By Angela Haggerty
Unite leader Len McCluskey has branded Prime Minister David Cameron “nothing short of disgraceful” after the Conservative leader described a former worker at the Grangemouth petrochemical plant as a “rogue” union official.
Stevie Deans, a Unite union official who had worked at the Ineos plant for 25 years, resigned from his position on Monday, claiming that he had been treated as the “enemy within” following a workplace dispute.
Speaking in the Commons on Wednesday, Mr Cameron dismissed Mr Deans as a “rogue” official who nearly brought the industry “to its knees”.
But Unite leader Mr McCluskey hit back at the Prime Minister’s comments and said that Mr Deans had stepped aside because he wanted to avoid impeding any deal that could halt the crisis at the plant.
Speaking on BBC Radio Scotland the Unite chief said: “This is a decent, genuine man, a gentle man, who for 25 years has worked loyally for his company and for the Prime Minister to use that individual for attack is nothing short of disgraceful and he should apologise,”
Mr Deans was under investigation by Ineos for allegedly using company time to organise political activities before he resigned. He was recently accused of trying to rig the selection of a Labour party candidate selection in the Falkirk constituency by flooding the area with new members signed up from the plant. However, he was cleared of wrongdoing by the Labour party after an investigation.
But the investigation by Ineos continued, prompting a dispute that partly led to a strike threat from Unite. Ineos responded by shutting down the petrochemical plant last week and announcing plans to axe 800 jobs. However, a deal between the company and staff on pay, pensions and conditions prevented the closure.
“He [Mr Deans] effectively said he wasn’t prepared to subject himself any further, he wanted to retain his dignity,” Mr McCluskey continued. “He didn’t want his personal position to stand in the way of an agreement that needed to be reached in order to keep the petrochemical plant open.”
But Mr Cameron voiced calls for an inquiry into the events at Grangemouth and accused the Labour party of being weak. Despite placing blame at the feet of Mr Deans, other politicians have spoken out on the former Ineos worker’s behalf. Labour MP Michael Connarty said on Monday that he believed Mr Deans had been the “subject of victimisation”.
Mr McCluskey added that the handling of the situation from government’s north and south of the border were notably different.
“Let me say this – what stark contract between the actions of the UK Prime Minister and the First Minister in Scotland, Alex Salmond, who has been understanding and supportive,” he said. “No wonder the people of Scotland kicked the Tories out of your nation; I only hope the people elsewhere in Britain will do the same in 2015.”
The union leader also hit out at the alleged hypocrisy of the Ineos investigation into how Mr Deans spent his working time.
“If you’re trying to suggest that individuals don’t engage in political activity on behalf of the union, using company equipment to do so, it’s unrealistic,” he said. “Ineos and other companies have encouraged that in the past because they wanted to have a lobbying leverage inside the political arena.”