The magnificent victory of workers at the Lindsey oil refinery has turned the tables on bosses’ attempts to drive through attacks on construction workers.
Thousands of rank and file workers walked out in solidarity at sites across Britain. The action stopped 51 redundancies and the sacking of 647 workers who had struck in their support.
One striker at the Fiddler’s Ferry site in Cheshire, who struck for over a week, told Socialist Worker, “As the dispute developed the bluster and threats from the employers started to shift.
“They went from ‘we won’t talk’, to ‘we will talk’, to backing down completely.”
He is right. The bosses are nervous.
Alistair Tebbit of the Institute of Directors said, “With a host of vital infrastructure projects underway or in the pipeline, it is deeply worrying that we are seeing more and more illegal strike action taking place.”
On Tuesday of last week, a manager from oil company Total – the firm behind the sackings of the 647 Lindsey workers – was overheard on a Leeds to King’s Cross train discussing what tactics should be deployed in the dispute.
Passenger Stuart Bruce reported on his website that he overheard the Total boss saying, “So why are we talking to them at all? We don’t need them.
“We’ll just tell them we’ll shut down the whole project with the loss of however many jobs.”
But the bosses didn’t get it as easy as they expected. The pressure of the dispute forced divisions at the top.
For instance, the number of those sacked by Total went down from 900 to 647 because a number of smaller contractors didn’t sack people for fear of the response.
As the strike developed bosses were forced to admit the strength of the dispute.
Alwyn Hughes, the boss of Ensus on Teesside where 1,000 workers joined the strikes, admitted that every day of strike action was a day the company “could not recover”.
Even where there weren’t big projects the bosses knew that the delays on the maintenance work and upgrades to power plants and refineries on the sites would hit them hard later in the year.
Most importantly, Lindsey management admitted the dispute cost them £80 million – and the project is now six months behind schedule.
Jon, a striker from Lindsey, said, “We have turned around one attempt to smash us and put them on the back foot.
“The thing is where it goes from now. We haven’t sorted all the issues in the industry by a long way but it gives us a great base to organise.”
Many of the workers are determined to push on from the victory over Lindsey to address the other burning issues in the construction industry.
One worker involved in the talks last week told Socialist Worker, “The bloke from Acas asked what it would take to get us back into work.
“I told him, the jobs back at Lindsey, changing the EU directives and court judgments that exploit workers, an end to blacklisting and subcontracting.
“He smiled and said it may take a while. I was only half joking. That is what we are fighting for.”
These are some of the issues behind the important upcoming national ballot of up to 30,000 engineering construction workers for action over pay and jobs.
The ballot is to defend the national agreement for a pay rise and to force some transparency over hiring on sties.
The ballot was set to start before the Lindsey dispute broke out.
The management provocation was an attempt to demoralise workers in the run up to the vote.
But the result of the strike means it has had the opposite effect.
According to the Financial Times, Mike Hockey, managing director of the Engineering Construction Industry Association, threatened a legal challenge if the ballot was not organised “lawfully”.
That means the bosses are planning to use the courts against the dispute. Leaked documents at the beginning of the dispute already showed plans to disrupt the ballot.
One worker at the Drax power station in North Yorkshire told Socialist Worker, “All last week we had threats from management.
“They kept telling us we were breaking the law. Well if we hadn’t broken the law we wouldn’t have won.
“And we may well have to break the law again.”