Oil workers' leader speaks out: "We are into a long campaign"

Submitted by Janine on 12 October, 1990 - 10:41 Author: Ronnie MacDonald

Ronnie MacDonald, Chair of the rank and file based Offshore Industry Liaison Committee, describes the way the Tory anti-union laws make it very difficult to organise a successful ballot in the North Sea, and sets out what he sees as the way forward in the battle for union recognition.

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It's a simple fact that the officials of the union are not balloting those workers who have been sacked.

It's the law. It's not the union's position, you can't get round it. Once people have been sacked they no longer have an employer, and therefore cannot declare a trade dispute.

The sacked workers and those out on the platforms are very very angry about this.

It's so easy to get ballots invalidated. All the employers have to do is take on, say, six extra workers on the eve of a strike and they can claim that circumstances are changed. The courts will then declare the ballot null and void.

The oil contractors are also using other methods to frustrate the ballot.

They are refusing to give us accurate lists of their employees. They can then have the ballot declared invalid as some people are likely not to have been balloted.

A very similar thing happened during the 1989 dock strike at Tilbury. Management found one person who had not had their ballot paper on time and managed to get the whole ballot declared invalid.

This is a subtle point of the Tory anti-union laws. It is assumed that the employers will cooperate with the ballot, you can even go to tribunal to get them instructed to cooperate, but you have no way of enforcing them.

One thing you must say about the Tory legislation is that it is very effective for the employers.

Take the injunctions. Employers can get injunctions to make people desist from some activity or another but you can't get an injunction to make them do something.

The power of enforcement is with the employers all the way down the line.

Nevertheless, we are going ahead with the ballot and will follow it through all the way. We are going out for maximum registration.

The time has come now when the labour movement has go to look to changing the legal set-up, to redress the balance. To give workers some statutory rights.

Where now? The men are a little battle weary to say the least. Our ability to organise has obviously been affected by the widespread sackings. It's taken out a lot of our best activists and organisers.

We are in a long-term campaign. Looking at strategy - we have to see what resources we have and what is the best time to use them. We are going into the winter - it is true that engineering and construction work will continue through the winter, but nevertheless there will be a certain drop off.

But when we get into next year around March and April there will be a big increase in the manpower needed; welders, beaters, steel erectors, pipe fitters, etc.

The petro-chemical industry in Scotland is extremely buoyant and looking for a major expansion.

There is going to be a big extension at Grangemouth and the next door Kinneil petro-chemical plant is also expanding as are other places.

There is also the oil rig building that will be competing for this same labour.

There aren't the skills to go round so the oil conractors and the companies will be competing.

In that context there is a very strong case for picking the time to fight.

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