Rob Williams, NSSN chair
Unite oil tanker drivers have brought the country to a virtual standstill, not by striking but because the Tories’ scaremongering backfired!
Con-Dem minsters and particularly Francis Maude set out to undermine the strike with talk of them using the military and even recruiting a scab army of drivers.
He then followed this up by imploring drivers to “top-up their tanks” and even fill jerry cans. This only whipped up hysteria with long queues outside garages, causing them to run out of petrol. Also, horrifically, a mother from Yorkshire suffered 40% burns when following Maude’s advice by attempting to fill up a jerry can.
2,000 tanker drivers in five different companies who deliver to the likes of Tesco, Sainsbury’s, BP, Shell and Esso voted to strike by average majorities of 69% in average turnouts of over 77%.
The ballot was called to fight longstanding attacks on drivers’ conditions, including undermining of health and safety and the use of agency workers to undercut wages by as much as £6 an hour. Also, the constant change of ownerships means that there is a constant fight to protect pensions, which are not covered by TUPE transfer legislation.
The chaos this week shows the huge potential power of these workers. Despite their bravado, the government has been forced to convene talks through the arbitration organisation, Acas, with the possibility of serious negotiations by the time we go to press. For tactical reasons, Unite ruled out strikes over Easter but they must not be lulled into a false sense of security.
The Tories’ real intentions were revealed in a Daily Telegraph article in a column by leading Conservative commentator Charles Moore, who wrote: “I have heard the Conservatives’ private explanation. This is our Thatcher moment. In order to defeat the miners she stockpiled coal….if the strike comes, we will weather it and Labour…will be blamed.” Shamefully but not unexpectedly, Milliband opposes any strike.
Thatcher could have been defeated and Cameron & Co are far weaker than she was. If this week’s talks go nowhere, Unite has to give notice of the start of the strike.
The whole resources of Unite and the union movement in general should be put at the oil tanker drivers’ disposal to ensure that they are able to take the extended action that will be necessary to defeat the employers in the same way that the construction electricians, plumbers and pipe fitters smashed the Besna in February.