Union of Construction, Allied Trades and Technicians

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UCATT logo.png
Full name Union of Construction, Allied Trades and Technicians
Founded 1971
Members 84,377
Affiliation TUC, ICTU, STUC, BWI, CSEU, Labour Party[1]
Key people Steven Murphy, general secretary
John Thompson, president
Office location London
Country United Kingdom, Republic of Ireland
Website www.ucatt.org.uk

The Union of Construction, Allied Trades and Technicians (UCATT) is a British and Irish trade union which represents, as of December 2012, 84,377 workers in construction and allied trades.[2]

UCATT was formed in 1971 following the merger of the Amalgamated Union of Building Trade Workers (AUBTW), the Association of Building Technicians and the Amalgamated Society of Woodworkers and Decorators, which had itself been founded the previous year from a merger of the Amalgamated Society of Woodworkers (ASW) and the Amalgamated Society of Painters and Decorators (ASPD)

The merged union was initially known as the Amalgamated Society of Woodworkers, Painters and Builders, but changed its name later in the year. Its first general secretary was Sir George Smith, formerly General Secretary of the ASW, who was directly elected by the membership. Its Executive at the time incorporated paid officials who had been selected by an electoral process within the industry.

National strike of 1972[edit]

In 1972, shortly after its formation, UCATT along with the GMWU and TGWU, two sister unions involved in construction and civil engineering, was involved in a major national joint industrial dispute. For the first time in the building industry, workers all over the country went on strike, demanding a minimum wage of £30 a week, along with a campaign to abolish the 'Lump Labour Scheme', which institutionalised casual cash-paid daily labour without employment rights. The strike took the form of a 12-week stoppage which affected many major sites, effectively forcing employers to negotiate. The Building Workers’ Charter was actively involved in organising the strike.[3]

Unionised workers used flying pickets to seek support from workers on the lump. On 6 September 1972, UCATT and TGWU bussed members from North Wales and Chester to picket building sites in Shrewsbury. Despite confrontations with site management, the police made no arrests on the day.

External video
Whose Conspiracy? Justice for the Shrewsbury pickets (2009). A 35-minute film re-examining the political events surrounding the arrest and imprisonment of the Shrewsbury building workers, containing material from the original campaign to free Des Warren and Ricky Tomlinson.

Five months after the strike, at a time when some of the strikers' aims had been largely settled, a number of building workers were investigated for acts of sabotage and vandalism during the dispute. Some of these were subject to high profile police investigation, under pressure from major contractors and politicians anxious to suppress the emergence of organised labour in the building industry. 24 building workers were convicted and six jailed as a result of their picketing activities. The longest sentences were given to Ricky Tomlinson, a plasterer and TGWU strike leader, and Des Warren, a steel fixer and leading lay official of UCATT, who became known as the "Shrewsbury Two". At Shrewsbury Crown Court, they refused to testify against fellow strikers. Charges of affray were dropped, but they were found guilty of "conspiracy to intimidate" under the Conspiracy Act 1875, which had not been used for 98 years. Warren was sentenced to three years in prison, and Tomlinson to two.[4][5][6]

The whole of the trade union movement saw common cause with the Shrewsbury strikers, and it was widely felt that the trial and prosecution had been a miscarriage of justice, based more upon industrial and political revenge from the Heath Government than sound principle.[7]

In the intervening years, Des Warren developed serious health problems, which his supporters attribute to overdoses of medication administered whilst in solitary confinement. Tomlinson, who went on to become a successful entertainer, took the case to the TUC Annual Congress with others in 1975, with little result. In 2004, Des Warren died without the pardon that various activists and trade unionists had campaigned for ever since.[8]

In 2012 Tomlinson and others sought to have the convictions overturned by the Criminal Cases Review Commission.[7] In 2013 a paper petition was launched, alongside the existing e-petition, for an Early Day Motion by MP John McDonnell to be brought.[9]

Recession and recovery[edit]

During the late 1980s, and early 1990s, UCATT suffered a long debilitating recession, with successive attacks from a hostile Conservative government, which culminated in the union having to go into a long period of management over serious financial deficits from falling membership rolls. UCATT having had tried for many years to sustain cash contributions from members collected on site in the age of increasing technology.

This period of serious decline was coincidental with strong rumours of a merger with various other unions, chief among them the TGWU, and gains being made by GMB.

Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, a strong Joint Sites Committee movement of rank and file UCATT, TGWU, GMB, AEEUW, members characterised the construction unions' work on sites in major cities, many of whom had remained crowded, unsafe, and casualised places in need of true reform.

UCATT however, emerged under the new leadership of George Brumwell, its general secretary in 1992.

George Brumwell, a strong, charismatic leader, put the lean-and-mean UCATT back to work, and by 2001, had largely affected a turn around in the union's fortunes, with a number of cost containing measures such as the closure of a number of local offices and strategic redundancies. This all but eliminated the deficits, and built a new more readily sustainable UCATT which was significantly smaller than before.

The union also found itself running a 'Safety Culture' campaign across the industry, while campaigning for a case for construction and regeneration, which became part of the strategy of the New Labour government following its election victory in 1997.

Following a rule-change in 1995, UCATT has a lay Executive Council. Its most recent general secretary is Alan Ritchie, formerly the Scottish Regional Secretary, who was forced to stand down over voting irregularities, George Guy was the Acting general secretary until the election re-run in October 2011. Steven Murphy was elected and took office in 2012.

It is affiliated to the Trades Union Congress and the Labour Party, as well as to the Building and Wood Workers' International and the EFBWW, European Federation of Building and Wood Workers.


In 2006, UCATT, T&G, and GMB, the successors to the joint unions of 1972 ran a seven-day strike on the construction of Heathrow Terminal 5 in pursuit of £1.00 on bonus, and back pay. The employer was Laing O'Rourke the successor to John Laing Ltd, one of the big employers of 1972. After the dispute was resolved the strikers received 80% of their original aims and substantial back pay.[citation needed]

As representative of the views of site workers, UCATT takes the unions' seat on the government/industry body, the Strategic Forum for Construction.

Alan Ritchie was forced to stand down as general secretary in March 2011 due to an order by the Certification Officer. The 2009 election was to be treated as 'void and of no effect' and a new election to be run by 29 July 2011. UCATT appealed the decision of the Certification Officer and lost postponing the election until later that year. Michael Dooley claimed the election was unfair because less than 50% of UCATT's 130,000 members received ballot papers.<ref

General Secretaries[edit]

1971: George Smith
1978: Les Wood
1985: Albert Williams
1992: George Brumwell
2004: Alan Ritchie
2012: Steven Murphy



  1. ^ "TULO's member unions". Unions Together. Retrieved 18 July 2013. 
  2. ^ "Return of members" (PDF). Certification Officer. December 2012. Retrieved 18 July 2013. 
  3. ^ McGuire, C., Clarke, L. and Wall, C. (2013) 'Battle on the Barbican: The Struggle for Trade Unionism in the British Building Industry, 1965–7', History Workshop Journal, No. 73
  4. ^ Rampton, James (9 January 2013). "Ricky Tomlinson's Great Night Out". The Independent (London). Retrieved 24 January 2013. 
  5. ^ Tomlinson, Ricky (22 January 2013). "Why can't we know the truth about a strike that happened 40 years ago?". The Guardian (London). Retrieved 15 July 2013. 
  6. ^ Baker, Marc (30 April 2004). "'Shrewsbury Two' Denis' death renews pardon call". icCheshireOnline. Retrieved 24 January 2013. 
  7. ^ a b Campbell, Duncan (3 April 2012). "Union pickets seek to quash 40-year-old convictions". The Guardian (London). Retrieved 24 January 2013. 
  8. ^ Hill, Joe (5 August 2006). "Des Warren Remembered in Liverpool". indymedia.org.uk. Retrieved 23 January 2013. 
  9. ^ "The Official Shrewsbury 24 Campaign". shrewsbury24campaign.org.uk. Retrieved 15 July 2013. 

External links[edit]