Wild walkouts hit UK oil refineries and power stations

A wave of wildcat strikes by contract workers erupted at UK refineries and power stations on Wednesday, amid continued walkouts by Amazon workers. Workers are protesting the massive drop in wages in relation to the spiraling cost of living.

The sites concerned are covered by the National Agreement of the Engineering and Construction Industry (NAECI), concluded by the unions Unite and GMB with the Association of the Engineering and Construction Industry ( ECIA) in August 2021.

The ‘Blue Book’ agreement has been hailed by ECIA Chairman Jock Simpson as the ‘means of managing working relationships to deliver projects on time and on budget’ and as the ‘key to the stability of industrial relations”. Its main objective is to enable the UK mechanical engineering industry to remain “globally competitive”, with a “productive and competitive workforce”.

The agreement grants a wage increase of just 2.5% in January 2022 and another 2.5% in January 2023. Inflation is nearly 12% and rising rapidly.

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A leaflet distributed by the strikers demanded: ‘We deserve a decent pay rise’ and explained that the action was ‘in response to the ECIA’s refusal to recognize the impact of the cost of living crisis on its workers’. .

Denouncing a “real-world pay cut of at least 10%”, the workers said they were expected to “continue”.

“Some of us have worked through the pandemic to keep the country running, some of us have been laid off” while others “took a wage freeze.” The employers “categorically refused” to make another offer, the statement continued, “We cannot allow this cavalier attitude to continue.”

The flyer concludes: “Clients are making record profits. Inflation at its highest for 40 years. People before profits.

The strikers intend to go out every other Wednesday until their demands are met.

Union leaders reportedly raised concerns with employers in May about the volatile nature of the situation, but were told to wait until 2024. They complied obediently and predictably.

Measures have been taken informally.

In Fife, Scotland, around 250 workers at the Mossmorran ExxonMobil refinery took part, gathering outside the plant and blocking the road. We said The mail“Contractors have been considered essential workers during the pandemic and have played a critical role in keeping the Mossmorran plant running.”

Another slammed employers for ‘reveling’ in record profits, adding: ‘I have never missed a shift during lockdown to keep this factory open’.

A similar number left the Valero refinery in Pembroke, Wales. An attacker told the Western Telegraph in reference to rising food and energy bills, “No man or woman should go to work and wonder if they will have to choose between eating or turning on the heat.

“The strike is the only thing we can do.”

Nearly 300 workers, including electricians, scaffolders and pipe fitters, were beaten at the Humber refinery in northeast England, run by Phillips 66. A worker said Grimsby Live“We worked through the pandemic to keep it going and we didn’t even get full pay. Almost all of us caught Covid.

“Basically, we earn less money than three years ago”.

Another told the paper they were on strike for a 15% raise.

Contractors from the nearby Lindsey refinery came out to support the Humber strike. We said live hull, “The cost of living is supposed to increase by 11.6% and we will only get a salary increase of 2.6%. If it continues like this, there will be people who will no longer be able to live. People can’t afford to live now.

Around 250 workers, including maintenance and repair staff, walked out on Wednesday at Petroineos’ Grangemouth refinery in Scotland, blocking one of the main access roads to the site. Another protest took place at the ExxonMobil refinery in Fawley, Southampton, the largest in the UK. Hundreds of people flocked to Drax Power Station near Selby in Yorkshire, which has the highest generating capacity of any power station in the UK.

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A media blackout makes it hard to be sure, but there are reports of more than 20 workplaces affected in total.

The companies that operate these sites are all making record profits. ExxonMobil recently reported second-quarter earnings of $17.85 billion; Valero, $4.7 billion; Phillips 66, $3.2 billion; Ineos, $572 million. Drax made over £200m in profit in the six months to June.

With wildcat strikes at Amazon and the walkout at Cranswick Continental Foods in Bury in the North West of England earlier this month, the refinery strikes show explosive working class sentiment. But any struggle is sabotaged by the unions.

The refinery strikes closely mirror wildcat walkouts by offshore oil workers at 16 rigs in May, which were joined by a walkout by construction workers at the Humber refinery. These were also carried out by employees at subcontractors and independently of the unions. Workers called for a ‘wage revolution’, citing huge profits made by energy companies and demanding a £7 rise in the hourly rate.

A view of the Humber Refinery looking south from Nicholson Road near North Killingholme, North Lincolnshire. [Photo by David Wright / CC BY-SA 4.0]

Unions Unite, GMB and Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) reacted by refusing to challenge the media blackout on the action and allowing the company to make blunt threats against the strikers. They then cited contractor Bilfinger UK’s acceptance to become a signatory to the Energy Services Agreement (ESA) as a pretext to call for a joint return to work with the company.

ESA is the equivalent of NAECI, setting wages and conditions for 5,000 offshore workers. Unite Regional Manager John Boland said: “The Energy Services Agreement is a new way of working that brings all parties together to solve the challenges facing the industry and our members and ensures that through the through their unions, they are treated fairly and rewarded for their efforts.

Exposing all this pro-corporate union propaganda, workers covered by the ESA won an insulting 2.32% pay rise this year.

Last November Unite ended a strike by 400 workers at the Essar refinery in Stanlow, near Liverpool, offering a 6.2% pay deal for 2022 when inflation was already at 7.1% and rising rapidly.

Last June, Unite ended a strike by 100 workers at the Fawley refinery. Workers received a 9.2% raise, well below the inflation rate of 11.1% at the time, and without the main claim for occupational disease benefits being resolved.

The potential exists for a massive movement of workers in the energy industry. A stand for good wages against profiteering energy companies would win huge popular support among workers across Britain facing dire fuel bills. But the unions refuse to organize such a movement. They pushed forward limited disputes, always ending in betrayal, while allowing most of the industry to suffer the appalling rates of pay they negotiated.

During the Fawley Dispute, Unite reacted with horror when unified action was taken between just two contracting firms. After one of the union’s own representatives was suspended by the employers for allowing 50 of his colleagues from a contractor not involved in the dispute to join the strikers, Unite suspended the strike and ended it shortly after.

Workers should no longer be in straitjackets. They face a ferociously hostile Conservative government and a Labor “opposition” that they must mobilize with all their might to defeat.

The Conservatives have already passed legislation authorizing strike-breaking operations by mass agencies. Johnson’s successor will implement a new set of anti-strike laws.

It should be understood that the Government’s planning for the chaos of a no-deal Brexit now largely unfolding, codenamed Operation Yellowhammer, has focused on the UK fuel industry. The only redacted paragraph in the government forecast dealt with the threat of refinery strikes.

These documents were all discussed in the context of plans to deploy tens of thousands of soldiers and police to deal with “civil unrest” and the use of the Civil Contingencies Act to give the government sweeping authoritarian powers.

Overcoming this fierce state offensive by the ruling class means adopting a new political perspective and building new organizations of struggle, independent of the trade unions. Rank and file committees should be established in every workplace, including all workers regardless of employment status, forming links in the energy industry nationally and internationally, listing demands and organizing coordinated and all-out action to win them.

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