Lewis Lou

Lou Lewis

Lewis joined the Amalgamated Union of Building Trade Operative Workers (AUBTW) as soon as he began his bricklaying apprenticeship after leaving school in the mid-1950s. 

He became a leading figure in the rank and file builders’ movement in the 1960s and 1970s. As the convener of all building workers’ unions at the large Barbican Development site in central London, he led several `unofficial’ disputes there. The most significant of these was a lengthy strike, which emerged after tension had built up over the use of `lump’ payment sub-contractors on the site.

The dispute had its origins in a 1966 failure to agree with a contractor called Myton’s over the  rate for a bonus. This led to a successful work-to-rule in September but a new dispute arose over interference with the scaffolders’ bonus.  The following month, the matter was handled through official national procedures, which found in favour of the workers. Yet an outrageous dismissal of three steelfixers followed, causing the whole site of members of a range of building workers’ unions to walk out.

While the TGWU and AUBTW gave official supported the strike but the Amalgamated Society of Woodworkers refused to do in contentious terms, permitting the employers to lock out all workers. After 30 weeks, an agreement to restore all workers but the joint shop stewards’ committee to employment was achieved, prompting the remaining workers on strike to refuse to return unless all were enabled to. An attempt to restart work failed after a mass picket ensued, which was bolstered by support from other major building sites in central London. The government appointed a Court of Inquiry headed by Lord Cameron, which subsequently came out entirely in favour of the employers’ position.

Lewis was a founder member of the renewed Building Workers’ Charter movement, which came out of this, as well as being a leading figure in the Liaison Committee for the Defence of Trade Unions. Both bodies were influential rank and file movements that were strongly influenced by the Communist Party, of which Lewis had been long an active member. The Charter pressed for action on many issues, such as the `lump’ and the increasingly casualised nature of building worker employment.

The ASW had merged in 1970 with the Amalgamated Society of Painters and Decorators, along with the Association of Building Technicians to form the Amalgamated Society of Woodworkers and Painters. On 1st July 1971 the ASW then joined the AUBTW (Lewis’ union) to form the Amalgamated Society of Woodworkers, Painters and Builders (ASWPB). But, in December 1971, this changed its name was changed to the Union of Construction, Allied Trades and Technicians (UCATT).

The merger was backed by Lewis and the rank and file movement, as was the militant stance which the new union took towards the employers in the following year. UCATT called a national strike in support of its demand for a £30 a week basic rate of pay. Lou Lewis was one of those who ensured that the strike was particularly effective in the London region, especially by mobilising flying pickets.

During the 1970s, Lewis became a full-time official in the London region and subsequently UCATT Regional Secretary for the London South East Region. In the late 1970s and early 80s, he was a member of the Communist Party’s Executive Committee.

He eventually retired in 2003, having stepped down at the end of 2002 as the Regional Secretary.

Lou Lewis died on 11th January 2010 at the age of 71 years.

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