Workers' Weekly On-Line
Volume 49 Number 13, June 22, 2019 ARCHIVE HOME JBCENTRE SUBSCRIBE

Workers' Forum

10th Anniversary of the Oil Refinery Workers' Strike

Ten years have passed since the waves of strikes that began at the Lindsey Oil Refinery in Lincolnshire, quickly spreading to other refineries. This was a powerful action in defence of the rights of all workers against the attacks on those rights by the oil monopolies. The so-called "wave of wildcat strikes" - a period of united action by industrial workers not seen since the great class battles of the eighties - illustrated the workers' strength when they exercise their weight as an organised force. The strikes had a widespread effect upon the energy industry.

The initial strike at Lindsey was triggered when a £200 million construction contract to build a hydro-desulphurisation unit at the refinery was not offered to them. Instead, owners Total sub-contracted the work to Italian-based IREM, which hired workers mainly from Italy and Portugal. Work was not offered locally.

At the time, Workers' Daily Internet Edition (WDIE) [1] wrote:

"These actions have raised very serious issues, not least the role of the workers as a political force in their own right...

"The workers involved are taking action in defence of their right to a livelihood, against the iniquitous system of contract labour which threatens not only their livelihoods but the communities where they live and the economy as a whole. They are taking a stand against the monopolies riding roughshod over their rights and interests and are intent on drawing a line in the sand as more and more workers are being thrown out of their jobs as the economic crisis deepens".

The context, at the time of the height of the global financial crisis, was where the monopolies, in the course of dominating the whole of political and economic life, were using the crisis to call all the shots, and to accelerate the anti-social offensive in their favour. The New Labour government under Gordon Brown and his Business Secretary, Lord Mandelson, were doing everything to bolster and appease these monopolies, such as bailing out the banks with previously unheard-of sums. The government's programme was to rescue monopoly capital and open the country up to ensure the owners of capital could continue to prosper and expand their capital in the conditions of the crisis.

At Lindsey, explained WDIE, oil monopoly Total "is setting out to expand its capital to the maximum as quickly as possible. It is doing so amongst many other means by contracting out work to other capitalist concerns, in this case an Italian firm, which in turn hires labour as it wishes and from where it wishes. The workers are not and cannot be reconciled to this state of affairs, and, as with the destruction of the manufacturing base as a whole... are saying enough is enough."

Workers had to resist hard the attempts to label them as racist and "xenophobic", which had been the tactic of Lord Mandelson. In this connection, the slogan "British jobs for British workers", which Gordon Brown himself had raised at the Labour Party conference in 2007, was being promoted in an attempt to sow division. WDIE explained that the opposition was to the monopolies undermining the livelihoods and working conditions of all workers:

"The workers in Britain are constantly having to contend with the chauvinism of the British ruling elite and its influence within the working class. There are solutions to the crisis of the economy, but they are not to be found in the slogans of 'British jobs for British workers' which have their origin in the chauvinism of the ruling class... In opposition to British chauvinism, the workers are affirming that 'foreign' workers are workers also."

The action was huge. As well as the hundreds on strike at Lindsey itself, hundreds more refinery workers walked out in solidarity at Grangemouth Oil Refinery in central Scotland, Aberthaw in South Wales, the ICI site in Wilton, Teesside, and at British Petroleum in Saltend, Hull.

Though a resolution was initially negotiated quickly, lay-offs at Lindsey in June led to further unofficial strikes. This time, sympathy strikes were held in Fiddlers Ferry Power Station in Cheshire, Aberthaw, Saltend, Drax Power Station and Eggborough Power station in Yorkshire, Ratcliffe-on-Soar Power Station in Nottinghamshire, and the BOC oxygen plant at Scunthorpe. In reply, some 700 workers were sacked for taking unofficial action at the Lindsey refinery.

Eventually, an agreement was reached on June 25: the sacked workers were reinstated and those laid off were offered alternative jobs, while workers at other sites were given assurances that they would not be victimised for their solidarity action.

"What is at stake is who should be at the centre of decision-making," concluded WDIE. "The way forward is for the workers to organise themselves as an effective political force to stay the hand of the monopolies and their ability to dictate, irrespective of the requirements of the national economy and the human beings who live and produce the wealth here. In opposition, a human-centred society is what the working class and people are striving to attain."

[1] "The Oil Refinery Workers and the Economic Crisis", Workers' Daily Internet Edition, Year 2009 No. 9, February 4, 2009,


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