London Mayoral candidate Ken Livingstone addressed “black tie” dinner protest against self-appointed BESNA companies. Pic ©Guy Smallman


Campaigning construction workers opposed to wage cuts in the industry created havoc in West London last night with a peaceful protest outside a plush bosses’ dinner at the swanky Grosvenor Hotel.

Up to 300 sparks, pipe fitters and plumbers targeted the Electrical Contractors Association annual dinner to show their disdain for the controversial BESNA agreement.

Trades unionists have warned that it will replace the Joint Industry Board (JIB) agreement and introduce 35% wage cuts and widespread de-skilling across the industry.

And the protest received a boost when Labour London Mayoral candidate Ken Livingstone who was an invited speaker at the dinner, appeared to endorse the sparks campaign.

Referring to the self-appointed “Besna 7” contractors he told the assembled crowd if he were elected mayor he “wouldn’t want a firm like that working on the London Underground.”

“They must re-instate proper wages and conditions in those areas that have been casualised,” he told the cheering workers.

Speaking to Union News prior to going into the meal, Mr Livingstone defended his decision to speak at the dinner, pointing out that Balfour Beatty and the rest of the Besna 7 were not present.

But he added, “I’m opposed to anyone who has broken the conditions you [workers] have fought for over 100 years.”

“And I will tell them that in there.”

Several guests attending the employers’ dinner who did not want to be named said the ECA respected national agreements with workers and dismissed the Besna 7 operating under the “rival” Building & Engineering Services Association group.

Unite National Officer for Construction Bernard McCauley told Union News that the protest was designed to raise awareness of de-skilling and to urge the ECA not to go down the same path.

Buoyed following international backing from the US Teamsters union, construction workers set up a road block for nearly an hour outside the hotel on Park Lane before police moved in.

Staying mobile, workers then attempted to “book a room” at the hotel but were denied entrance by police and company security.

Pipe fitter Howard Sharpe accused the rogue contractors of “operating a cartel” to drive down wages adding: “It’s the younger generation who are going to suffer if BESNA goes through.”

Mr McCauley added: “The unofficial action has been tremendous. The general secretary Len McCluskey has said the union will not be defeated by the law of this country.”

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