|Volume 51 Number 20, June 26, 2021||ARCHIVE||HOME||JBCENTRE||SUBSCRIBE|
Electricians have won a victory in the attempt to deskill their role in the construction industry. It has been a significant battle in the struggle of workers to oppose the disequilibrium that the unilateral attempt of the employers to deskill the electricians' role had created. The workers fought to maintain their dignity and defend their right to have control over their lives and the future of their livelihoods.
Employers at the construction site of the Hinkley Point C nuclear power station, owned by EDF Energy and partly financed also by the China General Nuclear Power Group (CGN), had reneged on an agreement to employ 500 electrical apprentices and had instead begun to enact plans to employ new grades of "Electrical Support Operative" (ESO) at the construction site, without any consultation.
The ESO grade has now been defeated. Electricians organised demonstrations, leafleted, took part in the occupations and banner drops every week for the past three months .
Against attempts of the big business cartels to force job losses and cut pay, electricians took heroic militant action. They shut down the Atomic Weapons Establishment, occupied company offices and blockaded major projects across the country .
Training standards for the ESO grade on containment and cabling had been developed by the Engineering Construction Training Board. These have now been withdrawn. The ESO has been removed and the grade of Electrical Labourer, with no installation duties, is now in its place.
The BBB contractor cartel, Balfour Beatty Kilpatrick and NG Bailey, say that are now committed to a programme that supports the development of fully trained qualified Electricians of the future through the SJIB/JIB (Joint Industrial Board) Apprentice schemes.
Electricians are not leaving matters there, however. Further negotiations are now to take place to develop the struggle and to have a standalone section within the agreement where certain standards take preference that include grading, training and apprenticeships.
Workers' representatives point out that deskilling is rife, with the use of false improvers and mates on the increase. Issues around the use of agency labour, direct employment, blacklisting and bogus self-employment need to be tackled, as well as their claim on the value they create through wages being too low.
Electricians and their union have rightly pointed to relations, exploitation, deskilling, and control over their lives. Electricians, like all workers, should have a degree of control over their lives and conditions, and serve their own interests instead of the owners, who desire increasingly total control in their social relation with the workers they employ.
The interests of workers depend in part on upholding the dignity of their work, which includes maintaining standards. Speaking in the workers' own name and asserting their will is certainly not what the owners of capital like.
The fact that electricians should have control over their lives and conditions also extends to the economy itself, in which the large infrastructure they along with others build, run, and maintain. Industrial and domestic energy supply, for example, are massive factors in the production of value in the economy; the method of producing energy and the use to which it is put are centrally important to the direction of the economy.
Electricians have been a contingent of the working class that has traditionally asserted their political stands such as factors pertaining to war. The Atomic Energy Agency and nuclear power and reprocessing have long been attached to militarisation of the economy, and electricians have always monitored this with an attitude towards democratic control and production for peaceful purposes. There is also ongoing concern in society over the safety of atomic energy.
1. For further background information and details of earlier actions, such as the February protest at the EDF Energy offices, where electricians promised to blockade the Somerset power station site if necessary, see:
"Electricians Fight for their Dignity and Rights", Workers Weekly, March 27, 2021
2. Video of electricians closing down the UK Atomic Weapons Establishment, forcing employers to the negotiation table: