The Sparks are challenging the Unite leadership, but will need to be vigilant
A group of electricians calling themselves 'The Sparks' are justifiably skeptical that Unite bureaucrats will successfully wage a struggle in their interests. As I have stated repeatedly on this blog, union tops have separate and often directly contradictory interests to their membership, and cannot be trusted one iota in their dealings with bosses. The Sparks' strategy this point has been to remain within Unite, and yet organise their own parallel rank-and-file protests and actions, through an elected strike committee.
This committee was elected at a London meeting on 13th August. It contains four serving electricians, one blacklisted electrician, and Jerry Hicks, the defeated 2010 'left' candidate for the Unite general secretaryship. Since then, the committee has organised two large 'unofficial' protests - at a Balfour Beatty site in Blackfriars, and the new Westfield Centre in Stratford. For its part, the Unite leadership have distanced themselves from this action, and are merely asking non-unionised electricians to join up.
This dispute is well worth keeping an eye out for. The employers want to bring in the new pay rates for March next year. Before then, The Sparks will want to escalate their action, perhaps go out on strike, and bring in construction workers from other unions, such as UCATT and GMB. If this were achieved, it would cut right across the interests of Unite tops, who will undoubtedly support any state action to suppress the movement. This is a struggle which has the potential to 'spark' others throughout construction, and many other industries. But to achieve that - and indeed to defend their own living standards - The Sparks will have to keep control of their own movement, and resist all attempts to water down their tactics, or to take the fight out of their own hands.