Britain: Wembley stadium workers score major victory

Locked-out workers "completely win everything they had stood out for"

The 240 construction workers sacked and locked out by their employers, FastTrack/Hollandia, at the new Wembley football stadium site (the Football Association’s national grounds), in London, have won a major victory. After being locked out for four weeks, since refusing to accept imposed changes to their working conditions, all the workers have been reinstated, completely winning everything they had stood out for.

The workers have started to return to work in phases and all will return within the next two weeks. Four union stewards are back on site to ensure management stick to the terms of the national Blue Book Agreement – the agreed terms and conditions for the industry, which was the basis for the dispute being settled.

The workers, members of the GMB and Amicus unions, have also won agreement that they only have to work 38 hours a week; any overtime can only be carried out by agreement rather than it being imposed. FastTrack/Hollandia – the subcontractor who employed the men – had imposed weekend working and overtime on the men after taking them on from their previous employer, Cleveland Bridge, who had been removed from the job by Multiplex, the company with overall responsibility for building the new stadium.

The only outstanding issue the workers want redressed is that of financial compensation for the period they were locked out by their employer. This has been referred to a tribunal.

A rumour had circulated last week that the company was likely to offer them £1,000 but a steward at the site said: "Even if they did offer that amount it would not be enough."

Another steward told the ‘Socialist’ newspaper: "There is still a lot of anger at the way we have been treated but we are all happy at this result. This is a major victory for the trade union movement. We have had other trade unionists who have supported us during the dispute, phoning us up to congratulate us."

Socialist Party members had been instrumental – along with other trade unionists – in raising thousands of pounds for the locked-out workers. A union official involved in the dispute said that he wanted to thank the Socialist Party and The Socialist for all its help during the dispute.

The workers were sacked at two hours’ notice on Friday 20 August after complaining about changes to their working conditions. When they had been transferred from Cleveland Bridge to FastTrack/Hollandia they had been told their old terms and conditions would be protected under the transfer of undertakings and protection of earnings (TUPE) laws, something the employers then reneged on.

Fans and union solidarity

After this disgraceful treatment the sacked workers immediately organised hundred-strong picket lines at all the main entrances and got national publicity and lobbied the Football Association. Their cause was also taken up by football fans – particularly amongst Middlesbrough fans, where many of the sacked workers came from.

Tens of thousands of pounds was raised by other trade unionists to help sustain the locked-out workers, most of who were commuting from homes hundreds of miles away to maintain the picket lines.

Their ability to sustain the picket – despite the disgraceful actions of one Amicus full-time union official – ensured that the work inside the stadium ground to a halt, putting immense pressure on Multiplex and FastTrack/Hollandia who are under a fixed-price contract to get the new stadium finished by 2006.

Attempts to bring in scab labour from Holland failed when the Dutch workers refused to cross picket lines and take on the work. Unfortunately, a full-time official of one of the unions in the dispute – Harry Cowap of engineering union Amicus – failed to deliver such solidarity. Over 100 locked-out Amicus members organised a lobby of their union national executive on 7 September to complain about Cowap "misrepresenting them" and alleged that he had escorted scab workers across picket lines and had spoken at meetings with management to encourage replacement erectors to cross picket lines.

After the protest, Cowap was removed from the negotiations but Amicus still refused to officially back the dispute, even though the GMB had already made it an official dispute and GMB General Secretary, Kevin Curran, had visited the picket line.

The news of the workers’ tremendous victory was greeted with a huge ovation at the TUC, which the workers had lobbied earlier in the week. Their determined stand will give inspiration to workers everywhere that bosses who ride roughshod over workers’ conditions can be challenged and defeated.

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