International visit to Unite Learning Centre

European unions bring message of solidarity 

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Members of Unites sister unions in the construction sector visited a learning centre in Canary Wharf last week, before joining a NISC meeting to highlight shared issues.

One of the first stops for the delegation from Belgium, France and Italy was the Canary Wharf Learning Centre (CWLC) in the heart of London’s Docklands.

The CWLC is a partnership between Canary Wharf Contractors and Unite which has been working for over 20 years to support workers develop skills, providing Lifelong Learning, training and skills in partnership with employers, community groups and education providers specifically for the construction sector.

The delegation was Gianni De Vlaminck, CG-FGTB National Secretary for Construction, Marco Benati, FILLEA CGILCoordinator International Policies and Jean-Pascal François, FNSCBA CGT Union Administrator and International. 

The visit was organised by Clare Baker, Unite International Officer, and gave the delegation a chance to meet with tutors at the centre as well as workers attending training and discuss ideas around workplace learning.

Following the visit to the centre Unite officers Trevor Simpson and Mark Soave along with Unite EC member Staurt Grice took the delegation on a tour around various new building projects in Canary Wharf – in particular the large Wood Wharf development.

The next day the visitors joined the Unite Construction NISC meeting in London and talked to the meeting about the situations that their unions were facing in Europe. 

Jean-Pascal said, “It is important to have links between our union and yours as the company we work with is multinational and we share the same issues.

“We have worked before with Unite, for example the Murphy 4 campaign was international and Unite activists came to Paris to campaign. We need to fight as one people.”

Marco told the NISC about worrying developments in Italy around the rise of fascist support in the country, and explained, “International solidarity is important. When our office was attacked by the far right it was important to hear messages of support from across the union. We are fighting these parties.”

Marco went on to explain that though construction is now seen as one of the most important sectors in Italy with growing government investment, the country does not have enough trained workers to safely carry out this work, and the sector has seen a rise in construction deaths with safety conditions not improving and lots of work still done through the black market.

For the NISC the delegation was joined by Alexandre Govaerts, from the International Department at the CG-FGTB. Alexandre gave a presentation to the meeting that explained the history of building workers unions in Belgium, explaining that in Belgium union density is around 55%, but in construction it is 90%.

Alexandre said, “We have strong ties with Unite in construction, and other sectors as well. Capital is organised internationally, and so we as unions must be too.”

Following questions from the NISC delegates, Acting Chair Billy Parry thanked the international group for addressing the meeting and discussing issues in their countries and workplaces, in particular the growing danger of the far right.

Meeting with fellow trade unions from other countries offered an important opportunity to find out about the differences in working practices and laws, but also hear about the similarities and common issues.

Following the visit Staurt Grice said: “ It was great to welcome our comrades from France , Italy and Belgium and show them what we do.”

“The work we do in the sector, and as a union internationally, is of vital importance and a link we must keep building on. Without which we wouldn’t have got the result we did during the Murphy 4 dispute.” 

By Keith Hatch

Photos by Mark Thomas