Construction workers document safety victories in new film of '90s era

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The history of workers' struggles for safety, written by workers who participated in and shaped those struggles and victories is a rarity – even more so maybe in recent history because we think all the main battles have been won.

This new video made by workers’ rights activists in construction in the ‘90s challenges that view. Organisers are filmed reflecting on their major protests over safety and conditions, from the HSBC crane disaster to the construction of the Jubilee line. It’s quite a rough and ready documentary, and it moves too quickly between stories. But it will prompt you to want to know more and there are some gems unearthed in the rubble too.

We hear how successful protests gave workers dignity. One man, who had soullessly swept the same floor for years, came into work the day after a protest and was transformed physically: “He stood up straight, he had pride,” recalls one organiser.

The activists ran a paper ‘Builder's crack’ (named partly after the Irish craic one presumes?) and there must be some good archive material, which we just glimpse here. One headline hailed the European working time regs of 1998, as a corner turned. It brought in the right to three weeks’ paid holiday and sick pay (unbelievably, previously it was whatever the employer put in your contract). It’s easy to rest on laurels and assume that our health and safety laws date back to 1974 and the HSWA.

The video has been premiered on YouTube by the Blacklist Support Group. The group represents workers whose exclusion and blacklisting by several big construction companies for speaking out on safety only came to light in 2009. Their achievements improved their colleagues’ lives and we see the struggles wrought in the lines of the workers’ faces. As filmmaker Darren O’Grady says in the introduction: “these old stories need to be told”.


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