Friday, 25 October 2013
Unite, Grangemouth and what we can learn from the last week and a bit
So the Grangemouth Oil refinery is to remain open but at what cost to the workers and the labour movement as a whole? Operator Ineos had announced on Wednesday that the plant was to shut, with the loss of 800 jobs, after union members rejected a survival plan. But the decision was reversed after the union agreed to Ineos's conditions. Ineos confirmed it would reopen the plant and the neighbouring oil refinery "with immediate effect", ending a bitter dispute with the Unite union which began over the alleged mistreatment of a Unite official. The company said the move to reopen the plant followed a "dramatic U-turn" by Unite and its "belated recognition" that the company's survival plan was the only way to ensure Grangemouth's long-term future. Jim Ratcliffe, chairman of Ineos, said there had been a "significant change in attitude" from the unions Unite Scottish secretary Pat Rafferty said: "Relief will ring right round the Grangemouth community and across Scotland today. "Hundreds of jobs that would have been lost can now be saved and £300m will be invested into the plant." The main points of the Ineos announcement included: • Ineos will reopen the petrochemical plant and oil refinery at Grangemouth immediately • An undertaking by Ineos to invest £300m at the Grangemouth site on a gas terminal to handle shale gas brought in from America • Workers agreed to a three-year pay freeze • The union agreed not to stage strikes at the plant for three years until the new gas terminal is built • Changes will be made to current staff pension arrangements • Up to 2,000 contractors who were laid off after the complex was shut will be re-hired First Minister Alex Salmond described the announcement as a "tremendous fillip for the workforce and the whole Grangemouth community, following what could have been a potential disaster". He said it had been "a great team effort from all concerned", including the unions and workforce, the management and governments. This shows to me the absolute weakness of the labour movement at this time with Britain’s biggest trade union caving in days after it said it would stand and fight is an absolute disgrace in my opinion. The 1,800 Grangemouth workers have found that neither the Unite union leaders, who they pay for, nor Labour or SNP representatives they voted for, would stand with them, if they decided to mobilise a real fight against Ineos. In an amazing display of solidarity and determination, the majority of the Unite members had voted to strike and reject the company’s blackmail. But within hours of their vote on Wednesday, the message from all sides was that there was no alternative to accepting destruction of living standards and the pensions of any future workers. A media outcry held the workers responsible for the fate of the 10,000 related jobs in the local area. So yesterday, their union leaders simply caved in. Unite general secretary Len McCluskey left earlier negotiations up to local officials but hurried up from London to capitulate in person. Within hours he had unreservedly accepted the company’s terms, “warts and all”. Shocking but true. McCluskey has breathed fire and brimstone since the ConDems coalition took power, threatening strikes, and civil disobedience, even a general strike against austerity, the public sector wage freeze and pension curbs. When it came to the crunch, he had no fight. Hot air and nothing more. I was a socialist party member up until a month or so ago and the party backed Len McCluskey in the last Unite general secretary elections I didn’t agree with backing him and couldn’t bring myself to voting for him in the end. It now turns out that I made a wise decision to note vote for either Len or Hicks. Its looking a little embarrassing now for the SP who had backroom meetings with Red Len to agree to back him now it looks a shameful stitch up from the unite leadership. No doubt Len and unite have one eye on the 2015 general election where they will be backing Ed Miliband and Labour to the hilt so any embarrassment for Red Ed must be avoided it would seem. As for the potential of an independent Scotland being better for workers it is hard to say but for as long as capitalism exists there will not be a better deal for workers in the UK or in an independent Scotland. SNP claims that a capitalist Scotland would be in some way better for Scottish workers have been exploded. Ineos, like all Scotland's key industries from oil to whisky, is not "Scottish". They are run by freebooting global capitalist transnationals with no care for local conditions, except where they impact on profits. The adjacent oil refinery, whose waste product is processed at the threatened plant, is owned by Petroineos, a refining and trading joint venture between Ineos and the Chinese government-owned PetroChina. Its other refinery is at Lavera, near Marseilles. As the recession continues and fracking throws cheaper US coal and gas on to the world market, who knows what will happen to the offshore oil refining business. There is no such thing as security for workers, whatever the status of their country's governance. The Unite members were ready to fight and their union could have organised an occupation to prevent the dismemberment of the plant, but they did not and will not. Independence will not change that. The state will always behave in the interests of the state. Holding hope that someone else can fix things for us is only going to lead to half-measures and the disappointment. It is only by building up our ability to take action together at the heart of the problem that will give us any real measure control of our lives. The way in which the unions and the politicians have behaved is not the victory for common sense that is being billed; it is a stitch-up against all of us as a class. The people on the shop floor know their business better than any union bureaucrat, better than any politician, and better than any boss. We should learn the lessons from this fight and stand in solidarity with workers at Grangemouth and beyond, lending them support where we can and taking their lead on how to fight this struggle and to hell with anyone that stands in their way.