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From The Socialist newspaper, 27 April 2011

Saltend lockout: Struggle continues

On Wednesday 20 April, the Redhall construction workers, locked out from BP Saltend, near Hull for the last six weeks, met to decide whether to accept a 1 million financial compensation package from BP/Vivergo.

This offer was the result of four days of talks between the trade unions and Vivergo and Akers, the employers on the bio-ethanol project who cancelled Redhall's contract leading to 400 workers being locked out.

At Wednesday's mass meeting of the locked-out workers, Vivergo's offer of cash was rejected and it was agreed to restart the protest on Thursday morning.

If the deal had been agreed, the two unions GMB and Unite would have signed a collective bargaining agreement preventing any worker from taking further action either legally at a tribunal or taking part in protesting outside the BP/Vivergo site, or anywhere else for that matter.

Workers are adamant that this dispute is about defending the NAECI construction workers' national agreement, fighting to get back their jobs and implementing their TUPE [transfer of employment] rights. Agreeing the deal would have meant that whoever took on the Redhall contract would have been able to cherry pick employees, intimidating these workers further via the selection process in the hope of creating a weakened, subservient workforce.

The hard-won demand of 'first in, last out' on redundancies, secured some weeks ago through strike action, would have been jettisoned.

The mood at the mass meeting was really positive and determination to escalate the dispute resounded around the room. The GMB officer argued against the deal but shamefully Unite advised the men to sign up.

The men rebuked the Unite officer and ordered him to approach the electricians and scaffolders, other workers on the site. He was told to ask these workers to re-join the protest outside the site as had originally been agreed if talks with the employers came to nothing.

The meeting also agreed that the national NAECI stewards' committee, that was unilaterally cancelled by Unite, be convened to discuss how to win this dispute.

Socialist Party and lock-out committee member Keith Gibson had argued against ending the protests and the supportive strike action.

However, urged to by the Unite full-time official, a majority of the workers had at that stage agreed to stop the protests under the guise of trying to prove that the locked out workers were not disruptive and that a chance should be given for negotiations to proceed with the employers; and with the promise of an imminent national shop stewards' meeting.

There was concern at the threats of dismissal being made to the repair and maintenance workers who had taken solidarity action.

Vivergo (40% owned by BP) has always maintained that the locked-out workers are not its responsibility. But five weeks of militant protests and solidarity action forced the bosses to come up with their offer of 1 million to get the workers off the gates.

If the deal had been accepted, it would have set a very dangerous precedent in the industry, undermining the NAECI national agreement and TUPE rights.

Unite official Bernard McAulay has pursued a strategy of de-escalating the action and getting the workers to sell their jobs. Many Unite members are also asking where their general secretary, Len McCluskey, has been and how he can allow McAulay to try to sell them down the river.

Despite the trade union bureaucracy running scared of the anti-union laws, workers have conducted 'illegal' secondary picketing and unofficial walkouts. This will now resume.

Following Wednesday's rejection of the offer, an urgent campaign of explanatory leafleting and meetings at other NAECI sites is now needed to win support for solidarity action across the industry.

This can force the employers to back down and guarantee jobs for all the locked-out workers.

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In The Socialist 27 April 2011:

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Fight the cuts - strike, demonstrate, stand against cuts

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May Day Greetings

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Socialist Party news and analysis

No Health Cuts, No Privatisation

NHS cuts Leeds: Save Yorkshire's children's heart surgery unit

Stop the Connaught closure

Teachers' conference calls for strike ballot to defend pensions

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News in brief

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Striking for jobs

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National Shop Stewards Network 2011 Conference

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Workplace news in brief

International socialist news and analysis

Syria: Assad's regime uses brutal terror to suppress opposition

Socialist history

Manningham Mills 1890-1891: A strike that changed Britain's unions

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Opposing the BNP

Swansea says: make the fat cats pay!


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