The Grangemouth strikers are now back at work. They know
they may have to walk out again if management stick with their plan to trash
the company pension scheme.
Grangemouth refinery, with its link to the pipeline from the
Forties North Sea oilfield, supplies 10% of Britain’s petroleum. Its closure
triggered panic buying at the forecourts. It is reckoned that closure cost the
economy (that means us, folks) £500 million a day. Since they had to start
closing the plant days before the walkout, and it may not be fully operational
till the end of the week, Ineos’ refusal to back down may have cost us £5
billion. That seems a high price for us to pay for management intransigence.
What’s their problem? Ineos is 75% owned by Jim Ratcliffe. Ineos
is described as a chemical firm, but basically Ratcliffe is a wheeler dealer. He
sounds from his entry in the ‘Sunday Times Rich List’ as if he’s got money
coming out of his ears. Listed as the 25th richest person in the
land, his fortune is reckoned at £2,300 million. But hang about. The ‘Sunday
Times’ thinks he was worth £3,300 million in 2007. He’s dropped a billion, poor
old soul. That must explain why he wants to nick the workers’ pension pot.
Ineos is not in queer street yet. Last year it declared £370
million in profits, up 140%. Unite correctly accuses Ratcliffe of “trying to
cream off profit from a cash rich company.”
Ineos is a private equity company, a new form of shark
recently spotted in the capitalist sea. Because they’re not a plc, they can
keep their secrets. The workers would certainly benefit from opening the books
to see what the real financial situation is.
Private equity’s scam is to take over existing companies and
‘sweat the assets.’ They take over using borrowed funds. They load the company
they acquire with this debt. Ineos actually owes £590 million. This does
nothing to improve the plant’s performance, but allows the new owners to line
their pockets. Then, after they’ve sucked the company dry, they dump it back on
to the stock exchange. That is the track record of these dodgy operators. One
of the prime assets to be ‘sweated’ is the workers’ pension fund. That money
belongs to the workers, not the asset strippers!
This was the first strike at Grangemouth for more than
eighty years, so the workers can’t be described as hotheads. They are, however,
confident and determined to win. They are fighting for the future of their
community. The work at the plant is in profoundly anti-social twelve hour
shifts. Retirement is something to look forward to. The existing final salary
pension scheme was a good one; but Grangemouth generates huge wealth. That is
why a 48 hour walkout could produce panic and big losses to the whole economy.
It hardly seems too much to ask that the workers, and their families, share in
the wealth. But Ineos wants to close the final salary scheme to new entrants,
and make the workers pay for their pensions.
It was noticeable first how young the workforce is, the over
forty five year olds seem a small minority, and secondly that it’s not all
blokes, as both women and men were on picket duty. The stewards and I had not met before, but they welcomed me into
The refinery is a huge site made up of separate works, so
groups of pickets were situated round the area on several roads at various
gates. Like the convenors, the pickets welcomed me and I learned that the
pension scheme was fully funded and accruing money. It was worth £540 million,
of which £500 million had been transferred. However, Jim Ratcliffe had refused
to buy the other £40 million and they had not handed it over. New employees
would not be allowed by Ineos to join this long established scheme. I did not know the pickets, but again a
local link was found as the wives of pickets on two different gates were Unison
branch members, I was advised. Ineos clearly didn’t realise they are taking on
more than 1,200 Unite members, but also their families, some of whom are also
local trade unionists willing to support the strike. Media reports of widespread petrol shortages seem not to be the
case in Falkirk and Edinburgh.
and doubts are with the Ineos bosses and the Government. Confidence, justice
and determination are with the Unite workers and their families.