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Oil workers to strike back at pensions threat
FUEL STRIKE 'will bleed pumps dry' and 'Panic at the pumps,' were some of the sensation-seeking headlines in Scotland's newspapers on 20 April. Workers at Grangemouth oil refinery had voted to take strike action, through their union, Unite, over the bosses' decision to close down their final salary pension scheme.
Philip Stott, Dundee
The company which runs Grangemouth plant, near Falkirk, began shutting down its operations on safety grounds after 1,200 workers voted, by 97% in favour, to hold a two-day stoppage from 27 April.
INEOS, the world's third largest chemical company, took over the plant from BP in 2005. Grangemouth supplies Scotland and the north of England. The union claims the company spent the £40 million pension pot inherited from BP by buying other businesses. The company is run by James Ratcliffe, one of Europe's richest men, whose personal fortune is between £1.3 and 1.8 billion.
The firm claims that a quarter of all the money spent on employees goes towards funding the pension scheme. The existing final salary pension scheme is funded by the company. The workers make "no contributions" to it and get a pension rate at the top end of the scale.
From the employers' viewpoint, this situation cannot be allowed to remain, in the 'brave new world' of global capitalism. Workers' pensions cannot be seen to come solely from the fruits (the profit) of their labour! So INEOS now wants workers to pay 6% of their wages, phased over seven years, into the fund. That is effectively a 6% wage cut.
One oil worker's reaction to this is that the workers already invest heavily into the plant with time and effort to produce the company's wealth. It is the shareholders' job to invest in the company NOT the workers'. With profits of between £1 million and £3 million a day, there is no shortage of money to fund the pension scheme.
A production slowdown at Grangemouth refinery would soon reduce the fuel reaching suppliers, leaving Scotland with fuel shortages as the plant will take time to restart operations following the strike. INEOS claims that the strike decision will also effectively close down much North Sea oil production and some gas production as fuel supplies will dry up, affecting the whole UK.
If the media frenzy continues to whip up panic action and a run on the pumps ensues, this would bring about the self-fulfilling prophecies of the headlines.
Workers, who produce the profit for companies like INEOS, have a right to a decent pension. Grangemouth, Scotland's only refinery, should be nationalised and run for the benefit of the people and not the shareholders.
In The Socialist 23 April 2008:
Socialist Party workplace news
Socialist Party election campaign
Socialist Party news and analysis
The Socialist Interview
Socialist Party feature
Socialist Party review
International socialist news and analysis