Having been at the demonstration only a few hours ago my head is still spinning with all the events that happened. It was by far the best political event I have ever attended and I have been active in politics for the last 7 years! My report here for those reasons may become more of a ramble than a structred report.
The demonstration was called as there is a large amount of workers in the local area who are not being taken on at the site despite their being jobs available, the companies of course simply finding the cheapest labour possible to smash the proud history o the trade union movement in winning the pay and conditions they currently have. Instead choosing to bring in ununionised foreign labour on cheaper rates.
I left Cardiff to head to Uskmouth power station at 4.30 am this morning, upon arriving everyone gathered in a small car park just off the road that leads to the power station. About a hundred people congregated, this included construction workers from other sites, unemployed construction workers largley members of Unite and some from the GMB, young apprentices, unemployed youth, and members of other trade unions in other sectors such as the RMT, PCS and NUM. Of this 13 were members of the Socialist Party (many of whom Youth Fight for Jobs activists) and 2 were members of the Socialist Workers Party.
At around 6am everyone moved out of the car park and onto the road to form a blockade. The road was blocked in order to cause maximum disturbance at the site and to call on workers who have jobs on the site to take wildcat action today. There was a very militant mood at this point so much so that a potential scab was attacked physically by one protester. The protester was the restrained by others and explained that we were not at that stage as the worker had been turned away anyway. The cars and mini-buses began to queue up very quickly and soon it was impossible to see just how far! Members of Unite along with members of the Socialist Party walked along every car explaining to as many workers as possible the issues and requesting on them to either join the blockade or turn away, many workers did either one of those options. This continued for some time and we maintained the blockade until 8am.
The period of 2 hours we spent at the blockade there was a fraternal atmoshpere amongst all the comrades involved and discussions about the issues and the tactics and strategy flowed between many protesters. There was only 1 banner which had questionable content, it read
'Gordon Brown REMEMBER YOUR PROMISE British workers on British Contracts'
subsequently the discussion amongst some protesters did cover this area. A few of the unemployed workers I spoke to were very bitter and down trodden. They have seen their jobs and other dissappear and saw foreign workers as scabs. It was said that I live in a different world to them as I don't work in the industry. I agreed that to a certain extent it was true that I lived in 'a different world' but pointed out that I have been involved in the labour movement since I was 17 as a shop steward for a number of years and now as an unemployed 24 year old I face the prospect of a decade on the dole, so my world and the battles I face are very similiar which is why I was at the protest in the first place. I explained that although the concerns of the workers present was to secure jobs for themslves and their community the only way to do that was to understand why we are in the current situation. That foreign workers are being used because it is cheaper because of a century of trade union struggle in Britain we have won great victories which gives us the pay and conditions we currently have in national agreements. That the only way to secure a future for them and their children was to fight to organise foreign labour into the union.to be on the same pay and conditions as to cut across the race to the bottom. In general the discussions I and various other SP members had with protesters on this subject convinced themm of an internationalist approach. It must be noted however whilst all these discussions were taking place no members of the SWP intervened despite their heavy handed criticisms of the LOR strikes!
Whist at the blockade sky news did a series of interviews with protesters including a live interview with Newport Socialist Party member Mike John, that is really testament to the position of respect we have been able to build up at Uskmouth that the workers in struggle would be willing to put an SP member forward to speak on their behalf as Mike is not directly inolved in the struggle as he is not a construction worker!
We then decided to march from the blockade right up to the entrance of the site. This is where it got really interesting for me because Youth Fight for Jobs were asked (and in some cases workers demanded) to head the march with our banner. This was a truly humbling experience, having been around and involved in the labour movement to understand the significance of YFJ's being asked to lead the march was a very proud moment for me personally but also for YFJ as a whole, something we did not nor ever will take for granted. It is something I will never forget.
But the fact that YFJ was at the front of the march had even wider ramifications than that! There were 2 banners of the demonstration, the YFJs banner calling for an end to cheap labour apprentencies and for a living wage and free education. The other banner being the one mentioned earlier calling for Britiish workers on British contracts. As we began the march the YFJ contingent lined up in the front line along with the other banner, but as we set off we purposely but subtley moved in front of the other banner without question, so that the slogan was only visible to the back of my head. This really is a microcosm of the whole campaign that when a serious alternative is posed to the status quo backward ideas in the labour movement will easily be sidelined.
We marched down to the entrance and then the police allowed slowly all the workers to go in which included both british workers and polish and german workers and maybe more nationalities. Chants of 'solidarity brother were shouted to polish workers in a basic appeal of solidarity mindful of language problems. There were again 1 or 2 questionable comments to foreign workers but this was by and large isolated. To the British workers chants of 'scabs' and many shouts such as 'take the day of, we are skint we have families to' and 'have a good day in work, but you will work on other jobs with us and we know who you are now'. Other workers who had jobs on the site turned away and refused to go in, from what I heard particularly scaffolders, and other workers consulted with Unite stewards whether they should go in or not on safety grounds and it was agreed that certain workers should.
During this time YFJ activists were engaged in discussions with many members of Unite, particularly around the role that we had played of organising a demo in the Rhonndda valleys which one of the Unite convenors had seen. It was agreed that YFJ would formally contact the Unite branch for a request to finance a coach to the November 28th demo and also to help build for it amongst Unite members.
I had to leave at this point to return to Cardiff but it seemed to be winding down. This is definately not meant to be a complete account of events but simply what I saw at the time. It was definately something to be proud to be a part of and to be proud of the role of YFJ in the coming period. Watch this space.