Billionaire booed by striking workers

In the blue corner (naturally) it’s number 25 in the Sunday Times Rich List, Jim Ratcliffe, billionaire boss of Ineos. He’s one of the select few, the super-rich, who aren’t struggling to get by – no worries about paying the mortgage or the utility bills, no sleepless nights over outstanding debts or the possibility of being made redundant.

In the red corner (naturally!) it’s the workers at Grangemouth oil refinery, who have returned to work after a two day strike. Ordinary hard-working men and women, fighting to ensure they get what they’ve worked for and that their kids don’t face worse terms and conditions when they grow up and find work.

Gee, which side are you on? (If you say Ratcliffe I’ll assume he’s your daddy, so to speak.)

So, they didn’t face each other directly, but a sheepish Ratcliffe was booed and jeered at by striking workers as he left a meeting with management. For some reason he didn’t want to meet the men and women who were striking at his refinery…

This dispute is a direct result of the credit crunch, and is not limited to Scotland – see for example the case of Butler and Tanner.

Private equity pirates like Jim Ratcliffe and Mike Dolan are under pressure to sweat the assets – screw the workers – and if it wasn’t for the fact that the enterprise in question is an oil refinery, there’s a good chance Ratcliffe would have followed Dolan’s lead and shut up shop rather than see the strike go ahead.

Socialist Appeal’s website carries this report from Sunday’s walkout:

Grangemouth: Workers Justified and Determined to Win.
By Gray Allan, Falkirk Council Unison Branch Secretary & Falkirk West Labour Party (both in a personal   
Monday, 28 April 2008
Sunday 27th April 2008: a red and white Unite flag hung out of a window of the union office. More banners and placards were held by the pickets, their bright orange overalls clashing with yellow fluorescent vests as they gathered for their rally.

Mark Lyon (Unite Convenor) welcomed around 200 striking members, some with babes in arms, saying it was the families that had to bear the brunt of the action. Mark also thanked friends attending and looked for further support. Mark said “union members have never seen the likes of this action at Grangemouth. Since Jim Ratcliffe (on behalf of Ineos) took over, there have been planned closures, including of the Research  facility.”  There had been “fraught negotiations with BP,” the previous owners, but now there was the “disgraceful scene” of  being forced out on strike. Mark “applauded the lengths taken by our members to safeguard their pensions and retirement benefits. The pension scheme is in surplus, with little liability”.  grangemouth2.jpg “The good people of Scotland would be devastated by the effects of the strike, but the blame lies fairly and squarely on owners Ineos and “could be afforded by this immensely profitable business. This is a stand against all employers up and down the country. Every worker is entitled to a dignified and secure retirement, a secure home and a little bit of luxury in their old age.” ”What is the truth a of the earnings of £60,000 a year? A shift worker on basic pay plus anti-social hours payments and working 500 hours overtime a year might manage to get  thousands of pounds.”  The £60,000 claim “is a smear campaign against our members, an absolute and utter disgrace. What are the retirement plans of Jim Ratcliffe?”

Strikers were aware that the billionaire owner of Ineos had been named that morning in the ‘Sunday Times Rich List’. “Our members insisted on keeping full safety cover so production could restart Quickly, and to  reduce the inconvenience to the public. No payment would be given for this work, but I call on Ineos to put that money towards our pension scheme.” “Not one pensioner, hospital or emergency service would be without fuel” as members would make sure of supplies  “A cargo to the Highlands and Islands had been loaded that morning in the docks. The honest, hardworking and thoroughly decent members had been forced to make this stand.There was no way they would give in. Not now, not ever.” Linlithgow and Falkirk East Labour MP Michael Connarty knew the workers are “responsible and level headed” . From his students days as a cleaner in the plant to the many meetings with them over his sixteen years as a local MP. “Restructuring had reduced the workforce from 3,500 to1,500 permanent employees now. The company are telling lies on the pension,” Michael said and explained “the Scottish Affairs Select Committee had asked about the takeover by Ineos”. At the time Jim Ratcliffe had asked to meet him. This took place in the plush Pugin Room  of  the House of Commons. He had been told how Ineos   “were great employees  and the company was safe in his hands”. Where are you hiding now Jim?” Michael called. “Why not come and see me now?”

“What is this all about? What is the other agenda?” to the workers Michael said, “the pension is your share in the wealth you create and  your product brings in revenue for the Government.” To cheers Michael finished saying the workers must not lose.” Somebody had to have the guts to take on these companies, not allow them to get away with it. Back off Jim, let them have the pension. Cathie Peattie, Falkirk East Member of the Scottish Parliament, had been brought up in Grangemouth and the trade union movement. She was “appalled at the treatment “of the workers and had “asked Alec Salmond  (Nationalist First Minister of the Scottish Government) to come out in support of them.” “Jim Ratcliffe is holding the country to ransom, but we will win.” Pat Rafferty, Senior Industrial relations Officer for the T&GWU (Unite) congratulated the “brilliant campaign of the Shop Stewards” and condemned the company’s attacks on individuals, who he was proud to be working with.

The employers were welcome to invest and the Union would work with them for secure employment, but “attack our member’s terms and conditions and there would be a bitter battle to defend them, and we will win it !” Senior Convenor Steven Deans expresses thanks “for this heartening visible show of support. 800 workers had told Jim Ratcliffe to get your hands out of our pockets, and off our family’s future. He has £3.3billion in a bank for himself, yet wants to steal money for himself off working people” “We are all in this together, whether you work on the tools or in offices. We do not want to be on strike and for the good people of Scotland, we are restricting he action which also affects us and our families. This action was a last resort and taken with a heavy heart. ”We will meet day or night for discussion with Ineos. Yes, we would be delighted to make it a better place to work for both union members and the company, but don’t touch our pension. There was a sham consultation lasting over eight months and no significant proposals presented at  during the conciliation meetings at ACAS.”

“Ineos has hit out at our members, that’s the truth, but we’ll sit down with them at any time. We will also, continue safety work and fuel would go to those who need it in all life critical situations. We will win!”

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