Lindsey: Total victory for the workers

June 27, 2009 at 4:37 pm (class, Jim D, Socialist Party, unions, workers)

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We’re always happy to pass on good news from reliable sources. This comes from the Socialist Party, who we at Shiraz don’t always agree with, but on basic working class struggle we have no problem with them. Our own Jack Haslam will, no doubt, soon add his own comments on this great victory.
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Lindsey workers: Militant action pays!

 Lindsey Oil Refinery construction workers have won a stunning victory. All the workers’ demands have been met. The 647 dismissals have been withdrawn, the 51 redundancies rescinded and all employees have been guaranteed a minimum of four week’s work – what they would have got if Blackett and Charlton had taken them on – ie as much work as is probably available.

 Alistair Tice

 This victory has been achieved by the militancy and determination of LOR workers taking unofficial strike action and solidarity of at least 30 other sites, including power stations and petrochemical plants. This exerted enormous pressure on the full-time officials of GMB and Unite who, while repudiating the unofficial action, were then forced to give the recent strike official dispute status once the 647 were dismissed.

Lindsey Oil Refinery solidarity strikes: Keith Gibson addresses the workers, photo by Jim Reeves

Lindsey Oil Refinery solidarity strikes: Keith Gibson addresses the workers, photo by Jim Reeves

The role of the LOR shop stewards and the strike committee was crucial in giving a clear uncompromising leadership. The shop stewards committee, under the suggestion of Socialist Party member Keith Gibson, was expanded into a strike committee in the second week of the dispute. By the end it included three Socialist Party members.
The Socialist Party produced an almost daily newsletter that offered suggestions on the way forward for the strike, several of which were adopted. These newsletters were taken in their hundreds by pickets to other sites as far afield as Teesside, Elsmere port, South Wales and Nottinghamshire. As workers looked for ideas and showed their support for the Socialist Party 93 copies of The Socialist were sold during the course of fortnight.
There are many important lessons of this dispute. The anti-trade union laws were brushed aside by the determined strike action and the solidarity. This was the third time this year that engineering construction workers have taken illegal action.
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Important lessons.It is important to highlight that the unofficial action was clearly solid and strong and that was the basis for the official backing which was then a source of confidence for the workers.

Another important lesson is about the role of the shop stewards and strike committee and the role of the daily mass meetings where all workers were able to participate in the discussion and ask questions.

 . Had the strike in January had official union backing from the start trade union banners and flags would have pushed the BJ4BW slogans into the background. This highlights the need for fighting trade unions with the election of full-time officials on skilled worker’s wages.

Some on the left did not support the strike in January and February because of those BJ4BW placards. But the winter strike was primarily about defending trade union rights against the bosses attempting to divide the workers along lines of nationality by importing cheap labour to undermine the national agreement with a ‘race to the bottom’.
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Confidence

The victory in February and again in May, when 16 sites took solidarity action in support of South Hook in Wales, gave LOR workers confidence to carry through this action over the last two and a half weeks.

In January socialists on the strike committee countered the BJ4BW slogans with class unity demands and this latest dispute appealed for and won support from trade unions in Total in Antwerp.

However this victory is not the final word. The battle is won but not the war. The employers still have their sights on breaking the national agreement and the trade unions. But this victory has strengthened the workers resistance. The employers, both Total and the sub-contractors, completely underestimated the workforce. The mass sackings made it clear that the dispute was about effective trade unionism and the national agreement.

The employers have completely capitulated. They still want to break the national agreement but they have been weakened.

Now a national ballot organised by both the unions is underway taking up the employers’ refusal to make a pay offer or give any guarantees of employment security in the review of the NAECI agreement for 2010.

Buoyed by this victory the ballot should receive a big yes vote. The employers and the government will know that if they don’t concede engineering construction workers will strike until their demands are met.

9 Comments

  1. jackhaslam said,

    Hi Jim,
    I think the analysis by the Socialist Party comrades speaks for itself.

    I would just like to add a few points.

    The upcoming dispute is going to be nasty. You don’t need a crystal ball to predict that the employers will try to challenge the validity of the ballot in the courts as it is very difficult to organise a ballot of such a transient workforce in compliance with th legal requirements.

    The employers will also accuse the unions of racism, they are already claiming that unions demands for control over recruitment are inherently racist and contravene race equality legislation.

    The dispute needs to take on a political dimension in the form of a campaign to amend the way posted workers directive is applied to ensure compliance with collective agreements rather than legal minimums. This requires a fight within the Labour Party to win a committment to legislation to that effect.

    Yet another reason for socialists to turn back to work in Labour.

  2. voltairespriest said,

    The problem being, Jack, that there is no real means by which to force support for that legislation through the party and make it stick, and even if the mechanism were there, the left doesn’t have the muscle to make it happen even if we all trooped out en masse and bought party cards.

  3. jackhaslam said,

    Of course there are means for forcing a change of legislation on the Labour government . If the trade unions actually organise to fight for it, they could do it . There are certainly plans afoot to get exactly that kind of campaign going through UNITE’s political structures. One aspect is to get union activists active in local labour structures again and another being winning support from MPs for a private members Bill.

    If UNITE or GMB asked for support for such an initiative from local labour activists would you take out a card and help?

    The left as you define it is a pretty weak force, the trade unions however still have immense weight to put on the political scales. ,

  4. Matt said,

    Jack, because of the structural changes in the Labour Party the trade unions can’t even ensure that becomes party policy let alone legislation supported by the Government. ‘If UNITE or GMB asked for support for such an initiative from local labour activists would you take out a card and help?’ is a weaselly question: even if you support the objective, you might (I would) regard it as a dead end to join your local Labour Party to further it. With some qualifications, you could also make the same demand on US socialists in relation to the Democratic Party.

  5. voltairespriest said,

    If UNITE or GMB asked for support for such an initiative from local labour activists would you take out a card and help?

    Possibly. I’d need some convincing that they were serious about it though. For instance UNITE is controlled at a national level by its broad left, and prior to that the TGWU had a strong BL controlled executive (AMICUS less so). No such initiative turned up in those years, and more or less the same people control the United Left’s political structures now.

    As we both know, some of those people are great, others aren’t. The problem is getting them to agree any kind of grass-roots based political strategy at all: you’ll remember the anecdote about the UL’s founding meeting, when support for the People’s Charter was passed on the basis of a verbal recommendation from John McDonnell: a) without anyone having seen it, and b) when apparently there was more than one version of it in circulation in any case! It’s hardly a great precedent.

    But all that having been said, yes of course I’d look at such a strategy coming from a major national union, particularly the one (UNITE) of which I’m a member.

  6. jackhaslam said,

    Matt,
    It simply isn’t true that because of the structural changes the trade unions can’t do anything to ensure it becomes Labour party policy. The trade unions can put it forward as a proposal to the Policy forum, they can, if defeated put it as a minority PF position to the conference. CLPs can still propose that the posted workers directive be a priority issue for discussion at conference.

    Better still would be for the TUs to combine the approach above with campaigning to restore and extend the democratic rights of conference, CLPs and affiliates.

    If you think the structural changes are so important why didn’t you, or other AWL people, do anything to contribute to the recent consultation on the Bournemouth rule changes?

  7. voltairespriest said,

    Jack – I can hazard a guess as to who some of the individuals pushing for such a campaign in UNITE are. We’re talking about a small group of excellent labour movement activists, mainly late middle-aged, who have essentially argued the same “join Labour and fight” line since well before I and my fellow thirty-somethings (let alone younger people) even heard of the word “politics”.

    If that line didn’t work in the 1970s, why will it work now? Most TU LP activists talk left anf function right. The LP itself, even you must surely agree, has less democratic avenues than ever – and those which used to be open to us did us no good.

    Outside of the realms of abstract theory, tired cliches about the dialectical struggle in the unions, and people’s desire to remain in the LP because their friends are in it, why does this work?

  8. jackhaslam said,

    Voltie,

    Why bother? Er because there is no alternative to fighting to remake the existing working class movement.

    What was that saying ? ‘try try and try again?’. Or as an old Trotskyist document about the labour Party once put it; ‘tenacity! tenacity! tenacity!’.

    There is nothing wrong with repeating the truth.
    And the simple fact is that nine tenths of a revolution in Britain is the struggle to revolutionise the existing labour movement.

    Dull, boring and a long haul, yes. But absolutely necessary.

  9. jackhaslam said,

    One more point.

    What all this defeatist twaddle about how difficult it is to use the structures of the labour party amounts to is an abandonment of the struggle for reforms.

    How else are you going to get reforms brought in by the government other than through combining industrial action and political organising?

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