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Bosses attack as union leaders run up white flag

The sacking by the Total corporation of 900 construction workers at the Lindsey oil refinery in Lincolnshire last night, who were on strike in defence of their jobs, is part of a growing employers’ offensive against trade union organisation which is also behind today’s strike by 8,000 postal workers in London.

The 900 were constructing a new plant at the refinery in Lincolnshire and were part of about 1,200 contract workers who had taken strike action in a dispute over jobs when, as one part of the project ended, 51 redundancies were announced. Shop stewards say that normal practice would have been to offer the workers vacancies on other ongoing contracts on the site but this was not done.

Victimisation is suspected because the 51 worked for Shaw, the contractor that was at the centre of the dispute earlier this year about the employment of foreign labour. Managers started hiring Italian and Portuguese workers. This sparked walkouts at refineries, gas terminals and power stations across the country.

The strikes at Lindsey have spread to other power stations at Drax and Eggborough in Yorkshire and Ratcliffe in Nottinghamshire, and BP's Saltend refinery near Hull. Workers have also walked at the BOC oxygen plant at Scunthorpe, Fiddlers Ferry in Cheshire and Aberthaw in south Wales, the trade union Unite said. Energy company E.ON said up to 150 contract workers at the Ratcliffe-on-Soar power station also walked out in support of the Lindsey oil refinery strike.

Total, the French-based global oil corporation, directed its main contractor to end all sub-contracts on the project, thus terminating the employment of all 900 workers involved. They were vulnerable to unilateral action by the company because officials from the GMB and Unite unions had refused to make their strike action official out of fear of the restrictions imposed by anti-union legislation.

In fact, the company said the workers had been involved in "an unofficial, illegal walk out" that was "repudiated" by both Unite and the GMB union. All a spokesman for Unite could say was: "We are extremely concerned about the ramifications of the employer's actions. We are urging all parties to get back around the negotiating table to resolve this situation." Not exactly fighting talk and unlikely to concern Total.

Meanwhile, the Communication Workers Union (CWU) said up to 8,000 members in London were due to walk out this morning with workers in Scotland due to strike on Saturday. The union has accused Royal Mail of cuts which break a national agreement and threatened modernisation. Deputy general secretary of the CWU Dave Ward said: "We are now seeing cuts but not modernisation in the postal industry and there's only so long before this is going to have a major impact on services.”

Here again, union leaders are begging rather than fighting. They have offered the employers and the government a three month no-strike deal if they agree to work with the union on modernisation and, according to Ward, “move to get the company on a sound footing for the future".

The Lindsey sackings and the postal workers’ struggle demonstrate that the refusal of union bureaucrats to fight the employers and, in the case of the CWU, the government which is going ahead with plans to part-privatise the service, is one reason why unemployment is soaring throughout the country. Employers are aware that union “leaders” live more in fear of the anti-union laws than them and are acting accordingly to impose the economic crisis on the backs of workers.

Ending the wretched system of sub-contracting in the construction industry and defeating New Labour over privatisation requires policies of social ownership and workers’ control of the corporations and the mail service – and leaders that will fight to carry them into practice.

Paul Feldman
AWTW communications editor
19 June 2009

Cissie says:

TUC Gen Sec Brendan Barber is doing his best to put the boot into the London postal workers' strike. This is the statement released by the TUC this morning:

'It is disappointing that CWU members in London have felt driven to take industrial action in a dispute over jobs and conditions. 'Royal Mail industrial relations need a real overhaul and I hope that they will act on the CWU's bold and imaginative proposals for three months of intensive talks on the modernisation of the industry and a new industrial relations framework, accompanied by a moratorium on any industrial action during that period.'

Ray says:

The confirmation of the divisive role played by trade union leaders and their apologists regarding the February walkouts at Lindsey and other sites has moved to another stage this last week. Earlier, we should recall, the capitalist media flooded to Lincolnshire to report upon the 'British jobs for British workers' movement which had emboldened the BNP to infiltrate and attempt to divert those fighting for their livelihoods toward a nationalist direction to the detriment of all the workers involved, whether they be British or whatever.

Significantly the Gordon Brown slogan, so opportunistically adopted by the Unite and GMB union leaders with support from the Morning Star and wriggly Socialist Party has been recognised for what it was by an important of sector of those workers and many more around the country.

The BNP meanwhile, forced to hide 'their divisiveness' for nationalism by the actual struggle itself have, like the capitalist press, disappeared. But the yellow-livered role of Unite, GMB and Morning Star live on in the self-same pattern. The role of the No2EU campaign before and during the elections this month had only added to the confusion.

It is in this context that Total, and the subcontractors it uses to dice-up the workforce, find comfort in both European law and existing anti-union laws in Britain to once again go onto the offensive. It is precisely at this time the Morning Star seek to give a cover for the GMB and Unite union leaders. Today's report in the Morning Star is surely worth quoting at length;

Bizarrely, however, representatives from Total appeared disinterested in ending the crisis by refusing to meet unions. The unions were left unimpressed by the behaviour of Total, lambasting its refusal to meet as "outrageous and disgraceful." GMB general secretary Paul Kenny said: "We will support the locked-out and victimised workers and will demonstrate our support with peaceful and lawful protests. "Total would not even consider treating its French workers in this way." Mr Kenny called on Total to meet the unions as soon as possible to try to break the deadlocked row. Describing the breakdown of talks before they had even begun, Mr Kenny said: "GMB and others were asked by Total to attend talks early this morning and our people travelled from across the country for the meeting." In a warning to the energy company, Mr Kenny added: "Bullying and intimidation is not the way to bring about peace." Fellow energy union Unite assistant general secretary Les Bayliss was equally unequivocal in his criticism of Total, urging them to see sense and get back to talks immediately. Assessing the wider economic picture, Mr Bayliss noted the major difficulties working people face. Communist party of Britain general secretary Robert Griffiths said: "Wherever workers are strong enough to take action, then this often provides the most effective response to attacks from employers." Mr Griffiths added that not "even the most oppressive anti-trades union laws in western Europe can defeat workers who are militant and united in their determination to defend their rights and living standards."

What Communist apes the most servile trade union leaders instead of candidly revealing the catastrophic results that this class collaborationist position leads to? Mr Griffiths in seeking to broaden the appeal of his reformist/trade union leader worshipping rag continues the same despicable role of his predecessors.

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