Eye-witness at Staythorpe demo

This report is courtesy of Jerry Hicks.

I thought people might like to hear of my account of the mass protest called by Unite to support the construction workers at Staythorpe power station at Newark yesterday, Tuesday 24th Feb.

According to the Union, Derek Simpson was to lead a mass protest of construction workers.  About 10:15 Simpson turned up with an entourage of aides and publicity people. All the media were present – there were dozens of them. They were crawling all over the place. Mr Simpson took a look at the demonstrators and I guess it was as though he sensed the mood of about 400 construction workers; you would have thought that he would have mixed and mingled with his members. Had a bit of conversation with them, but no. He just looked on with a couple of his loyal aides, sullen, unsure what to do.

Anyhow the march got underway. Simpson was not on it. If he was he was certainly not leading it – I looked for him, but no Simpson could I see. I asked a few of the demonstrators. All said no they hadn’t seen him. One asked me “who’s Simpson”.

At the end of the demonstration at the rally point Mr Simpson just suddenly popped up as though from no-where. The speakers platform had a cordon of police round it with blue tape. I guess to protect Simpson from demonstrators. The first speaker was a labour MP who didn’t seem to say anything at. He was heard in almost complete silence. When he stood down after 2 or 3 minutes no-one said anything – almost silence. Then Simpson started. He started by saying how awful things were. All was quite for a minute or two and someone shouted out, “What are you going to do about it”.

Simpson rounded on this person. Ah, someone who isn’t a construction worker has come to heckle. The same question was put again with the emphasis that the non-construction worker had been a union member for 32 years and he had come to show solidarity. Ah said Simpson, its young Jerry Hicks is it. Then a couple of construction workers took up the original question. “What are you going to do about it”. People could see Simpson starting to get worked up. He tried to bluster something but then more questions and interjections came at him. It was reminiscent of the mobile phone video recording at Cowley; “You are supposed to represent us not the government or the employers.”

At this point when the meeting seemed to be on the edge of mass protest Simpson started to lose it. I’m not going to take this from these, he seemed lost for words, then he said BNP activists and you tossers. He then started to get going but I think an aide must have said something or his own common sense intervened because he just seemed to stop in mid flow and walked off the platform.

Simpson was on the platform speaking for only about 2 or 3 minutes. Then a couple of stewards asked Jerry Hicks to speak but the organisers of the meeting refused and to get onto the platform would involve fighting through the police cordon. So the stewards found a loud hailer and Hicks addressed the construction workers for about 5 minutes to quite spontaneous and loud applause.

Simpson in the meantime was giving interviews to Sky and the media. So there you have it. This mass demonstration would be led by the great Mr Simpson on his white charger as the saviour of the construction industry.

The reality; Simpson was probably too scared to mingle with his members who after all, according to Simpson, were BNP supporters and “Tossers”. Apart from giving interviews to the media he was no-where to be seen. Isn’t it strange that his speech has never been reported on any news channel.

As a final little ironic twist postscript to this very sad and humiliating affair, for Simpson, the only other speaker was a certain Tom Hardacre, National Officer for the Unions construction sector. He spoke for maybe a minute or two. I’m not sure what he said but he did not say that he was the personal appointee of Derek Simpson. It was his job to ensure that the national agreements on wages and conditions in the construction sector were scrapped in favour of local agreements. His job was to oversee the policies that have led directly to foreign workers coming into the country and employed on the minimum wage. He oversaw, with the active support of Mr Simpson, the agreement with the Tony Blair and Gordon Brown the policy of employing agency workers to build the Olympic site. It was his policies that he rammed through that saw foreign workers brought into the country and housed in various porta cabin-type accommodation so that the would qualify as no-foreign for political purposes but would qualify to be paid only the minimum wage or not much better than the minimum wage.

It is said that this arrangement is a nice little earner for ManPower. Whatever Mr Hardacre said I am certain these little home truths were not said. Isn’t it a sad state of affairs that the leader of the biggest union in the country feels unable to lead a demonstration that he called, that he cannot mingle and talk to the people who pay his wages, who feels the need of a police cordon for protection from his members, who considers honest questioning of his policies to be the work of BNP activists and “Tossers”, who then can’t finish his speech and instead of engaging in talks with his member he goes off giving interviews to the mass media.

I just can’t understand why some people question the need for an election for general secretary in Unite – to some it all seems to be all too much of a distraction.

Ray Smith

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