Why the SSP will support the Grangemouth workers

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By Colin Fox
 
Scottish Socialist Party members will join today’s mass protest called by workers at the Grangemouth oil refinery. 

The workers are angry after a turbulent few weeks when first their union convenor was threatened with dismissal and then they were all presented with an ultimatum to accept an enormous cut in their wages and pension rights or see the plant closed with the loss of thousands of highly skilled jobs.

By Colin Fox
 
Scottish Socialist Party members will join today’s mass protest called by workers at the Grangemouth oil refinery. 

The workers are angry after a turbulent few weeks when first their union convenor was threatened with dismissal and then they were all presented with an ultimatum to accept an enormous cut in their wages and pension rights or see the plant closed with the loss of thousands of highly skilled jobs.

To outsiders this dispute seemed a curious one.  It appeared Ineos management were intent on sacking the Unite union convenor Stevie Deans over his role in a Labour Party selection process over in nearby Falkirk.  Most observers were surprised Ineos felt it was any of their business what Mr Deans did outside his workplace. 

But it is now clear Ineos are not just any old company.  Indeed Alf Young writing in the Scotsman [‘Slow burn fuels critical shutdown’] makes the point “Ineos has a long-standing reputation for ruthlessness”.

And this is an apt depiction of their industrial relations attitude.  Their attempt to sack Stevie Deans is indicative of this ‘ruthlessness’.  But the attack on the union convenor was clearly now a prelude to a wider attack on the pay and conditions of all workers at Grangemouth.

Negotiations between the union and Ineos management, deadlocked in recent weeks, eventually broke down and the union called a 48 hour strike in defence of Mr Deans. That strike, which was due to start this weekend, was eventually called off after the company argued it would jeopardise the future of the plant and a £400 million investment programme it was planning.

But Ineos management provocatively refused to restart the Grangemouth facility when the strike was called off until it gained assurances there would be no further strikes.  Wisely or not Unite promised no strikes this year but that failed to appease Ineos management who then insisted on massive cuts in wages and pension entitlements for existing and future staff across the refinery.  They also insisted these new contracts must be agreed by all staff at the facility by Tuesday.

It remains to see whether Ineos is intent on closing the Grangemouth facility or not.  They insist excess capacity for refining petrol across Europe means they currently lose $1.70 on every barrel of oil they process there.

Many observers believe the company are bluffing and their strategy is part of a more sinister plan to wring significant concessions out of the workforce and win greater financial  aid from the Government before they invest in their highly lucrative petro-chemicals side of the facility.

It goes without saying the closure of the Grangemouth oil refinery would have a very damaging impact on the Scottish economy.  It supplies 70% of Scotland’s petrol and manufactures huge petro-chemical exports.

The reverberations of this dispute will undoubtedly raise many important questions about the kind of industrial relations Scotland wishes to see after Independence.  The Scottish Socialist Party for our part are adamant that repealing the worst anti-union laws in Western  Europe is a must following 2014’s Yes vote.

Colin Fox is joint spokesman for the Scottish Socialist Party