Grangemouth: a fight we can’t afford to lose

Philip Stott, Socialist Party Scotland (CWI)

Outrageously Grangemouth oil refinery and petrochemical plant workers have been told to sign up to a draconian package of cuts to their terms and conditions, or the company, Ineos, will refuse to restart the plant.

These include a wage freeze, no bonuses until the end of 2016 and the tearing up of the final salary pension scheme.

Hundreds of union members took part in a Unite rally on 20 October, showing the determination of workers not to accept the bullying tactics of Ineos and its billionaire owner Jim Ratcliffe.

They had support from other construction workers, public sector workers and local people.

It is vital that, while supporting the call for genuine negotiations, Unite stands firm. There should be no concessions to the company’s slash and burn agenda on pay and conditions and the idea of an open-ended no-strike agreement must be rejected.

Many workers were angry that Scottish National Party (SNP) First Minister Alex Salmond has called on the union to agree to a “no strike policy, without strings”.

Ineos also wants to attack union rights at the site – getting rid of full-time union representation. The threat to remove shop steward Steven Deans is still not resolved. Workers voted by 81% in favour of strike action over his victimisation.

Stevie, a Unite member, works as a fitter. He told the Socialist: “Ineos are trying to drive the union out.

“They are threatening to move union people to different parts of the site, in an effort to split up and isolate them.”

Calum has just finished a four year apprenticeship at Grangemouth: “We don’t have any choice, we have to fight this blackmail or there’ll be nothing left.”

“The union has been encouraging workers to hand their blue forms (new contracts) unsigned, back to the union office, not the management.

“Hundreds of us have done that,” said Derek who has been working for nine years at Grangemouth.

Ineos has been indulging in a black propaganda exercise that says the company is losing money, hand over fist.

They are demanding public money from the Scottish and UK governments. Yet as Unite’s Scottish regional secretary Pat Rafferty correctly pointed out at the rally: “Sales have increased by more than 50% in the last year, gross profits are up by 20% and their operating profit is up by a whopping 56%. Ineos made profits of £2 billion last year alone.”

Ineos is registered in Switzerland, avoiding paying corporation tax in the UK and buries money in tax havens across the world.

The Socialist Party Scotland leaflet demanded that Ineos’ books be opened up to trade union inspection.

Unite assistant general secretary, Tony Burke, brought support from Unite members across the UK and from trade unions internationally, including Norway, USA, Sweden, Finland, Belgium, France and Italy.

Ratcliffe said that unless workers accept the draconian attacks on their terms and conditions the plant will not re-open.

They have also threatened to sack the 1,400 workers within 45 days and re-hire workers on worse contracts.

This is a fight that the Unite members at Grangemouth and the entire trade union movement cannot afford to lose.

If the plant is not restarted it will be clear that this is a lockout by the company of its workforce.

There will be an urgent need to discuss the occupation of part of the Grangemouth site, mass demonstrations and protests.

The Scottish Trade Union Congress (STUC) should ensure the organisation of a national demonstration in the next week or two demanding the plant re-open, with no cuts to the pay and pensions of the workers.

An urgent shop stewards’ conference of private and public sector trade unions should be convened to organise and plan a solidarity campaign.

A key demand will be for the nationalisation of Grangemouth by the Scottish and UK governments, to take the plant out of the hands of the profiteering Ineos and ensure that Grangemouth and the jobs and terms and conditions of the workers are protected and invested in.

In his speech STUC general secretary, Grahame Smith compared the actions taken to nationalise RBS and other banks and raised the need for similar action if Ineos management did not back down. This shows that the issue of public ownership is being discussed.

Nationalisation should be carried out democratically. The plant should be run under workers’ control, by representatives of the workforce, the wider trade union movement and the Scottish government, but with a majority worker involvement.

Unless Ineos bosses back down, this dispute could explode into a struggle like the UCS struggle in the 1970s.

The organised strength of the entire labour and trade union movement needs to be mobilised to ensure the union-busting, profiteering tactics of Ineos and its billionaire majority owner are defeated.

As we go to press we know that half the permanent workforce has rejected the new contracts.