Wide screen devices may view this page better by clicking here

16 June 2021

Facebook   Twitter

Join the Socialist Party Join us today!

Printable version Printable version

Facebook   Twitter

Sparks win victory!

Rank-and-file action pays - come to NSSN conference

Sparks protest in Cardiff 28 April 2021, photo Dave Reid

Sparks protest in Cardiff 28 April 2021, photo Dave Reid   (Click to enlarge)

Rob Williams, Socialist Party workplace and trade union organiser

The 'sparks', rank-and-file construction electricians in Unite, have yet again defeated the deskilling agenda of the big electrical contractors.

EDF Energy, Balfour Beatty and NG Bailey opened up their offensive almost a decade to the day when workers kicked off their ultimately successful six-month fight against the 'Besna' contract, the last main attempt by the bosses to attack wages in the electrical trade in this way.

Employers see deskilling, employing workers who are not fully trained electricians, as a way of driving down wages and conditions in an industry already plagued by low pay, sub-contractors, agencies and umbrella companies.

It threatens not just the livelihoods of fully trained electricians, but also fire safety in the buildings being built. Things have come to a head over the attempts to deskill at the enormous Hinkley Point nuclear power site in Somerset.

As the sparks explain in the Unite Electrical Mechanical Combine statement, they discovered that training standards had been drawn up for a new electrical service operative (ESO) grade, specifically for the massive Hinkley Point C nuclear power plant, but threating to become a norm throughout the industry.

Instead of the promised 600 electrical apprenticeships, this would have seen containment and cabling work being carried out by cheaper, unskilled labour. The sparks estimated that this would have seen up to 70% of their work deskilled.

Just as with the Besna struggle, the rank-and-file sparks launched a campaign of direct action, though this time bravely battling with the difficulties of the severe Covid lockdown rules.

These were being strictly applied by the Tory government, with protesters being arrested on protests over NHS pay and the murder of Sarah Everard. On a few occasions, police also tried to break up legal strikes. No wonder the #NO2ESO protests took place behind facemasks - for safety's sake and to avoid arrest!

The Socialist Party and the National Shop Stewards Network (NSSN) have given support and solidarity right through the sparks' struggle. There has been a weekly Socialist Party bulletin, giving reports from the protests.

We were there on 24 February, when, at a few hours' notice, the first protest took place outside EDF Energy's HQ near Victoria Station in London. It was short and sharp but the warning was laid down: back off or we step up the fight!

Over the next weeks, the number of protesting workers grew, and the demonstrations spread to Wales, Scotland, Merseyside, Manchester, Leeds and then Hinkley Point itself. This was followed by a determined walkout by sparks at Whitby Bay hospital.

In March, it seemed that EDF was backing away from the ESO at Hinkley. Then Balfour appeared to be moving away from it. But NG Bailey was refusing to back away and this brought Balfour back on board. The campaign needed to be stepped up.

In April, the weekly protests at the Cardiff University construction site in Maindy Road culminated with a blockade of the site for an hour with deliveries turned away.

On 26 May, after 13 weeks of protesting in different areas, the sparks converged on AWE Burghfield, where nuclear warheads are assembled. In a pincer movement, they defied the police lines and blockaded the massive site at two entrances. Full praise has to go to the electricians on site who refused to cross the protest lines and drove round slowly, helping to back up the traffic for hours.

This was the big signal to NG Bailey and Balfour. The next step would have been to target more of their jobs and, just as with the Besna, an official Unite strike on one of the key sites.

The rank-and-file electricians welcome the commitments that have been secured, including the withdrawal of the ESO and the employment of new apprenticeships. But correctly they add: "However, there is much work to be done" in ensuring ending the threat of deskilling once and for all, as well as tackling issues such as agency labour, direct employment, blacklisting and bogus self-employment. But far better to fight these after a win.

This victory comes after other wins by workers taking action, such as the Manchester bus drivers, who went on an 85-day indefinite strike against 'fire and rehire', and the Thurrock binworkers who defeated pay attacks by their Tory council after six weeks out.

As the employers and their Tory government look to make workers pay for the Covid crisis, the growing action against the bosses' brutal offensive, and especially the increasing number of victories, show that if the unions give a fighting lead, workers can win. This should be taken up by the unions to build a united fight against the Tory pay freeze in the public sector and the NHS. The fight against Besna in 2011-12 took place at the same time as the massive two million-strong 30 November public sector pensions strike and the sparks joined the picket lines in solidarity.

In Wales, the campaign should continue to pressurise the Welsh government to ensure that lucrative construction contracts for public projects are only awarded to companies that adhere to national agreements and ethical practices - no blacklisters or anti-union employers - and they ensure their sub-contractors do the same.

The defeat of ESO ranks with that over the Besna. Many of those sparks have played leading roles this time, and a newer generation has joined the battle. The word needs to be spread round the sites to all trades, who themselves can be targeted for deskilling by greedy bosses looking to protect their profits - we can fight and we can win so get organised in the union!

2021 NSSN conference via Zoom

Donate to the Socialist Party

Finance appeal

The coronavirus crisis has laid bare the class character of society in numerous ways. It is making clear to many that it is the working class that keeps society running, not the CEOs of major corporations.

The results of austerity have been graphically demonstrated as public services strain to cope with the crisis.

Inevitably, during the crisis we have not been able to sell the Socialist and raise funds in the ways we normally would.
We therefore urgently appeal to all our viewers to donate to our Fighting Fund.

Please donate here.

All payments are made through a secure server.

My donation


Your message: 


In The Socialist 16 June 2021:

Trade unions and workplace

Left candidate needed for Unite general secretary election

Majority of BFAWU members vote to break from Labour

Right lose control in Unison NEC election

Sparks win victory!

Engineers in fourth week of strike action against huge fire-and-rehire attacks

Leicester University workers strike against redundancies

PCS conference 2021: Divide between union leaders and rank-and-file exposed

Socialist Party to the fore at Unison LG conference

Redbridge school walkout over victimised union rep


Underpaid and overworked - NHS workers say: 'Enough is enough'

Now is the time to fight for the NHS

Save Leicester General Hospital

International news

Will Biden's new foreign policy change the direction of US imperialism?

Tamil Solidarity asylum victory

Who represents the Palestinians?

International solidarity protests


Make vaccine technology public, nationalise big-pharma

Schools need resources to tackle 'routine' sexual harassment

Neonatal leave introduced: Unions must fight for extensions and full pay

Beth Roper inquest: Train company failures ignored

Birmingham Clean Air Zone a tax on the poor

Johnson's G7 hypocrisy

Pandemic homeless

Campaigns and party news

Enfield byelection: We need councillors prepared to resist

Queues at Socialist Party stall in Cov

National finance meeting

Readers' opinion

Women's health matters

Books that inspired me: The Ragged-Trousered Philanthropists

Readers' comments


Home   |   The Socialist 16 June 2021   |   Join the Socialist Party

Subscribe   |   Donate   |   Audio  |   PDF  |   ebook

Related links:


triangleStop press: Sparks walk out

triangleGateshead: Sacked electricians reinstated

triangleRank and file sparks at the Amazon construction site at Follingsby Park, Gateshead, protesting on the day before they achieved victory by being reinstated.

triangleProtesting in Enfield, London, in support of electricians sacked by contractor SIS Systems at Amazon's warehouse under construction at Follingsby Park, Gateshead. 21.6.21

triangleReading, 26.5.21: Standing with the #Sparks blockading #AWE in the fight against de-skilling #No2ESO. NG Bailey & Balfour Beatty must pull away from their deskilling agenda!


triangleNSSN COP26 online workers' forum: Climate change - for a workers' transition

triangleNSSN trade union rally reflects working-class anger to fight back

triangleClick here for a report. Speakers included: Sharon Graham - newly-elected Unite gen sec; Sarah Woolley - BFAWU gen sec; Carmel Gates - Nipsa gen sec (designate); Joe Simpson - POA deputy gen sec; Joe Kirby - RMT NEC & offshore worker

triangleNSSN to lobby TUC


triangleSomers 'slaughterhouse' Forge

triangleTrade unionists in the USA fighting back

triangleWakefield TUSC - Fighting for low-paid workers and NHS


triangleBarts NHS workers strike back

triangleEducation: Workload and inflation goes up, incomes fall


triangleReading, 26.5.21: Standing with the #Sparks blockading #AWE in the fight against de-skilling #No2ESO. NG Bailey & Balfour Beatty must pull away from their deskilling agenda!

Article dated 16 June 2021

Join the Socialist Party
Subscribe to Socialist Party publications
Donate to the Socialist Party


Pay in Fighting Fund

Pay in paper and book sales


Bulk book orders

New member submission



The Socialist, weekly newspaper of the Socialist Party

What we think


Cost of living

Trade unions and the cuts

Workplace news

International news

Campaigns news


Readers' opinion

Subscribespacer|spacerebook / Kindlespacer|spacerPDF versionspacer|spacerText / Printspacer|spacer1164 onlinespacer|spacerBack issuesspacer|spacer Audio files

Sheffield Just Eat strikers step up action and hold mass rally, photo by Alistair Tice

Sheffield Just Eat strikers step up action and hold mass rally: Over 100 trade unionists and students in Sheffield rallied in support of the Just Eat delivery drivers on their 31st day of targeted strike action against company pay cuts. Photo by Alistair Tice

What We Stand For
Socialist Party Facebook page
Socialist Party on Twitter
Visit us on Youtube

Platform setting: =

Desktop version