Strike threat wins job back

I was given a job by the Shaws group at Lindsey Oil Refinery (LOR) as a rigger nine months ago. But when I reported for work I was not allowed on site by the client Total, the owners of LOR. No reason was given. I believe it was for trade union activities.

John McEwan, blacklisted shop steward

In 2003 I was employed by Alstom Ltd on LOR. I was elected shop steward and safety rep. I raised health and safety issues concerning pipe work lagged with asbestos which was being broken into without the correct safety procedures in place, and there was a shortage of riggers. The job with Alstom was a health and safety nightmare!

Just three days later, on a Sunday afternoon, Alstom escorted me off the job. I was dismissed for apparently being absent from my work. However I had been in a meeting with the same management who were now dismissing me!

On the Monday I returned to work outside the gate and explained the situation to the men on site, who voted to walk off site until I was reinstated. I was offered a large sum of money to go which I refused, and after two day’s strike action I was finally reinstated and returned to work. It was not negotiations that won my job back, it was the men outside the gate that achieved the victory.

The issue of asbestos was rectified and more riggers were employed. It took further action to win re-imbursement. Since then, I have never been allowed on the LOR site, and they have told that to full-time union officials.

During the recent dispute at LOR, it was proposed by the workers that I should be one of the first to get one of the new jobs. I had an interview with the new firm, Blackett and Charlton. Apparently they did not like my “body language”! I knew that was the work of LOR management.

After three weeks, LOR told the full-time officer that I would never be allowed on site.

So LOR has admitted blacklisting me but I have no recourse under the employment laws because they are a client and not my employer and it is their land.

There is a danger that a legal loophole can be used against shop stewards in the future by the client.

For nine months I have been punching holes in the air fighting these people. Lawyers, full-time union officers and shop stewards have been defending me to no avail. I am a member of the national shop steward forum, I have stood for the national executive council for my union. I have been sacked on a number of sites for being a shop steward and I have been active in the union for over 30 years. Enough is enough!

So with the help of the lads, we prepared to put a picket on the gate. We named the day, Thursday 12 March. Leaflets were printed, posters prepared, I was confident I would get a response from the men. The management knew what was going to happen.

On the Wednesday night at 7.30pm the phone rang – it was the company who had interviewed me asking me to start on Thursday morning.

Half an hour later, my full-time official rang me to say I had a start. But I am still banned from the LOR site – I am in the stockyard and the fabrication shop supplying the LOR site. The compromise is a climb down. It was won by the threat of action.

And that is the only way you will beat the employers. The trade union leadership must take up the issue of blacklisting by forcing this Labour government to make it unlawful. In the meantime the union rank and file must support these blacklisted brothers by making sure they get jobs on the sites. I joined the trade union movement to fight for jobs and rights, not to preside over redundancies and the selling off of those rights.

Many thanks to the Socialist Party comrades who supported me, as well as supporting the LOR strike.