We all know the construction industry has a skills shortage, one that will get more intense as an aging workforce transitions to retirement in coming years. According to the CITB, more than 500,000 British construction workers are expected to retire in the next 10 to 15 years. Fortunately, there is a simple solution. We need good apprenticeships that give young workers a trade. But to attract those young workers we also need well paid jobs in safe conditions and an industry where construction workers are directly employed by firms that value their professional skills and respect their collective agreements.
Unfortunately, this is not a given. In the recent past construction workers have had to deal with some of the most hostile employment conditions we have seen in Britain and Ireland. They have been subjected to appalling blacklisting that has destroyed lives. They have witnessed union victimisation and corporate spying. They have had to maintain constant vigilance to ensure that the health and safety standards that protect them are upheld. They have had to deal with the rampant abuse of employment rights though agency and umbrella firms. And they have seen repeated, direct attacks on their collective agreements and their skills in attempts to cut costs. Indeed, it was only recently that our electricians had to fight off and defeat a scandalous attempt by employers to deskill their trade.
Thankfully Unite has some fantastic activists in this sector that have shown they can fight and win to get the high standards that the industry needs. I was fortunate enough to work with our construction reps in defeating Besna and again in the Crossrail dispute, getting our blacklisted Shop Steward Frank Morris back to work. Now I am privileged to have the overwhelming support of the sector in my campaign to be the next General Secretary of Unite.
As General Secretary I have pledged that my focus will be in the workplace not at Westminster. This does not mean that I will avoid political fights to back our members, or fail to hold politicians to account, far from it. But it does mean that my focus will not be on the internal workings of the Labour Party or on cosy chats in the House of Commons. Instead I will be focused on helping our members to build their industrial base and giving them the support they need to win their disputes. In construction we need to build our strength so that members can take on under-cutters, push up standards, and defend and improve our collective agreements. And if employers attack our members it means being ready to fight back. In the words of Frank Morris “when workers are attacked by big multinational employers we need Leverage on our side to level the playing field.”
We also need to leave no stone unturned in exposing the whole truth about blacklisting past and present. In the past, the bureaucracy of our union and its predecessors in construction have sometimes failed the membership. I want to lead a union that delivers for construction workers, a union that the apprentices of tomorrow will join because they know Unite has got their backs. And I am convinced that a strong, workplace focused Unite that fights for better jobs in construction is not only what contrition workers need and deserve, it is also what the industry needs to guarantee a healthy future.
Note for editors: Further information on Sharon Graham is available here: https://sharongraham.org/
Great to see the national media yet again recognising that Sharon is the General Secretary candidate for the workplace who isn't afraid to tackle Amazon and bosses exploiting workers in the pandemic.
Sharon Graham - 'The workplace candidate', wants to shatter the glass ceiling in an historic bid to take the helm from Len McCluskey when he stands down - and has her sights set on bad bosses. Writes Alan Selby, Mirror.
Our fighting strategy to defeat Government plans to ‘review’ workers’ rights must be led from the workplace. Following the opposition day debate in the Commons, ignored by the Government, trade unions must return our focus to workplace power.
“Unsurprisingly Westminster has failed workers yet again,” Sharon Graham told Workers Unite, “we need to fight and win where our rights were first won: the workplace.”
Through the Build Back Better Council the Government is convening handpicked employers to review working rights after Brexit; including proposals to remove the legal cap on the 48 hour working week. This follows attacks over the last year, such as the relaxation of haulage drivers’ working time protections, the spread of fire and re-hire tactics across sectors and the victimisation of individual shop stewards.
Unite is an industrial organisation of many thousands of reps and activists, and unless it is understood that that is where our real collective strength comes from then no amount of press releases, hashtags or statements in the Commons can ever help us.
Workers Unite believes any credible strategy to push back these attacks must be rooted in collective bargaining – the first line of defence for organised workers to defend and then extend their rights and conditions at work. That can begin by proactively identifying the most hostile employers and exposing their intentions, especially where we have the strength to bring them to the bargaining table.
We must be just as coordinated as the employers clearly are! By bringing shop stewards together across each sector we can identify the undercutter, the company who’ll lead the charge. Then we can coordinate our response – assess where we are industrially strongest, where we must be stronger and where we can work together to apply the most pressure.
If trade unions focus only on Westminster debates then we’ll forget not only how working rights were won – we’ll disarm our activists and reps by pretending we can outsource the job of defending them.
It’s time to put real support behind the leadership of shop stewards and workplace activists. It’s time to organise to maximise the participation of our members at work. That is how we marshal our real industrial strength, and that is how we face down the employers’ offensive that seeks to make workers pay for this crisis.
Do you agree? We want to hear from you!
Sharon Graham has been behind Unite’s Broad Industrial Strategy, namely practical plans to improve wages and conditions and increase job security for workers in all workplaces across all sectors.
Writes Müslime Karabatak (Ekmek Ve Gül, Turkey)
Workers Unite is made up of grassroots activists and is likely to morph into a campaign group to support Sharon Graham when the formal Unite the Union General Secretary contest gets underway - reports the BBC.
Has overseen successful industrial disputes and would be the first female general secretary were she to succeed.
Sharon Graham "would be a breath of fresh air" at the top of the union. Focusing on the members' priorities: jobs, pay and terms and conditions.
Move beyond internal Labour Party politics and to always prioritise the workplace.