Construction workers have won their dispute at the Lindsey Oil Refinery (LOR) in Lincolnshire, in an awesome display of solidarity and militancy.
The workers took on the Total multinational oil company and the bosses of the huge construction firms – and won a massive victory.
Three weeks ago bosses tried to make 51 workers redundant to punish them for their militancy on the site – which shut down when 1,200 workers struck in January this year.
Many of the workers walked out in protest at the redundancies and the bosses sacked 647 workers.
But they could not have imagined the powerful response to this attack, as thousands walked out across the country in solidarity with the sacked workers.
The scale of the walkouts and the strength of the solidarity forced the bosses to retreat and give all workers their jobs back.
David, a welder at Lindsey, said, “We had no choice but to take the action that we took. We were standing up for our rights and against the injustice of the sackings.”
Kenny Ward, a Unite union shop steward at Lindsey and one of the 647 reinstated workers, said, “I’m absolutely overjoyed and delighted.
“Our demands have been met. Because of the determination and resilience of the men and women of Lindsey and the amazing support we have received throughout the country, we were able to achieve a victory.”
The extent of the victory should not be underestimated.
Phil Whitehurst, a GMB union rep at Lindsey, described it as a “national response that has forced back a national attack”.
He went on, “This has been a magnificent victory. If any site is victimised because they supported LOR, then the whole industry will again stand shoulder to shoulder in their support.
“It was Total’s management that deliberately provoked this action by trying to pit workers against each other, and by blatantly trying to smash our national agreements. But we didn’t cave in.
“Workers throughout the whole industry played a major part in this monumental victory and the Lindsey shop stewards committee sends its gratitude to all those who took action in our support.”
Martin Shankleman, the BBC’s employment correspondent, had to admit, “The wider significance of the strike cannot be ignored. This was a dispute which ran outside the law and still succeeded. There’s certainly no doubt also that wildcat strikes are back on the agenda.”
Had workers gone through the official channels, the obstacles of the anti-union laws, and the delays they would have created, would have killed the mood to fight. Walkouts at other sites would still have been illegal.
Instead, rank and file workers relied on themselves and then spread the action to more than 26 other sites.
The strike also saw tremendous unity across the different sites and across the trades – with Polish workers joining the walkouts at Drax in Yorkshire for example.
The solidarity was impressive. Some workers, such as those from Fiddler’s Ferry in Cheshire, took more than a week of solidarity action. In Cleveland over 50 workers from Hartlepool power station walked out.
Down the road at the Heerema site 200 workers blocked the road and turned trucks away. One worker said, “We were making a point – things were going to be shut down until the Lindsey lads got their jobs back.”
The spreading of the strike wasn’t a simple process. Workers faced threats and intimidation from management. For instance at the Drax power station in Yorkshire, some contractors offered bribes to workers and threatened others with the sack.
Mark from Drax told Socialist Worker, “They tried every trick in the book. They moved shift times forward to try and sneak people in. They offered extra bonuses to some people and told others they would never get work again. It made no difference.
“We had people up from Lindsey so they could explain what was going on. It was vital we came out.”
Workers rang each other across the country and others took trips in cars to visit sites. Site after site came out as the dispute went on.
At Sellafield some 900 workers walked out in solidarity on Monday of last week. Rumours went around that Lindsey wanted people to go back to work.
The next day at a stewards’ meeting, union officials argued that enough had been done. The meeting voted 18 to four not to have a mass meeting.
On Wednesday workers went back in but, as one told Socialist Worker, “I thought it was only right to have a meeting that involved people – so we held a meeting and voted to stay out.
“Over 100 walked out that day, then we were joined by another 100. There was a mass meeting set for Friday morning and I think the site would have been all out again but by that point Lindsey had won.”
Even after strikers heard the news that the bosses had backed down, some sites, including Cockenzie in Scotland and Fiddler’s Ferry, still voted to stay out.
One worker explained, “This strike started because the bosses lied over a deal, so we were waiting to make sure that the Lindsey lads were happy with the result.”
At the Ensus wheat refinery in Wilton, Teesside, 1,000 workers joined the action.
One Ensus worker said, “We have been putting up with these things for years but we have said ‘enough’. There will be more of this if the issues in the industry don’t get sorted out.
“This is the start of action. The problem is down to the government not listening to the workers at all. We are sick of protesting and nothing being done.”
Management, the press and the Labour government all thought they could drive out the activists who had led earlier strikes. But instead it was the bosses and their allies who got stuffed.
The lesson for the rest of the labour movement is clear. Lindsey workers won by taking unofficial, “illegal” action while at British Airways hundreds of workers are bullied into working for free for up to a month.
Every worker must learn this lesson. When they come for you, remember that it is possible to fight and win.
Protest at the Labour Party conference
Sunday 27 Sept, Brighton
Called by the UCU and NUJ, supported by the Fight for the Right to Work campaign