The battle lines across British society could not have been drawn more starkly. At Grangemouth in Scotland refinery workers this week stood up for all of us when they confronted a billionaire oil baron out to rob their pensions.
Tycoon Jim Ratcliffe, worth a staggering £3.3 billion, is typical of the rich elite living it up in Gordon Brown's Britain. Ratcliffe owns two thirds of Ineos, Britain's third largest private company and the operator of the Grangemouth refinery.
He lives in an £8 million mansion in the Hampshire village of Buckler's Hard with stables, a swimming pool, tennis courts – and his personal collection of lawnmowers.
In stark contrast, the Grangemouth refinery workers have had their pension funds raided for £40 million [see update from union below]. Now Ineos wants to close its final pension salary scheme to new entrants and force existing workers to pay 6 percent of their wages into the scheme.
The dispute shows the reality of the growing inequality under New Labour – billionaires raking in the wealth while our working conditions are constantly under attack.
The top 1,000 richest people in the country now have more than £400 billion between them, according to figures published last week – an increase of almost £53 billion since Brown became prime minister.
All the oil companies are making huge fortunes. Shell made profits of £3.9 billion in the first three months of this year. In the same period BP saw its profits rise almost 50 percent to £3.31 billion.
These multinationals had taxes on their profits slashed by Brown. Meanwhile many of the rich avoid paying taxes altogether.
But the other side of Britain was also on display last week. The mass strikes by public sector workers over pay and the battle by workers at Grangemouth demonstrate the potential for a fightback.
These magnificent displays of class power show how we can defend not just our livelihoods and pension rights, but those of future workers as well.
The attacks we face are overseen and encouraged by Brown's commitment to the policies of profit, privatisation and war. Those policies are at the root of Labour's crisis – a crisis that is set to continue regardless of how Labour does in the elections this week.
By taking strike action and building a political alternative to Labour, we can shift the balance away from the priorities of the rich to those of ordinary people. This week has seen some of the first shots of a wider battle to come.
Unite statement on INEOS
An industrial dispute has arisen involving the INEOS Group of companies and Unite the union in relation to changes proposed to the company's pension arrangements for current and future employees at the Grangemouth Refinery Petrochemicals site in Scotland. In April 2008 industrial action took place and prior to the action commencing statements were made by both the company and the union representatives in relation to the dispute.
On behalf of Unite it was alleged that the company had stripped £40m of assets from the pension fund at the time of the transfer of the fund from BP in 2005. Unite confirms that when the pension transfer to INEOS occurred in 2005 the scheme was fully funded and INEOS has at no time stripped, removed or received any assets from the fund. Unite is happy to provide this clarification of the earlier statements made by the union in relation to this dispute.
For more on the public sector strikes go to » The day we stood up to New Labour