Last week, Unite members at the Grangemouth oil refinery went on strike for two days. Negotiations between the Union and the employers, Ineos, are now due to resume this week.
Press reports indicate that Ineos have withdrawn their plan to end the final salary pension scheme. This was the main issue behind the dispute, so it looks like the Unite members have won.
Many workers in the private sector have already lost their final salary schemes, so this is an important victory. Why did the Grangemouth workers win?
At one level it was pure economics. According to some economists, the oil companies lost £430 million because of the two day strike. That’s a big sum of money even for Jim Ratcliffe, the man who owns two thirds of Ineos. Ratcliffe was listed recently as the tenth richest man in the UK, with a £3.3bn fortune. And the Government reportedly lost £170 million in tax.
It wasn’t just economics though. The Unite members had to stand up to all the pressure from the press and politicians with their talk about threats to petrol supplies for ordinary motorists. The blackmail was there but was successfully resisted.
In the end, political pressure was also important. Whitehall put pressure on Ineos to settle. One source said: “Apparently, the Government was itself coming under pressure from the likes of Opec to make sure the action did not escalate.”
Health workers don’t have the economic power of the Grangemouth oil refinery works – but we do have the political power.
After Labour’s disastrous results in the local elections, the last thing they want is a confrontation with a million health workers. There is already talk in the press about Gordon Brown and the Government making concessions on food prices, petrol tax, and income tax.
Now is not the time to accept a three year pay deal that represents a year on year decline in the value of our wages. We should reject the offer and be prepared for a bit of Grangemouth. I bet we could win a decent deal in less than their two days, if we let the Government see our collective anger.