Why would a bunch of environmental activists support workers in an oil refinery?

Submitted by AWL on 24 June, 2009 - 12:35

Total, the world’s sixth largest oil multinational sacked 600 workers at the Lindsey oil refinery last week. Illegal walkouts and strikes have occurred in solidarity in power stations and other sites.
The Lindsey workers had already been on strike for a week in protest at the earlier sacking of 51 workers which in turn was the company’s attempt to get rid of ‘troublemakers’ in response to strike action in January/February.
These layoffs have nothing to do with any closing down of operations; Total still have every intention of operating the refinery, and gaining massive profits from doing so. After being sacked, the workers were then asked to reapply for the same jobs. This is a straightforward attempt by the bosses to stamp their authority and remind the workforce of who is in charge.
These workers work in the very specialised industry know as ‘engineering construction,’ which deals with the truly massive projects where the buildings and the machinery inside have to be built together. These would be the people who would be used to, for example, build, maintain or expand coal-fired power stations and the like. The work is highly skilled and somewhat of a closed shop. Most workers are specialists who do not work in other types of construction and often move around from site to site. This means there are strong links, people across the country will know or have met each other and this fosters sense of solidarity [within the industry at least].
The sector is one of the few remaining bastions of ‘old fashioned’ trade unionism left in Britain. Workers are covered by a national agreement which guarantees everything from pay to tea breaks across the country – most workers in Britain are not even covered by an agreement across their workplace. The huge strike action taken earlier in the year was against the displacement of workers already on site in favour of "posted" workers not covered by the national union agreement and brought in from a non-union Italian subcontractor.
Workers’ Climate Action supports this militant action by workers in defence of their conditions. We have been down to Didcot power station, where the contractors walked out as well as the Lindsey refinery itself. We also responded to the call by the Campaign Against Immigration Controls to hold a protest at the UK head office of Total in Watford on Monday [22nd] – report here http://www.caic.org.uk/node/44.
This is the text of the leaflet we have been giving out;
Defend the right to organise!
Stop the bosses’ attacks!
For workers’ control of the energy industry!
Workers Climate Action calls for the immediate reinstatement of the 600 workers sacked this week at the Lindsey oil refinery.
These layoffs are nothing more than the bosses’ attempt to remind us who runs the factory, who runs the industry, who is in charge. This is direct retaliation for the action taken by workers in January/February this year. The message is clear, the bosses are trying to break the power of workers in the energy industry to organise.
The bosses’ logic of exploiting and degrading workers is exactly the same as the logic that drives them to trash the planet. We cannot accept this system where people’s work and natural resources are wasted for the benefit of a few.
The bosses want to take away our ability to organise and resist. We must fight to regain control of our workplaces, of our lives. If we don’t they will be happy to squeeze every drop out of us and destroy our world in the process.
Even though, as climate activists, we think that heavily polluting industries such as these will need to stop if we are to leave any kind of future on earth, we have to ask who we trust to make these decisions rationally and for the benefit of the whole of society. The bosses and politicians only act in the interests of their class, they cannot be trusted.
We defend the workers at Lindsey as well as all those who have taken action in solidarity across the country. The fight for pay and conditions can become a much bigger fight for democratic control of the whole energy industry, this can put us in a position to demand training, investment in green technology and that the skills of the workforce are used to build a sustainable alternative.
This kind of solidarity, this kind of intervention is very important. The January/February strikes led to the fairly widespread use of the slogan ‘British Jobs for British Workers. The reason why CAIC, a group which fights the exploitation of migrant workers, was so quick to come and make solidarity was to try and re-orientate the fight to a message of ‘workers of the world unite’. We must make solidarity but do so while making the argument that for the sake of humanity and the world these industries cannot go on forever. However we consider climate change to be a question of class power, and when struggle as clear as this erupts in an industry so significant to the environmental question, we know whose side we are on.

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