Scaffolders at the British Steel plant in Scunthorpe, organised in Unite, are on strike over pay. The union should escalate this action by bringing out all members on the site, and demanding nationalisation of the industry.

Scaffolders at the British Steel plant in Scunthorpe, organised in Unite, are on strike over pay. The union should escalate this action by bringing out all members on the site, and demanding nationalisation of the industry.

A dispute over pay parity involving scaffolders working at the British Steel Scunthorpe site has led to a strike, which is now well into its third week.

On 11th of October, an angry march was held from the British Steel office block to the site gates. The message coming from the strikers was loud and clear: we will not be cowed!

Opposition

The 50 scaffolders – organised in Unite the Union – voted by a massive 95% in favour of strike action.

These scaffolders are seeking an extra £2 per hour, to match the rate set by the National Agreement for the Engineering Construction Industry (NAECI). But the contracting employer, Actavo, is refusing to negotiate. And bosses at Chinese-owned British Steel are claiming that it is not their responsibility.

Technically this is true. Workers at the site are employed by multiple different subcontractors and firms. But this is precisely so that workers can be divided and their pay and conditions more easily ground down. A united resistance is required.

British Steel Scunthorpe

Responding to the Scunthorpe steel strike, Unite general secretary Sharon Graham told the union’s website:

“Scaffolders at Scunthorpe are determined to defend their national industrial agreements and they have the full support of their union in this fight for fairness. Where employers like Actavo undermine workers’ pay rates and refuse to pay the recognised rate for the job, they will face determined opposition from Unite.”

So they should.

Escalation

The strike could be settled for less than £5,000 a week. But the intransigence of Actavo and British Steel’s owners, Jingwe, means the strike must now be escalated.

There are over 500 scaffolding installations across the 9-square mile steel plant, with production already disrupted throughout the site. 

But the strike has great potential, which needs to be realised. As one striking scaffold worker told us, Unite has 800 members at Scunthorpe steelworks – why are they crossing the picket line?

In fact, the union has £40 million in strike funds. The other 800 members at the site should be called out. This would likely lead to a very rapid climbdown by Actavo and Jingwe bosses.

Militancy

Power to the workers

This action by the scaffolders will not be the last. 40 years of class collaboration has led to a weakening of wages, terms, and conditions across the industry. But now, fresh militant layers are coming to the fore and saying: enough is enough!

Socialist Appeal supporters in the steel industry and within the local community have already moved into action, winning donations and messages of support from North Lincs TUC and Unite Community Humber branch. Comrades have also circulated details of the dispute amongst local Labour and trade union movement activists.
 
Contrary to perceived opinion, steelworkers have not been converted to capitalism and Toryism. The demand for public ownership of British Steel is widely supported. The Tory victory in this and other ‘Red Wall’ seats was a reaction to decades of right-wing rule and trade union class collaboration. A militant mood is now growing.

Nationalisation

We must begin a fightback for renationalising the steel industry. Unions must give full support to the strike and build solidarity action across the industry. A victory for the scaffolders would be a victory for all steel industry workers, for the labour movement, and for the Scunthorpe community.

We demand: 

  • No crossing picket lines!
  • No return to work until pay demands are met in full!
  • For public ownership of the steel industry!
  • Victory to the scaffolders!