When fifty of their colleagues were sacked last week, hundreds of Lindsay Oil Refinery workers walked out in sympathy.
Transnational energy giant Total responded to their display of solidarity by refusing to recognise their grievance – and then by sacking all of them.
Up and down the land, construction workers in the energy industry have taken unofficial action.
As the Morning Star says in its editorial:
The Lindsey workers and tens of thousands of construction workers on similar big sites have been quietly working away for subcontractors for years and have only in the last year started to run out of patience with bosses who will duck and dive, lay them off, switch subcontractors, go abroad for cheaper contractors who are prepared to import temporary staff, in short, do anything to cut their costs at the expense of the employees.
The reports of the solidarity strikes demonstrate how working people can stand up for their rights against the might of big business and the anti-union laws:
Nine hundred contract workers walked out in sympathy at Sellafield and over 1,000 at the Ensus biofuel site in Wilton, Teesside. Five hundred downed tools at the massive Drax power station in North Yorkshire, while hundreds of others ignored their bosses’ insistence that sympathy action was “illegal” to strike at Aberthaw power station in south Wales and South Hook gas terminal in west Wales.
Lindsey pickets marched down the road to the giant ConocoPhillips oil refinery on Humberside, where hundreds of fellow contractors held a hasty meeting in which they agreed to join the Lindsey contingent in blockading the site.
There were reports that engineering construction workers on sites owned by BP at Saltend, near Hull, and BOC at Scunthorpe had also walked out in solidarity with their colleagues at the Total refinery in Lincolnshire.
GMB union rep and construction worker Keith Gibson emphasised that most of the strikes had begun after mass meetings voted to defy the law – and bosses’ attempts to undermine the industry agreement on wages and conditions.
“This is probably the most important dispute the construction industry has seen for 30 years to defend the agreement and we will not tolerate any victimisation of any of the workers who have taken action,” he warned.
Sellafield Unite rep Gary Stockton said that welders, electricians and pipe-fitters on a construction site at the nuclear power station had held a mass meeting and voted for a 48-hour strike in solidarity with the workers at Lindsey.
“We are in the campaign together, we work together,” he pointed out, while at Lindsey, Unite rep Kenny Ward revealed that the refinery’s shop stewards’ committee had received news of similar walkouts at 19 different sites across Britain that involved at least 13,000 workers.
Mr Ward criticised Total bosses for refusing to talk to the unions, declaring: “Would Total do the same thing in France? Absolutely not, because there wouldn’t be a tanker on its four wheels.
“They’d all be turned over on their sides, blockading every road to this refinery, because the French wouldn’t put up with it,” he stressed.
As the strikes escalated, Unite national officer Tom Hardacre called for a “positive response” from Total to the unions’ call to get back into talks.
He called the Lindsey sackings “one the most aggressive acts I’ve witnessed as a trade union official.
“We were attempting to get a resolution to this unofficial dispute and, although Total have allowed it to escalate without any strategy to resolve the problem, Unite is available to join the employers at the table,” he stated.
But one of the Lindsey strikers, GMB rep Phil Whitehurst, insisted that, should Total bosses insist on tearing up national agreements, the workers would remain resolute. “We came out together, we go back together.”
Truly this is a heroic struggle – in the worst economic conditions for decades, workers are sticking by one another in the face of injustice.
The government cannot insist, as it has done in the past, that the energy giants are behaving themselves.
When the super-rich give money to Labour, they get favours in return. Yet unions like GMB and Unite have ploughed millions into Labour, and still working people are denied their rights.
If Brown wants to win the next election, he’d better listen to the thousands of construction workers and get tough with Total.