Socialist Appeal interviews John
McKewan, victimised worker from Lindsey Total Oil Refinery.
the background to the Lindsey dispute?
employment problems of construction workers are not knew. We have been
discussing this for some time, extending over some 5 or 6 years. But nothing
has been done about it. The trade union leaders have been dragging their feet.
Now everything has blown up. As soon as we saw foreign companies coming into
Lindsey, there was a spontaneous reaction from below. Everybody went out of the
How do you
see things developing?
surprised by the support for this action from workers throughout the industry.
It showed the anger. In my opinion we should have organised a national strike
from the very beginning.
took the employers and the union leaders by surprise. The union leaders saw the
thing get out of their control. It is clear to me they want to ensure a tighter
grip on such disputes in the future. The next battle is at Staythorpe Power
station. This is going to be harder. Lads have been on the gates for last 6
months. There are some 150 foreign workers there, mainly Poles and Hungarians. The
employers are playing a dangerous game. National shop stewards met in Sheffield to consider further solidarity action with workers
in Staythorpe and Isle of Grain.
were prepared to break the law. The national trade union bureaucracy don’t want
a fight on their hands. They are more afraid of losing their salaries and cars.
They do not understand the anger of workers fearful for their jobs and
livelihoods. I asked the coppers what they were doing here. “Shouldn’t you be
arresting bankers and city speculators?” They seemed to agree. We told them to
move the BNP. If not, then we would move them ourselves, so they obliged.
supposed to get my job back at Lindsey, but they are side-stepping the issue. I
have been told by full-time officers to allow the new manager to “sort out” the
problem. They don’t want to do anything. We will see what happens.
Do you see
the agreement at Lindsey as a victory?
It was the biggest battle in the construction industry for years. It was a
massive victory. To begin with TOTAL – totally anti-union – wouldn’t even talk
to the union when they kicked me off the site. Now they jumped when the workers
walled out. Although the strike did not stop the refinery, they needed to
complete the new extension for the de-sulphurisation plant. If the strike
continued it would have put everything in jeopardy.
– which was illegal and unofficial – was a huge challenge to the employers,
government and trade union leaders.
has tried to portray the strike as anti-foreigner. Is it?
Establishment tried to make out that it was a strike against foreign workers.
But that was not true. It was to protect our terms and conditions as well as
our employment rights. We wanted to speak to the foreign workers, but there was
a language barrier. They were kept on a prison ship in Grimsby dock. The gaffers said that the
foreign workers were on Blue Book agreement, but they weren’t allowed to show
their pay slips. The workers were told to keep their mouths shut. One admitted
on TV that they were being paid less than British workers. The employers’ lies
We need to
talk to the Italian workers as their interests are our interests. We are all
being asked to pay for the crisis of capitalism.