- Union of Construction, Allied Trades and Technicians
United Kingdom, Republic of Ireland
affiliation= TUC, STUC, BWI120,000.
full_name= Union of Construction, Allied Trades and Technicians
Alan Ritchie, general secretary
John Thompson, president
website= [http://www.ucatt.org.uk/ www.ucatt.org.uk]
UCATT was formed in 1971 following the merger of the
Amalgamated Union of Building Trade Workers(AUBTW), the Association of Building Techniciansand the "Amalgamated Society of Woodworkers and Decorators", which had itself been founded the previous year from a merger of the Amalgamated Society of Woodworkers(ASW) and the Amalgamated Society of Painters and Decorators(ASPD)
The merged union was initially known as the "Amalgamated Society of Woodworkers, Painters and Builders", but changed its name later in the year. Its first General Secretary was Sir George Smith, formerly General Secretary of the ASW, who was directly elected by the membership. Its Executive at the time incorporated paid officials who had been selected by an electoral process within the industry.
The National Strike of 1972
In 1972, shortly after its formation, UCATT along with the GMWU, and TGWU, two sister Unions involved in Construction and Civil Engineering was involved in a major National Joint industrial dispute. Building workers all over the Country went on strike, demanding a minimum wage of £30 a week, along with a campaign to abolish the 'Lump Labour Scheme', which institutionalised casual cash - paid, daily labour. The Strike took the form of a 13-week long stoppage which affected many major sites, effectively bringing the industry to the table.
Several months after the strike, at a time when some of the strikers' aims had been largely settled, a number of building workers were investigated for acts of sabotage and vandalism during the dispute, of these a number were party to high profile Police investigation, mainly arising from pressure by Major Contractors, and Politicians anxious to suppress a grass roots working movement, which, for the first time ever, demonstrated that the building industry could be organised by Trade Unions where the cause was just. Two building workers,
Ricky Tomlinsona TGWU Plasterer and strike leader, and Des Warrenof UCATT, a steel fixer, and leading lay official, became known as (the " Shrewsbury Two)" and were found guilty of common law conspiracy as a result of their picketing activities. Both were jailed at ShrewsburyCrown Court.
The whole of the Trade Union movement saw common cause with the Shrewsbury strikers, and it was widely felt that the trial and prosecution had been unsafe, based more upon industrial and political revenge from the Heath Government, than sound principle. Statements from unsafe sources had been taken by biased Police officials working under the direction of a hostile Government.
In the intervening years, Des Warren developed serious health problems as a result of overdoses of medication whilst in solitary, while his fellow campaigner, Ricky Tomlinson went on to become a successful entertainer, who along with others took their case to the TUC Conference in 1975, to little success.
In 2004, Des Warren died without the pardon that various activists and Trade Unionists had campaigned for ever since.
After Warren's death, a number of key safety campaigners, Unions, and Warren's own family gathered to commemorate him in Liverpool, the following excerpts were from a web site in his memory:
At the beginning of the 1970s, the poor safety record and low wages was creating anger amongst unionised workers in the construction industry. Non-unionised workers were subjected to a system known as ‘the lump’ – cash-only payment in a lump sum, without any security or employment rights. The Union of Construction, Allied Trades and Technicians (UCATT) proposed a ‘builder’s charter’ – guaranteeing a 35-hour week, a wage of £1 an hour, improved safety and pensions.
The building industry – lead by companies such as McAlpine's and Laing's – were terrified by this threat to their profits, as were Ted Heath’s Conservative government. Against the background of the Vietnam War and emerging protest movements, the ruling class was worried alternatives to capitalism gaining popularity. In fact Lord McAlpine was treasurer of the Tories, so he was doubly worried!
The unionised workers began to use ‘flying pickets’ as a tactic to win the lump workers around to their cause. Among the leaders were Des Warren (who worked in Ellesmere Port for a time) and Eric (‘Ricky’) Tomlinson (who is now better known for his roles in Brookside and The Royle Family).
September 6 1972, coachloads of UCATT and Transport and General Workers Union members from North Wales and Chester went to the market town of Shrewsbury to assist trade union members there, by picketing the sites. At one place they were greeted by the son of one boss brandishing a shotgun, at another site a building company director challenged Des Warren to a fight, but by the end of the day when the men set off for home they felt it hadn't been a bad day's union work, and there had been no trouble with the police.
Six months later – with the conflict between strikers and government intensifying – the authorities took “vicious retribution and recrimination”, in the words of one of today’s speakers. Warren and Tomlinson were arrested in connection with the Shrewsbury events (along with twenty-two others), and charged with unlawful assembly, affray and conspiracy to intimidate. After a bizarre and blatantly unfair trial, they were found guilty of the conspiracy charge by the capitalist state and a middle class jury.
Warren received three years in prison, and Tomlinson got two years. They became known as the ‘Shrewsbury Two’, and a campaign was launched to set them free. But if the trial had been a deliberate conspiracy of the Employers' Federation, government and state, then the campaign saw a conspiracy by leaders of the Labour Party, the TUC and UCATT to limit the threat to the profit system. Workers were told to vote for a Labour government, but when they got one Harold Wilson and James Callaghan refused to cut short Warren’s sentence or launch an inquiry. Callaghan’s government began the attack on workers’ rights that was accelerated by Thatcher and is still supported by Blair, Brown, and almost every politician you are likely to see on the news.
Along with speeches from Mick Abbott (an ex building worker, shop steward and friend of Des) and Dave Ayres (who helps run Des’ trust fund), a video was screened. In it, Des described how he was treated in prison. When he demanded a single cell, went on hunger strike and refused to wear prison clothes, a doctor prescribed some ‘medication’, which Des was eventually persuaded to take for three weeks. He recalled how “within ten minutes I was asleep…it was hazy the first couple of days…my hand used to come to a halt and my words went smaller and smaller”.
On release from prison, Des was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, and in April 2004 he died. His long decline was caused by the drugs he was given in prison whilst serving a sentence handed down for crimes he never committed. Ultimately, he died fighting for all of us who are alive today.
At the end of the meeting, a motion was passed in favour of setting up a committee to press for an inquiry into the Des Warren case, before his son Andy and sister Kath unveiled a plaque. It was the thirtieth anniversary of Des’ release from prison, and the working class should never forget him.
In Liverpool today, the preparations for the Capital of Culture mean there are construction workers everywhere, but conditions in the industry have not improved since the defeat in the 1970s. The time has come for a new generation of Des Warrens to learn from the mistakes of the past and to organise for a free and fair future.
God Bless Des Warren 07.08.2006 02:43
May God Almighty Bless Des Warren and help Liverpool defeat the forces of evil, which we face.
I'm reading a copy of 'The Key To My Cell' written by Des when he was in good health. I'm a Christian, but I've always known men like Des and have a respect for the old fighters out there. What Des believed in was working class struggle, his heart was with the poor, and although he might not have been religious, he will be in Gods company.
Although it might be depressing in Liverpool right now with more people selling cocaine than a radical newspaper - anyone who believes in the working class struggle will know that we will win in the end and send all the rich evil bastards who exploit us, to the Devil in Hell, where they belong. Just because the English are asleep right now does not mean that the rest of the working class are also slumbering the world over.
I hope that Des Warrens story is taught in our local schools as the kind of man that is an example to us all.
What Liverpool needs is another 100 Des Warrens set loose upon it.
Anyway, here's the last word from the man himself - topical also when you think about it.....
"We were in the desert [in Libya] on exercises. An Arab sold us some eggs while we were camped up. He asked for a drink of water and the sergeant told him to 'Fuck off'. He left the camp thirsty and I thought at the time 'Thats a bit strong'. Years later, I realised by this callous act, that the sergeant was preserving the image of the imperialist conqueror" From 'The Key to my Cell" Des Warren (page 8) 1982
Recession and recovery
During the late 1980s, and early 1990s, UCATT Suffered a long debilitating recession, with successive attacks from a Hostile Conservative Government, which culminated in the Union having to go into a long period of management over serious financial deficits from falling membership rolls. Ucatt having had tried for many years to sustain cash contributions from members collected on site in the age of increasing technology.
This period of serious decline was co incidental with strong rumours of a merger with various other Unions, chief among them the TGWU, and gains being made by GMB.
Throughout the 1980s, a strong joint Sites Movement of regular UCATT, TGWU, GMB, AEEUW, members characterised the construction Unions' work on sites in Major Cities, many of whom had remained crowded, unsafe, and casualised places in need of true reform.
UCATT however, emerged under the new Leadership of George Brumwell, its General Secretary in 1992.
George Brumwell, a strong, charismatic leader, put the lean and mean UCATT back to work, and by 2001, had largely affected a turn around in the Union's fortunes, with a number of cost containing measures such as the closure of a number of local offices and strategic redundancies. This all but eliminated the deficits, and built a new more readily sustainable UCATT which was significantly smaller than before.
The Union also found itself running a ' Safety Culture' Campaign across the Industry, while campaigning for a case for construction and re generation, which became part of the strategy of the New Labour Government following its election victory in 1997.
Following a rule-change in 1995, UCATT has a lay Executive Council. Its present General Secretary is Alan Ritchie, formerly the Scottish Regional Secretary. It is affiliated to the
Trades Union Congressand the Labour Party, as well as to the Building and Wood Workers' Internationaland the EFBWW, European Federation of Building and Wood Workers.
In 2006, UCATT, T&G, and GMB, the successors to the Joint Unions of 1972 ran a seven day strike on the construction of Heathrow Terminal 5 in pursuit of £1.00 on bonus, and back pay. The employer was Laing O Rourke the successor to John Laing Ltd, one of the Big employers of 1972. After the dispute was resolved the strikers received 80 % of their original aims and substantial back pay, proof that the Working Class struggle continues, and, that the lessons of past battles in the rough and ready World of Construction are never very far away.
* [http://www.unionancestors.co.uk/Images/UCATTFamTree.pdf UCATT family tree]
* [http://www.ucatt.org.uk/ UCATT website]
* [http://www.catalystmedia.org.uk/issues/nerve10/building_up.php Interview with a UCATT member in Liverpool's 'Nerve' magazine]
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