Construction workers have won their dispute at the Lindsey Oil Refinery in Lincolnshire. An immediate walkout when job cuts were announced, backed up by thousands of workers striking at other sites, has won a huge victory.
Early reports suggest that the deal means:
Of course strikers must stay vigilant to make sure that these demands are carried through everywhere. And if there are any victimisations then nobody should go back.
But let’s be clear – this is a tremendous victory, won by the most militant methods.
If workers had gone through the obstacles of the anti-union laws, the delay would have killed the mood to fight. And it could never have been legal under those laws to walk out at other sites.
Instead rank and file workers walked out themselves and then spread the action to more than 20 other sites. This solidarity, this courage, this determination have proved decisive.
The strike also saw tremendous unity, across the sites and across the trades – with Polish workers joining the walkouts at Drax for example.
The way the Lindsey deal is implemented, and the resulting shuffling of contracts, remains in the hands of management.
Management may have decided to replace some “foreign” workers with British ones. But that’s not what those who walked out demanded. Unfortunately as long as the poisonous system of contracting and sub-contracting remains, there will be constant attempts to set worker against worker. Everyone must stand against such divisions.
The precious unity forged during the strike needs to be developed, with permanent structures of stewards and rank and file reps meeting regularly. And migrant workers need to be welcomed into the unions and encouraged to elect stewards.
Workers must push the unions to set these up, but if they won’t then workers must do it themselves.
Management, the press and the Labour government all saw the dispute as a chance to humble and break the workers’ strength.
They thought they could drive out the activists who had led earlier strikes. But instead it’s the bosses and their allies who got stuffed.
What a day of contrasts! Lindsey workers win through unofficial, “illegal” action, but at British Airways hundreds of workers are bullied into working free for up to a month because the unions did not fight.
Every worker must learn the lesson. If you fight hard you can win, if you back down then you will be crushed.
This week Corus steel announced that another 2,000 jobs would go. They have to be fought, through the sort of methods used at Lindsey.
Every day bosses get away with cuts and pay freezes. But that’s not inevitable – as Lindsey shows. When they come for you, remember that it is possible to fight and win.
Lindsey is a great battle won, but the war continues. About 25 percent of the 30,000 workers involved in refinery-related building projects are currently unemployed. The economic crisis is growing and some employers will still try to use it to drive down pay and conditions.
An important step in the fightback is to win the construction national ballot for action in the GMB and Unite unions.
Everyone should join a union and get involved in the ballot.
But the rank and file needs to keep control, not let the officials dominate.
The victories at Visteon, Linamar and Lindsey shows that a new force is coming through – workers who are prepared to have a go even if it is outside the official structures and against the law.
We need more of that, and we need those workers to get organised.