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Grangemouth workers hung out to dry by Unite and SNP

The fate of jobs at the Grangemouth petrochemical plant now lies solely in the hands of a ruthless corporation that buys firms and then drives them back into profit at the expense of their workers’ wages and benefits.

The 1,800 Grangemouth workers have found that neither the Unite union leaders, who they pay for, nor Labour or SNP representatives they voted for, would stand with them, if they decided to mobilise a real fight against Ineos. In an amazing display of solidarity and determination, the majority of the Unite members had voted to strike and reject the company’s blackmail.

But within hours of their vote on Wednesday, the message from all sides was that there was no alternative to accepting destruction of living standards and the pensions of any future workers. A media outcry held the workers responsible for the fate of the 10,000 related jobs in the local area.

So yesterday, their union leaders simply caved in. Unite general secretary Len McCluskey left earlier negotiations up to local officials but hurried up from London to capitulate in person. Within hours he had unreservedly accepted the company’s terms, “warts and all”. Shocking but true.

McCluskey has breathed fire and brimstone since the ConDems coalition took power, threatening strikes, civil disobedience, even a general strike against austerity, the public sector wage freeze and pension curbs. When it came to the crunch, he had no fight. Hot air and nothing more.

Later today it will be discovered whether this treachery is enough to keep the plant open or if in reality the company never had any intention of staying their hand. The closure of the petrochemical plant at Grangemouth would reduce global capacity and drive up prices to the benefit of Ineos plants elsewhere.

And that's the big lesson. When it comes down to it, the corporations make decisions on the basis of their own business plans, on the grounds of costs, shareholder value and profits. And so who holds the power?

The Scottish SNP government lined up with the Westminster government to demand that the Grangemouth workers accept the inevitable. First minister Alex Salmond was in talks begging Ineos not to close the plant. Finance minister John Swinney, the great champion of an oil-based independent economy, stood shoulder to shoulder with ConDem Scottish secretary Alistair Carmichael.

SNP claims that a capitalist Scotland would be in some way better for Scottish workers have been exploded. Ineos, like all Scotland's key industries from oil to whisky, is not "Scottish". They are run by freebooting global capitalist transnationals with no care for local conditions, except where they impact on profits.

The adjacent oil refinery, whose waste product is processed at the threatened plant, is owned by Petroineos, a refining and trading joint venture between Ineos and the Chinese government-owned PetroChina. Its other refinery is at Lavera, near Marseilles.

As the recession continues and fracking throws more cheap US coal and gas on to the world market, who knows what will happen to the offshore oil refining business. There is no such thing as security for workers, whatever the status of their country's governance.

The Unite members were ready to fight and their union could have organised an occupation to prevent the dismemberment of the plant, but they did not and will not. Independence will not change that.

Those who limit their vision for the future to achieving a "Yes" vote in the 2014 referendum have missed the point. Independence and self-determination should not be reduced to whether a Scottish elite should be in charge of a capitalist Scotland.

It has to be about acquiring a revolutionary independence, forging a new solidarity across the UK and Ireland, based on the struggle for a democratic state, for the socialisation of Scotland’s resources, for a new commons. That would provide a platform for a sustainable energy strategy that protects both jobs and the environment.

Penny Cole
25 October 2013

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Frank Hayes says:

Well said, Penny. The profiteers only care about a political and economic system which doesn't work anymore, as they go about smashing up the civilised social support structures workers fought for and forced from them after the Second Capitalist World War. Time for regime change and system change all around the globe. Would those who don't want that please get out of the way!

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