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Ian Burge


Use Direct Labour

(March 1979)

From Militant, No. 447, 16 March 1979, p. 7.
Transcribed by Iain Dalton.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Nearly eighteen months ago, our District Joint Shop Stewards Committee held a number of meetings to discuss management’s plans for cuts in Tower Hamlets. Inevitably at these meetings, workers would get up to point out some of the more glaring examples of waste and inefficiency caused by management.

For instance, the number of new administrative jobs created by ‘re-organisation’; the plush offices that were re-furnished and decorated for one administrator and then re-done because his successor didn’t like the colours; and lavish functions and white elephants galore!

While porters and nurses are not being replaced on leaving, management placed adverts in the press for secretaries whose main qualification appeared to be ‘a sense of humour’!

But most irritation was caused by the large amount of maintenance work done by private contractors. The Works dept., i.e. the fitters, electricians, carpenters and painters were livid about it.

Numerous examples were given where the men knew they could have done this work cheaper and better. Many times they had later been sent in to patch up the contractors’ shoddy work.

There was even a feeling that someone was getting back-handers from the contractors, it seemed the only explanation for their use, but no solid evidence has yet been produced. Furthermore, tricks are apparently used to ensure the ‘right’ firm gets the job.

Arising from the meetings in the Works Department it was resolved that stewards from the three unions involved, together with myself would investigate the scale and type of contract work, and the reasons given for using it.

Our view was that with proper manpower levels, proper organisation, and appropriate agreements for necessary weekend work, (such as ‘jobs and finish’), most work put out to private contractors could be handled by the department, giving higher quality work at lower cost.

For various reasons, the stewards at that time failed to take this issue up in a serious manner, but it is already cropping up again.

The latest available figures; for 1977/78, show that the proportion of work going to private contractors has actually increased over the previous year from 24% to 26% of the total works costs.

One of the Works Dept. Management alleged that it was cheaper to put work out to private contractors. But this expense is in fact explained by enormous management overheads which are all included in the ‘costs’ for direct labour.

The solution lies with unions in the Works Department. The stewards should:

  1. Establish a trade union panel of stewards and deputies for each union.
  2. Black all work done by contractors which could have been done by direct labour.
  3. Demand opening of the books, and give the closest scrutiny to contract work costs and bidding.
  4. Vet management’s requests for contractors, and draw up alternatives.
  5. Establish the right of veto on all contracts.
  6. Insist on expansion of direct labour force to cope with all work.
  7. Ask for training to be provided where specialist skills are needed.
  8. Negotiate improved arrangements and flexibility for working and covering unsociable hours.

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Last updated: 10 July 2017