Oil refinery strikes

245 posts / 0 new
Last post
posi
Offline
Joined: 24-09-05
Mar 9 2009 10:57

Ahem, original source:
http://thecommune.wordpress.com/2009/03/09/lessons-of-the-oil-refinery-wildcat-strikes/

^ I would reccomend Gregor's article to anyone looking to understand the dynamic between the official union and the strikers' committee

There is also this, on the media coverage:
http://thecommune.wordpress.com/2009/03/08/the-political-impossibility-of-class-struggle-in-the-mind-of-the-bbc/

Durutti
Offline
Joined: 14-03-09
Mar 14 2009 08:00

Couldn't be bothered to read through the 8 pages so apologies if someone has already posted on any of these issues. I am a Spark on LOR the refinery where the strikes started. I was at the meeting where we voted to take illegal action. Our major grievance was the use of the posted worker directive to bypass our national agreement (The Blue Book). We felt that going through procedure between the union and employer which would have taken longer than the duration of the job (something both the bosses and our joke of a union are quite aware of and more than happy with) action needed to be taken. Since the bosses break the Blue Book agreement on a regular basis with minimal protest from Unite, we failed to see why we should play by the rules they ignore on a regular basis.
We were addressed by the regional delegate for Unite and told we would lose any dispute on this issue and were told to pick our champions as we were on a hiding to nothing. As regards to the union organising walkouts across the country on the quiet, complete rubbish, it was organised at grassroots level by lads from LOR ringing round mates on other Blue Book jobs around the country.
As regards to the nationalist aspect of the dispute, I can't deny there was no nationalist element to the dispute at all. What you have to realise is that the engineering construction industry is not a homogenous mass, it is however the one remaining section of the construction industry which is still heavily unionised. Most of the lads I know and work with saw it as a working class issue not a nationalist issue, in fact one of the strike committee is half Italian, hardly the image portrayed in the national media, but then what do you expect?
On LOR we kept an eye out on the pickets for any wankers from the far right trying to jump onboard for their own purposes. The British Jobs placards came from BearFacts.co.uk and were odviously going to be prevalent considering they were the only group to come up to the demo with placards, took the union about another 2 weeks to actually provide any placards (used on Staythorpe protests).
What I found very disappointing was the reaction of the left, to the first grassroots action in years, with the notable exception of The Socialist who gave us a lot of support (thanks peeps). It seems that the left can manage to support various questionable regimes around the world, but actually having to dirty their hands with class struggle in their own country seems a bit too much for them. The working class isn't perfect but then it never will be, but the left and anarchists are never going to achieve much sitting in their ivory towers tutting at the plebs. Perhaps the main problem is the majority of the organised left are and have been for years resolutely middle class and have an inbuilt distaste for the working class.
The left failed the working class, not the other way round.

Cleishbotham
Offline
Joined: 28-08-08
Mar 14 2009 11:02

Thanks for that info Durruti. We (I am in the Communist Workers Organisation (IBRP) but we are so small you probably never heard of us) also supported the strikes as did most of the posters here I think (I too haven't read the last 8 pages). I have mates/relatives who are in the trade and so we knew that there had been a lot of ringing around Blue Book sites. what though is a bit harder to take is the role of the union (which as you say has tolerated the undercutting of agreements for years). How come from Day One there were glossy banners with "British Jobs for Briitsh Workers" with both Unite and GMB logos on (the Bearfacts folk I think supplied the computer print out ones which added "In the wise words of Gordon Brown onthe top" (or have I got that wrong too?). We knew that the real issue was a fight for wages and living standards and that is why we went behind the Daily Star headlines. What is worrying is that the "British Jobs ofr Britsh worekrs" might not have taken in the construction workers but it will have a wider impact on other sections of the working classwho beleive that was the slogan of thes trike. The Government, Unite leadership and the media are all in cahoots here to impose a nationalist agenda so that our resistance will be sidetracked down the road they want. Good nees that the Polish workers at the Isle of Grain will now get national wage rates - another victory for the working class (unless of course there are secret deductions we don't know about). Like to hear more form you on this...

no1
Offline
Joined: 3-12-07
Mar 14 2009 11:31

Durutti, thanks for posting here, it's great to hear from someone who was part of the wildcats rather than the media or other outlets who all put their particular spin on things.
Well done for taking strike action. You guys showed that it's possible to bypass the anti-trade union laws, bypass the unions bureaucracy - and succeed!

Durutti wrote:
Couldn't be bothered to read through the 8 pages so apologies if someone has already posted on any of these issues. I am a Spark on LOR the refinery where the strikes started. I was at the meeting where we voted to take illegal action. Our major grievance was the use of the posted worker directive to bypass our national agreement (The Blue Book). We felt that going through procedure between the union and employer which would have taken longer than the duration of the job (something both the bosses and our joke of a union are quite aware of and more than happy with) action needed to be taken. Since the bosses break the Blue Book agreement on a regular basis with minimal protest from Unite, we failed to see why we should play by the rules they ignore on a regular basis.
We were addressed by the regional delegate for Unite and told we would lose any dispute on this issue and were told to pick our champions as we were on a hiding to nothing. As regards to the union organising walkouts across the country on the quiet, complete rubbish, it was organised at grassroots level by lads from LOR ringing round mates on other Blue Book jobs around the country.

Going beyond and breaking out of the union bureaucracy is very important for struggles to succeed, I think that's the clear lesson. Do most of your workmates see it that way? Have the wildcats changed how they look at things?

Durutti wrote:
As regards to the nationalist aspect of the dispute, I can't deny there was no nationalist element to the dispute at all. What you have to realise is that the engineering construction industry is not a homogenous mass, it is however the one remaining section of the construction industry which is still heavily unionised. Most of the lads I know and work with saw it as a working class issue not a nationalist issue, in fact one of the strike committee is half Italian, hardly the image portrayed in the national media, but then what do you expect?
On LOR we kept an eye out on the pickets for any wankers from the far right trying to jump onboard for their own purposes. The British Jobs placards came from BearFacts.co.uk and were odviously going to be prevalent considering they were the only group to come up to the demo with placards, took the union about another 2 weeks to actually provide any placards (used on Staythorpe protests).

I think the slogan 'british jobs for british workers' was always going to be very problematic. I think the meaning you gave that slogan was that workers in Britain must have access to jobs in Britain, i.e. rejecting that labour can be brought in from elsewhere to undercut wages and working conditions and undermine the Blue Book, with government blessing. You were feeding Gordon Brown's words back at him. But Brown had taken up that slogan from the National Front himself, and so it was extremely easy for the media to distort what the strike was about, channel discontent in a xenophobic nationalist direction. Also, I don't think it makes sense to frame the issue in terms of access for British workers - by the time there's 3.5 million unemployed, bosses could probably bring in workers from, say, Cornwall or Northern Ireland to destroy the Blue Book agreement.
Maybe it would have helped you to have more control over the message you were sending out by setting up a website (blogspot, facebook group) and telling people what the dispute was about?

Durutti wrote:
What I found very disappointing was the reaction of the left, to the first grassroots action in years, with the notable exception of The Socialist who gave us a lot of support (thanks peeps). It seems that the left can manage to support various questionable regimes around the world, but actually having to dirty their hands with class struggle in their own country seems a bit too much for them. The working class isn't perfect but then it never will be, but the left and anarchists are never going to achieve much sitting in their ivory towers tutting at the plebs. Perhaps the main problem is the majority of the organised left are and have been for years resolutely middle class and have an inbuilt distaste for the working class.
The left failed the working class, not the other way round.

Most people here will agree with you! You need to realise though that we all get most of our news via the media, and what they showed wasn't necessarily very pretty. Of course with hindsight it's easy to see that the strike was against the bosses undermining the Blue Book, and not anti-immigrant as the media repeated over and over again (with the BBC even editing an interview with a striker to make it fit that message), but that wasn't clear at the time, and it really put off a lot of people.

Anyway what would you have liked people like us do to support you, concretely?

Also, I was wondering how the situation has evolved since the end of the strike. Your demands called for the Italian workers to be unionised and integrated into the Blue Book agreement. Is this happening? As far as I know, IREM are notoriously anti-union, do the Italian workers even want to be unionised?

baboon
Offline
Joined: 29-07-05
Mar 14 2009 12:44

Welcome Durruti and very good to hear your comments and information.
I think that this was the most important strike (it was more of a movement) in Britain since the Heathrow baggage handlers' wildcat a couple of years ago which took on a force of its own and was an example of solidarity to the whole working class.
Your confirmation that these walkouts were organised by the grass roots and the obstruction of the unions is to be welcomed. Were there meetings of workers to decide these issues, what was the content of them?

It too was my understanding that the unions initially put forward the British Jobs for British Workers slogan. Whether they did or not is not important because the unions, along with the government have been putting forward variations on this nationalist theme for months. In fact it's the analysis of the communist left, of which I consider myself to be a part, that the unions primarily exist to defend the national interest. It is of no suprise that they are nationalist or that they put forward nationalist slogans against the interests of international working class solidarity.

Don't lump all the "left" together. There was great support and well considered support for the strike on these boards - please read the discussion if you have time. You seem to indicate an understanding of the role of leftism when you talk about its support for questionable regimes. I would say murderous, anti-working class regimes throughout the world. And it's true that, outside of the need to analyse your movement on the basis of the limited information available, there was a certain contempt from leftism and the left towards the workers involved, rejecting this movement from the start, too ready to see and propagate the nationalist spin that the bourgeoisie were giving it from the beginning and continue to give it up to today. In respect of leftism, a question to return to will be that of the Socialist Party.

In the meantime, please stick around and discuss some of the issues raised.