Lindsey Oil Refinery (LOR) construction workers have won a stunning victory. All the workers' demands have been met. The 647 dismissals have been withdrawn, the 51 redundancies rescinded and all employees have been guaranteed a minimum of four weeks work.
This victory has been achieved by the militancy and determination of LOR workers taking unofficial strike action and the solidarity of at least 30 other sites, including power stations and petrochemical plants. This exerted enormous pressure on the full-time trade union officials of GMB and Unite who, while repudiating the unofficial action, were then forced to give the recent strike official dispute status once the 647 were dismissed.
The role of the LOR shop stewards and the strike committee was crucial in giving a clear uncompromising leadership. The shop stewards' committee, under the suggestion of Socialist Party member Keith Gibson, was expanded into a strike committee in the second week of the dispute. By the end it included three Socialist Party members.
Daily mass meetings allowed all workers to participate in the discussion and ask questions.
The Socialist Party produced an almost daily newsletter that offered suggestions on the way forward for the strike, several of which were adopted. These newsletters were taken in their hundreds by pickets to other sites as far afield as Teesside, Ellesmere Port, South Wales and Nottinghamshire. As workers looked for ideas and showed their support for the Socialist Party, 93 copies of The Socialist were sold during the course of a fortnight.
There are many important lessons of this dispute. The anti-trade union laws were brushed aside by the determined strike action and the solidarity, including support from trade unions in Total Antwerp. This was the third time this year that engineering construction workers have taken illegal action.
This victory is not the final word. The battle is won but not the war. The employers still have their sights on breaking the national agreement (NAECI) and the trade unions. But this victory has strengthened the workers' resistance and weakened the employers.
Both Total and the sub-contractors completely underestimated the workforce. The mass sackings made it clear that the dispute was about attacking effective trade unionism and the national agreement.
Now a national ballot organised by both the unions is underway, taking up the employers' refusal to make a pay offer or give any guarantees of employment security in the review of the NAECI agreement for 2010.
Buoyed by this victory the ballot should receive a big 'yes' vote. The employers and the government will know that if they don't concede, engineering construction workers will strike until their demands are met.