Militant action pays!
Lindsey Oil Refinery (LOR) construction workers, who have been on strike for a fortnight, have won a stunning victory. All the workers’ demands have been met. The bosses’ 647 dismissals have been withdrawn, the 51 redundancies rescinded and all employees have been guaranteed a minimum of four week’s work – what they would have got if Blackett and Charlton had taken them on – i.e. as much work as is probably available.
This victory has been achieved by the militancy and determination of LOR workers taking unofficial strike action and by the solidarity action of at least 30 other sites, including power stations and petrochemical plants. This exerted enormous pressure on the full-time officials of the GMB and Unite union, who while repudiating the unofficial action, were then forced to give the strike official dispute status once the 647 were dismissed.
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 the fortnight.
Anti-union laws brushed aside
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.
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.
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.
Had the strike in January had official union backing from the start, trade union banners and flags would have pushed the ‘BJ4BW’ (‘British Jobs for British Workers’) 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 the 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’.
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 but still want to break the national agreement. However, they have been weakened.
Now a national ballot organised by both the unions is underway regarding 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 latest victory, the ballot should receive a big ‘yes’ vote. The employers and the government will know that if they do not concede, engineering construction workers will strike until their demands are met.