfil our vision for a construction industry where our workers can flourish in a safe and organised manner. The two main evils in the industry continue to be agencies and no direct employment, and we may never get a better chance to make that difference, in spite of the inactions on most of our sites.

First of all, there are more lay members of Unite on the regional JIB and SJIB boards as well as the national JIB board. Secondly, the national combine will shortly be entering into negotiations with the five trade associations on the recommendations that have been recently approved. Thirdly, there is the government’s move to close the loopholes around bogus self employment and finally, employers are clearly rattled over the blacklisting investigations and the Scottish Government’s guidance that could lead to these companies being barred for tendering for public contracts.

It may not be evident to those working in the industry at the moment, but there is an opportunity to use this current situation to put further pressure on employers in order to bring about the things that we all want to see. Of course, that would mean an end to the cosy relationship that certain officials have with employers.

The opportunity is undoubtably there. Do we have the will and the resources to use this opportunity? In an earlier blog I mentioned the lack of a strategy within Unite and the structure that would make implementing such a strategy difficult, and although the Rank and File is motivated, I fear that Unite is not in a position to grab at it, as yet.

Is the time right? Maybe not.


Rank and File – Rent-a-Mob or a breath of fresh air?

There are those within Unite the Union who view the rank and file as upstarts, a renegade group led by former EPIU members, who can be wheeled out in times of industrial strife at sites up and down the country, but ‘we’ don’t really want much to do with them.

It’s true that the rank and file are involved in disputes within the construction industry. It grew out of the Besna dispute where we led the fightback against the rogue employer threatening to tear up our national agreements. Our ability to call for unofficial action was not only crucial and effective, it was also seen as an asset for this type of campaign, and we were also involved in the implementation of the leverage strategy that led to an outstanding victory. We were held up as heroes of the labour movement and our views were sought in various platforms up and down the country. Since then, we have been involved in the anti blacklisting campaign, the Crossrail dispute and also at Ineos.

So why are we still met with suspicion and loathing? Could it be that we succeed where the constitutional bodies of Unite fail? We have been involved in three major campaigns. Result – 2 victories and 1 making significant progress. Could it be that we are listened to by the General Secretary and the Assistant General Secretary and some noses are out of joint as a result? Could it be that certain regional officers don’t like it when they don’t get their own way, as we have seen in the North West? Some are still operating as EETPU officers rather than Unite, usurping the lay democracy in which this new union is built.

The truth is that many of the members of the rank and file take part in the constitutional democratic structures of Unite, whether in Branches, Riscs, Niscs and other constitutional committees. We are members of JIB Boards, National Construction Combine and are shop stewards, safety reps, equality officers etc. In other words, we play a full and active role within the life of our Union. However, we are also able to operate outside it. The best of both worlds.

So what is the role of the rank and file? Well we can still call for and take unofficial action when necessary. We provide checks and balances against rogue officers who are intent in living in the past. But more importantly, we can set the agenda for how we shape our industry. We do not have an industrial strategy for the construction industry within our union. In Scotland, we have a very capable regional officer who is the lead officer for construction, yet his line manager won’t let him out of Dundee. Officers work in a number of sectors and are being pulled from pillar to post. Organisation is fragmented and there is no real structure. We have a National Officer for construction who has no control over officers in the regions. Even if we had a strategy, there is no way it could be implemented in this current environment. The rank and file could fill that vacuum. We need early intervention on sites, access agreements in place. We need more recruitment and retention of members. We need proper adherence to national agreements and proper organised workforce.

We have a mixture of youth and experience to make that difference. The rank and file is not to be feared or loathed. We should be embraced as a breath of fresh air and our talents put to good use.


Leverage attacks continue

The latest attack on activists who have taken part in the Unite’s leverage campaign came in the shape of Paul Hutcheon of the Herald. This time the target was Drew Smith MSP. Labour’s front bench spokesperson on social justice and Unite member’s crime, was to take part in the silent non intimidatory protest outside the home of a director of Ineos, whose company had threatened to shed thousands of workers at the bat of an eyelid.

A senior party figure (I wonder who that could be), said that a decent trade unionist would not be within a hundred metres of this protest. I wouldn’t like to have this person in charge of any industrial dispute strategy. A doff your cap strategy saying yes sir, thank you sir as you get kicked in the backside on your way out the gate. At this point, Mr Hutcheon begins to struggle.

For the headline in this piece of wonderful journalism begins ‘Leading Labour MSP urged to resign…..’, and who do you think is doing the urging? This shows the desperation of this once great broadsheet. It was none other than the virtuous, moral and righteous Eric Joyce MP. Yes the same guy who indulges in his own one man drunken anti social behaviour crusade. Is this really the best they can do.

On a serious note, Unite’s leverage strategy is well documented, criticised and attacked at all levels of right wing Britain, with calls for an enquiry. Well where is the enquiry into the leverage tactics of big business and multi nationals? How’s this for a whopper of leverage. ‘Accept our terms and conditions or we’ll shut the place down’. – Ineos to Grangemouth workers. Come on Herald you must do better.