Left Luggage

The socialist strategy site

Sackings an attempt to kill off solidarity strikes

Posted by Left Luggage on June 18, 2009

Although they have hardly been picked up in the left blogosphere, and have barely got a mention in the mainstream media, wildcat strikes have hit the UK’s construction industry once again in recent days. The dispute is focussed on the Lindsey Oil Refinery site, the centre of the nationwide unofficial walkouts in February this year which became synonymous with the “British Jobs for British Workers” slogan and were criticised by much of the left.

The latest round of action began on June 11, after 51 workers at subcontracting company Shaw UK were made redundant without proper consultation while another company on site, RBC, had recruited 61 workers. Apparently, workers at Shaw UK were at the forefront of the wildcat action earlier this year. Workers say “most of the 51 redundancies were stewards, activists or union members.”

While the British left’s focus is on events on the streets of Tehran, there have been solidarity walkouts at industrial sites across the country, including at Drax and Eggborough power stations in North Yorkshire, at the Fiddler’s Ferry power station at Widnes in Cheshire, at Ratcliffe power station in Nottinghamshire, at the BOC oxygen plant at Scunthorpe, at BP’s Saltend refinery near Hull, and at Aberthaw in south Wales.

Around 1,200 contract workers at the Lindsey refinery, owned by Total, struck this week over the redundancies. The latest news is that bosses have sacked 900 workers for taking unofficial industrial action. Following the redundancies which appear to have been an attempt to force out trade unionists, this move must be seen as an effort to blunt the tool of the solidarity walkouts for good. They have undoubtedly been costly for Total and the subcontractors and with these sackings they clearly to kill them off.

The scale of the walkouts, mostly in solidarity and at risk to workers in other sites, has been hugely impressive and the left’s coolness towards them has been remarkable. Both the GMB and Unite unions are looking into the possibility of a national ballot of construction workers and leaked documents show planning is underway by the Engineering Construction Industry Association to undermine the ballot.

In that light, the sackings take on even greater significance. The stakes have been raised considerably and the response from workers at Lindsey and at sites across the country over the coming days will have a major impact on the balance of forces in the industry and the future of solidarity strikes in general.

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