On the Picket Line

Scaffolders in U.K. step up pay fight, win support

By Pete Clifford
and Ögmundur Jónsson
February 21, 2022

SCUNTHORPE, England — “Support has been great, from all over the U.K. and Ireland,” Unite union steward Dave Birchall told the Militant outside the British Steel plant that dominates this town Jan. 28. He is one of 60 striking scaffolders working for contractor Actavo, now four months into a pay fight.

Early that morning as steelworkers were arriving to work, strikers blocked the entrance for an hour and a half to press their demand for 17 pounds an hour ($23), the nationally agreed rate — a raise of about 2 pounds.

Following advice from union officials, scaffolders had suspended their strike in January. But bosses at British Steel hired four other contracting companies and locked the strikers out. In response, the union stepped up picketing, targeting sites where those contractors operate.

On Jan. 31 strikers picketed the Lindsey Oil Refinery in Immingham. “Scaffolders who work for Altrad and other workers refused to cross,” Birchall said in a phone interview. Then Altrad pulled out from their strikebreaking operation at British Steel in Scunthorpe.

Scaffolders held demonstrations at three Actavo offices around the country and one in Ireland Jan. 24.

Days earlier, a group of Celtic Football Club supporters held up a banner at a match condemning Actavo owner Denis O’Brien, who also owns a minority stake in the club. Their action prompted an article in The Times of London, which rarely covers strikes.