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Posted on 19 June 2012 at 17:07 GMT

Packed Coryton refinery meeting backs action to win

Dave Murray

It was standing room only at the National Shop Stewards Network (NSSN) public meeting in support of Coryton oil refinery workers on Monday 18 June.

A series of fighting speeches from the platform electrified the meeting and led to a serious discussion on how to deliver effective industrial action at Coryton and campaign for solidarity action from workers across the fuel refining and distribution industry.

The authority and experience of speaker after speaker gave a real sense of the power of the working class.

The platform included Kevin Parslow from the NSSN, Rob Fitch, deputy convenor from the Basildon Visteon occupation, Steve Hedley from the RMT, Russ Ball, Unite regional officer, Linda McCulloch, Unite's national officer for the chemicals sector, Ray Morrell from Right to Work and Labour councillor Byron Taylor.

With the exception of the Labour Party spokesman, the message from the platform was clear: the Coryton refinery can be saved if the workers take industrial action, and if that action is spread across the industry.

In his contribution, Steve Hedley took a little time to contrast the attitude of today's Labour politicians on cuts and support for workers in struggle with figures from past struggles, from Poplar in the 1920s to Liverpool in the 1980s.

He suggested that, like prayer, seeking support from the Labour party could do no harm if not relied upon, and that the Coryton workers could rely first and foremost on their own industrial action and the solidarity of their brothers and sisters in the organised working class.

The discussion from the floor started with Steve Gillan, general secretary of the Prison Officers Association, who explained soberly and from direct experience how it is possible for a union to take effective action to defend workers, no matter what the law says.

Other notable contributions were made by a construction electrician who explained how the sparks achieved their recent victory, and a Coryton worker who made a call for the occupation of the plant as the next step in the campaign.

There was a brief interlude when it was pointed out that there were two or three BNP members in the meeting.

From the chair I proposed a vote that we ask them to leave. The vote was carried overwhelmingly and the BNP left, not without complaints and threats.

Summing up, Linda and Russ from Unite made the call for all possible support at a lobby of the Department of Energy and Climate Change at 4pm on Tuesday 19th.

For obvious reasons they could not go into specific plans for industrial action at a public meeting. However, the Coryton workers clearly have the full backing of their union at this point.

Socialist Party members and NSSN supporters who are in, or who have contact with the refinery and fuel distribution industries will be raising the issue of solidarity with the Coryton workers as a matter of urgency.

Events are unfolding very quickly and it is possible that within days Coryton workers will be taking action and approaching their brothers and sisters at other refineries and at fuel distribution depots. We must be prepared to stand with them.


Background info

Coryton is a major oil refinery on the Thames estuary in Essex. It refines about 20% of the region's fuel, and is a major supplier of aviation fuel for the south of England.

The plant's parent company went into receivership in January and has been in the hands of Price Waterhouse Cooper (PWC) ever since.

Just over a week ago it came out that PWC was intending to sell the refinery to a front operation for the Shell Oil company, whose plan is to dismantle the refinery and set up a terminal for the import and storage of refined fuel on the site. This would mean the end of about a thousand employees' and contractors' jobs.

This version of this article was first posted on the Socialist Party website on 19 June 2012 and may vary slightly from the version subsequently printed in The Socialist.

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