Grangemouth - the need to stand up to the bosses' blackmail

28 October 2013

At the Grangemouth petro-chemical complex in Scotland, the arm-wrestling between Ineos and Unite finally ended without a fight. Despite its members' rejection of Ineos' attacks on wages and conditions, Unite caved in completely.

Ineos was threatening to close down the Grangemouth petro-chemical plant, leaving only the refinery open - for the time being. 800 permanent workers would have been thrown onto the scrapheap together with many of the site's 2,000 contractors. To avoid this, workers were meant to agree to drastic cuts: their final salary pension scheme was to be closed and replaced with a scheme paying lower pensions; wages were to be frozen and bonuses scrapped for 3 years; shift allowances, overtime pay, holidays and redundancy terms were all to be cut, and, finally, collective bargaining was to be ended. No less.

There were only two possible responses to this blackmail. One was to call Ineos' bluff and rely on the workers' capacity to fight for their interests against the bosses' attacks. The other was to go along with it - which was what the Unite leadership chose to do.

The bosses' bluff can be called

Of course, the Unite leadership was quick to say that there was no other choice. As soon as Ineos locked the petrochemical plant's workers out, Unite general secretary Len McCluskey jumped in and declared that the union would "embrace the company's survival plan warts and all", adding: "The stewards made the offer to the company - so that we can get people back to work".

But why couldn't Ineos be made to "embrace" the workers' demands "warts and all"? As if this was a question of "survival"! Ineos is the world's 4th largest chemical group, with 51 facilities worldwide, of which 6 are in Britain. Its annual turnover is £27bn, while the wealth of its largest shareholder, Jim Ratcliffe, is valued at £1bn! And with all that cash, Ineos couldn't make the investment that it claimed was necessary to keep the entire site running? That's farcical!

In fact, it was clear right from the summer, when Ineos first started to make noises about its alleged "difficulties", that it was seeking both cuts in labour costs from workers and funds from the government. And now it will get £150m in government loans to cover half of its planned investment in Grangemouth! But it wasn't a question of survival - just crass profiteering!

Of course, Ineos' game was to pressurise workers by claiming that their jobs were on the line. That's what bosses do.

But was it impossible for the Unite leadership to call this bluff? The Grangemouth workers have a long tradition of resistance and they had shown their anger against these attacks. Was it impossible for them to fight back and seek workers' support at Ineos' five other facilities in Britain and, in fact, in the rest of the petro-chemical industry, where many workers are facing similar attacks? Of course not!

Instead, the Unite leaders chose to surrender without a fight. As a result, not only will conditions be downgraded at Grangemouth, but jobs will be cut anyway. And the fact that Ineos said the job cuts will be "limited" doesn't make the pill any less bitter. As if any job cut is acceptable!

The more they have the more they want

What happened at Grangemouth is not an isolated case, of course. Since the beginning of the crisis, especially in the early years, many companies have used strong-arm tactics to force workers into agreeing to cuts in jobs and wages. But this doesn't mean that nothing can be done about it.

It is not as if companies were in a desperate financial situation. Quite the opposite, in fact. Profits have regained their pre-crisis level. Shareholders in Britain expect dividends paid to reach £80bn this year - a 45% increase over the past 3 years. Bank of England figures show that the bank deposits of non-financial corporations are now around £420bn - a 450% increase since the beginning of the crisis!

Today's problem is not that there's a shortage of money, but that there's an over-accumulation of cash in the wrong hands - those of a tiny minority of big capitalists and companies which would rather speculate than invest in useful production. But this colossal pile of cash doesn't come from nowhere. It comes from the increased exploitation of the working class - like in Grangemouth.

The capitalist class is so addicted to its mad profiteering that it's a lethal threat to the working class. Contrary to what union leaders tell us, we have nothing to gain in going along with the bosses' attempts to boost their profits even more. They have to be stopped!