'The North Sea will never be the same again'

Submitted by Janine on 23 August, 1990 - 10:53

Socialist Organiser spoke to Laughlin and Bob who spent two weeks sitting in on the Brent Alpha platform following the first 24-hour strike.

Bob: The sit-in started because we were originally locked out and told to go home, which we refused to do. We wanted to go back to work. Because management wouldn't let us go back to work we decided to sit in.

Originally there were about 60 men two weeks ago, but we lost a lot straightaway because the company said, 'right boys, if you come to the beach by this deadline, you will be re-employable and on half-pay or standby pay'. Then it got to 'listen boys we didn't really mean to sack you the last time, but if you come home this time you'll be re-employable'. And then we got another offer - 'if you come home this time by 12 o'clock, everything will be OK'.

Loughlin: We had a 24-hour stoppage. They let two or three people go back to work but locked the majority out. That is why we sat in.

Bob: It seems it's Shell's turn to take a hard line. BP did it last year, Shell could be doing it this year.

Loughlin: I was on the OILC standing committee last year when we did a six-day sit-in and it was 'Oh boys we are treating you fair and we can't control BP'. Now it's Shell who are wielding the big stick.

Shell have their favourites. One of the men they let back had already worked three weeks. He did four weeks and that is against Shell policy.

Bob: The psychological warfare was very heavy. We were threatened with the police.

Loughlin: Threats that we'd never work offshore again. That we'd never even work on the beach ever again. They said they'd drag us screaming onto choppers but as we are helideck crew we knew the pilot would never take off if you were having to be restrained in any way.

Bob: For a couple of days we couldn't telephone our families.

Loughlin: After the Shell men kicked up a stink about this they put on one phone. If you wanted to phone home you were sitting in a queue of 30 or 40 people. And even then they [Shell] were listening in.

They were even cutting us off from union reps. We would phone our union offices and the lines would go down. I'm a shop steward for the T&G. I would phone the T&G office and next minute the line was down.

Bob: A statement from the managing director of Shell said words to the effect: 'they have cut off certain numbers because there were deemed as unnecessary calls'.

All the lines between platforms sitting in were cut. Our information came from friendly Shell guys who could get through to the OILC control room, or radio men. We held meetings twice a day to keep people informed.

Loughlin: They tried the usual tricks. They told us we were the only people sitting in on Brent field. But we heard that last year, so didn't believe them.

Bob: The average Shell man was definitely behind us. They were always asking how we were getting on. You felt they were concerned for you. A lot of them used to work for contractors.

Safety has definitely got worse. The platforms are deteriorating, and not enough money is being invested. OK, they're putting in these new valves, but that's not to save our necks, that's to save the platform!

Loughlin: I'll give you an example. I got a safety award for reporting part of the L3 deck was subsiding with the weight of the well. The actual deck plates and the beams that the deck plates sit on were subsiding so the deck was giving way. That was three years ago and it's still not been repaired. And I got a safety award for telling them about it!

Bob: I was a safety rep as well and I was put on a Shell safety course. It was amazing - just a Shell and BP public relations course, that's all it was. They cancelled 'any other business' at the safety meetings because there were safety points being brought up!

Management went to war psychologically. Everything that's happened out there has happened in a small area with a group of men and it's management fighting the boys.

Loughlin: Ronnie McDonald sums it up in one sentence. The North Sea will never be the same again, never. He's got the majority of the boys behind him. The boys are coming out signing their bits of paper and they're down on strike again. If I get a job I will be going out signing my bit of paper and I will be downing tools the minute he says so.

Bob: Me too. I look forward to getting back. Give me a couple of days with my family and I'll be back out there.

The companies have got to realise that Ronnie McDonald is a man that we listen to and not the unions so much, let Ronnie listen to the unions and take their advice. We listen to Ronnie and that's it.

Loughlin: Ronnie's got the power for the simple reason that he's got our interests at heart and he is fighting for us.

Bob: And we believe that he believes in us.

Loughlin: We have a levy of £5 a trip which we pay to the OILC because we believe in it. My wages have more or less doubled since last year but it's not wages it's about. It's conditions and safety.

Bob: Our demands will be met. All we want is union recognition. We're not asking for a million dollars a week, we're not even asking for money.