The deal between Ineos bosses and the Unite union at Grangemouth petrochemical plant is nothing to celebrate.
Billionaire boss Jim Ratcliffe has used the threat of closure to force through a “survival plan” of massive cuts to workers’ wages, pensions and conditions.
It also commits the union to not striking for at least three years, and removes the facility time of the site’s two full-time union convenors. Unite general secretary Len McCluskey signed up to it “warts and all”.
The deal includes all the attacks that Unite was rightly calling on workers to reject less than a week ago—and most of them did. But Ratcliffe called Unite’s bluff and said he’d close the plant.
This should not have been the end.
Ratcliffe’s claim that the plant was not sustainable without the cuts was an “accounting trick”, as shown by research commissioned by Unite.
Pressure was mounting on the Scottish government to nationalise the plant to save jobs—just as it had Prestwick airport near Glasgow.
And Unite had a strong mandate for action, from Ineos workers’ rejection of the new terms and conditions and from their earlier vote to strike in defence of union rep Stephen Deans. But the union leadership caved in, without any attempt to build a fightback.
In an awkward press conference Grangemouth chairman Calum MacLean was forced to deny holding a gun to Scotland’s head, while McCluskey was forced to deny that the union’s U-turn was in any way humiliating.
After the despair raised by the prospect of Grangemouth’s closure earlier this week, many workers will be breathing a sigh of relief despite the deep and unnecessary sacrifices that have been forced upon them.
But if the union’s leadership had built on their votes with action, it could have turned out very differently.
A series of capitulations that began with calling off the planned strike to defend Stephen Deans last weekend gave the Ineos bosses the green light to push for more. Now the acceptance of the “survival plan” could give the green light to bosses across Britain to go on the offensive. There is a danger that this deal could become a benchmark.
If we are to avoid seeing more Grangemouths, it is essential that union leaders are prepared to build a fight instead of accepting attacks. That means building up rank and file organisation so that workers have the confidence to act for themselves when they don’t.