Construction Workers Unions In 1972

On 7th October 1970 three trade unions decided to merge together to form the Union of Construction, Allied Trades and Technicians (UCATT). They were:

  • The Amalgamated Society of Woodworkers
  • The Amalgamated Society of Painters and Decorators
  • The Amalgamated Union of Building Trade Workers.

The merger of these smaller craft unions to become UCATT created a more powerful trade union for building workers.  It had 262,610 members by 1972.

Two other trade unions had sections for construction workers: the Transport & General Workers Union (T&GWU – now part of Unite) and the National Union of General & Municipal Workers (now the GMB). There was a further independent trade union that organised in the building industry: the Furniture, Timber and Allied Trades Union (FTAT – now part of the GMB). The four unions formed the National Joint Council for the Building Industry (NJC).

All four unions had difficulty recruiting and maintaining members in the building industry because of the unique temporary and geographical spread of construction sites. The practice of “lump” labour added to their difficulties.

In 1972 the NJC wanted to renegotiate the collective agreement with The National Federation of Building Employers (NFBTE).  The centrepiece of the unions’ claim was a wage increase to £30 per week for a 35-hour week. At the time labourers earned £17 per week and craftsmen £20. The employers’ negotiating body rejected the claim. They were confident, given the nature of the industry and the difficulties of trade union organisation, that the construction unions would accept a much lower offer of settlement.

The workers side was made up of a newly formed union that had only recently brought together a range of trades, together with long-established unions that had sections that organised labourers in the construction industry.

Workforces on building sites reflected this adhoc existence. The army of lump labour and the self-employed further compounded problems with trade union organisation.

The scene was set for one almighty struggle.