The news headlines in Scotland today were dominated by the
strike of 1,200 workers at the Grangemouth oil refinery in the west of
This is one of only nine refineries in Britain. The plant
processes 210,000 barrels of oil a day. Announcement of the strike has
triggered panic buying of petrol. Management have to start closing the plant
down nearly a week before the walk-out is due. By Wednesday or Thursday Ineos
top brass will reach a ‘point of no return’ where the plant will close even if
the strike is called off. So even a 48 hour strike could disrupt petrol
supplies for weeks, given the time it would take to make Grangemouth
The dispute surrounds the introduction of making the workers
pay into the company pension scheme. 97% voted to strike. Though discussions
are still taking place UNITE says management are offering nothing new.
This is a major industrial dispute in that this is a
key part of Scottish industry. As well as being responsible for
distributing oil to Scotland, England and the North of Ireland it is also plays
a role in refining oil from the North Sea, still not an unimportant part of
Scotland’s economy. Although the initial action is only for 2 days this could
cause weeks of disruption. Our British Perspectives document highlighted how a
relatively small number of workers are able to inflict huge amount of damage in
relatively limited industrial action.
If more action like
this follows, transport could be severely paralysed or at least slowed in the
areas that Grangemouth is responsible for supplying, particularly if the
current trend of panic buying continues and management continues to grind its
feet. The Scottish Government is attempting to patch together a deal and has
labelled this dispute "unacceptable". Interestingly it has not just
blamed the workers, perhaps because this is such a vital area of the economy
they are also pressuring the bosses to make concessions as they cannot afford
for this dispute to go on.
At a time when oil prices are over $100 a barrel these workers have great
economic muscle and it would seem a curious time to implement an attack on
their pensions. It doesn’t sound very sensible on the part of management. What
are they playing at?
I would also like to add that this coincides with the movement of teachers and
civil servants in England and Wales as well as a strike of the public sector in
Aberdeen against cuts in local government. There are also likely to be more
moves surrounding the 2% public sector pay "rises". After a slumber
of arguably over 20 years it would appear that the British working class is
remerging onto the industrial battleground.