Link to this page: http://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/565/6853
History of the oil refinery action
Organising real trade unionism
A ninety day redundancy notice was issued around mid November 2008 at Lindsey Oil Refinery (LOR) to the workers employed by Shaw. This meant that by 17 February 2009 a number of Shaw's construction workers would be made redundant.
Keith Gibson, GMB, personal capacity, elected onto the unofficial LOR strike committee.
The day before the Christmas holiday Shaw's shop-stewards reported to the men that a part of the contract on LOR's HDS3 plant had been awarded to IREM, an Italian company. The stewards explained that Shaw had lost a third of the job to IREM who would be employing their own core Portuguese and Italian workforce, numbering 200-300.
Stewards and union officials asked to meet with IREM as soon as possible after Christmas to clarify the proposal - would IREM employ British labour?
Shaw's workforce were told that the IREM workforce would be housed in floating barges in Grimsby docks for the duration of the job, they would be bussed to work in the morning and bussed to and from the barge for lunch.
Stewards were told that IREM workers would be paid the national rate for the job; to date this has not been confirmed. After Christmas the nominated shop stewards entered into negotiations with IREM.
Meanwhile, a national shop stewards' forum for the construction industry held a meeting in London to discuss Staythorpe power station, where the company Alstom were refusing to hire British labour, relying on non-union Polish and Spanish workers instead.
It was decided that all 'Blue Book' sites, covered by the National Agreement for the Engineering and Construction Industry (NAECI), should send delegations down to Staythorpe to protest against Alstom's actions. The workforce on the LOR site sent delegations.
Then, on Wednesday 28 January 2009, Shaw's workforce were told by the stewards that IREM had stated they would not be employing British labour. The entire LOR workforce, from all subcontracting companies, met and voted unanimously to take immediate unofficial strike action.
The following day over a thousand construction workers from LOR, Conoco and Easington sites assembled outside LOR's gate to picket and protest. This was the spark that ignited the spontaneous unofficial walkouts of our brother construction workers across the length and breadth of Britain.
This worker solidarity is against the 'conscious blacking' of British construction workers by company bosses who refuse to recruit skilled British labour in the UK. The workers of LOR, Conoco and Easington did not take strike action against immigrant workers. Our action is rightly aimed against company bosses who attempt to play off one nationality of worker against the other and undermine the NAECI agreement.
The BNP should take heed, UK construction workers will not tolerate any racist attempts to sever fraternal relations with workers from other nations.
Response from Italy
The strike is big news here in Italy. Inevitably the press and media are portraying it as an "anti-Italian strike" - a strike for "British jobs for British workers".
The anti-immigrant Lega Nord, who are in the government, are 'warning' that similar 'anti-foreigner' protests will soon break out in the north of Italy.
But Giorgio Cremaschi, a left leader of the metal workers' union Fiom attacked neo-liberal "social dumping" policies that try to foment a "war amongst the poor".
"If the Italian workers are being paid less than the British workers and their conditions are worse, this strike is a just one" he said. "We have to fight for equal conditions".
We have translated the Socialist Party strike leaflet and posted it on our website. It's also on the website of Controcorrente (a group on the left of the Prc - Party of Communist Refoundation).
Christine Thomas, Lotta, CWI Italy
In The Socialist 4 February 2009:
Socialist Party youth and students
Socialist Party campaigns
International socialist news and analysis
Marxist analysis: history