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Year 2009 No. 9, February 4, 2009 ARCHIVE HOME JBBOOKS SUBSCRIBE

Workers Take Action in Defence of their Livelihoods:

The Oil Refinery Workers and the Economic Crisis

Workers' Daily Internet Edition: Article Index :

The Oil Refinery Workers and the Economic Crisis

For Your Information:
"Refinery workers are understandably and rightly angry", says TUC
Unite’s Three-Point Plan
Total S.A.
"The Facts on the Ground"

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Workers Take Action in Defence of their Livelihoods:

The Oil Refinery Workers and the Economic Crisis

In the context of the economic crisis and the need for workers to take action to combat it and set the agenda for society, the so-called "wave of wildcat strikes" has broken out, sparked at the Lindsey Oil Refinery, owned by Total Oil.

These actions have raised very serious issues, not least the role of the workers as a political force in their own right. In the course of these actions over the past few days, the workers have come under almost unprecedented pressure to abandon their experience as workers and their class instincts. It is to the credit of the workers that they have resisted this pressure, but the government and the media have done all they can to hide the actual issues under a barrage of divisive and diversionary propaganda.

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 actions have underlined the hollow and self-serving character of the propaganda of Gordon Brown and his Business Secretary, Lord Mandelson. This government has been only too ready to bailout the banks with billions upon billions from the public treasury, while oozing fine words about safeguarding jobs, pensions and so on, and declaring that this massive exercise in paying the rich was necessary to oil the wheels of the economy. Mandelson himself was brought in to facilitate the programme of New Labour that favours big business and the monopolies, to entrench its anti-worker character and to strengthen the links with the Europe of the monopolies. This is a Europe that French and Italian workers themselves have been taking action against, particularly evident in the recent general strike in France.

The issue is that in the course of dominating the whole of political and economic life, the monopolies like Total, a French monopoly, are calling the shots, and Brown and Mandelson are simply saying everything that will bolster and appease these monopolies. The government’s declared aim to combat the economic crisis is in fact a programme to serve and rescue monopoly capital and open the country up to ensure these owners of capital can prosper and expand their capital in the conditions of the crisis.

This is of a piece with the government’s programme, now firmly identified with the Business Secretary, of the sell-off and privatisation of the Royal Mail, the opening up of public services to competition, the promotion of the fetish of competition above everything, and the complete domination of the social economy to pay the rich and enforce monopoly dictate at the expense of the public good. The monopolies are pursuing every means to return to the working class the minimum of the wealth which the workers produce by transforming raw materials into use-value, and to deny the application of the wealth the monopolies seize to social programmes, and to be invested in the social economy. This they do through the existence of the unequal relations of production, whereby the capitalists control and are the owners of the means of production in the socialised economy, and where the workers are being forced to appear on the scene merely as chattel-labour and hire out their labour power. This is the issue at the Lindsey Oil Refinery (LOR), where 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, and the turning of social programmes into a reservoir of profit for the rich, are saying enough is enough.

It is of course the case that British monopolies too are past masters at denying the right of the workers to a livelihood, at seeking to set worker against worker and cause disunity amongst the working class, at contracting out their employment, and attempting to rubbish the watchword of the working class that an injury to one is an injury to all. In opposition the workers are constantly attempting to take up the responsibility of defending the unity of their class, and of taking up the responsibility of the working class to lead the way out of the crisis and to establish control over the direction of the economy, and capture that power needed to enforce this control for the public good and for a modern socialised economy.

Workers have the duty not only to defend the rights of all and the dignity of labour. They have the duty to take up the task of organising to oppose and put a stop to the dictate of the monopolies, and the monopolies’ wrecking of the social economy.

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. The ruling class promotes this chauvinism, while itself wrecking the national economy, and inviting in foreign monopolies to devastate the social economy. Workers have to put forward their own solutions, elaborating the programme of stopping paying the rich and increasing investments in social programmes. In opposition to British chauvinism, the workers are affirming that "foreign" workers are workers also. They are affirming that these "foreign" workers are being brought to this country to undermine the livelihoods and working conditions of all workers. That the media propaganda and focus has been on promoting the concept of "British jobs for British workers" can be considered a reactionary plot against the workers, and to get them begging to be exploited. The LOR workers are resisting the attempts to label them as racist, and "xenophobic", which has been the latest tactic of the Lord Mandelson.

The context of these portrayals of the workers is that of an attempt to stop the working class and people from going on the offensive, at a time when society is crying out for solutions to be put forward, when the people are rising in defence of the rights of all, and for the people to be the decision-makers everywhere.

For the government and the monopolies which operate in Britain, it makes no odds whether they declare "British jobs for British workers" or "British jobs for European workers". It is directed at facilitating the amassing of capital, and denying the experience of the workers that their interests are not identified with those of the owners of big capital. It can be said that this spin on the workers' actions is also part and parcel of a move towards warmongering and a redivision of the world, at a time when the financial and economic crisis is causing devastation for the workers here and the oppressed people throughout the world. The reactionary forces are stepping up their plans to re-order the world, where their system has been shown to be in crisis from top to bottom, and where both the Europe of the monopolies and the Anglo-US imperialists are trying to compete on a world-scale with emerging economies, such as China. In this scenario, the British ruling elite has its own filthy interests, serving its own monopolies, and furthering its geo-political interests as part of the EU and as part of the Anglo-American alliance.

It is totally hypocritical of Lord Mandelson to speak of the "national interest", and condemning the workers of damaging this interest by demanding harsher controls on overseas companies operating in Britain. What is at stake is who should be at the centre of decision-making.

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.

Defend the Rights of All!
Defend the Dignity of Labour!
No to the Chauvinism of the Ruling Elite!
Whose Economy? Our Economy!

Article Index

For Your Information

"Refinery workers are understandably and rightly angry", says TUC

Commenting on the dispute centring on the Lindsey Oil Refinery in North Lincolnshire, TUC General Secretary Brendan Barber said:

"With big job losses announced every day, workers are fearful for their jobs. Refinery workers are understandably and rightly angry at employers who have not given British based workers the opportunity to apply for new jobs. The employer will be in breach of the law if they restrict any future vacancies to workers of a particular nationality or location.

"But unions are also clear that the anger should be directed at employers, not the Italian workers. No doubt some of the more distasteful elements in our towns and cities will try to use the fears of workers to stir up hatred and xenophobia, but I am confident that union members will direct their anger at the employers who have caused this dispute with their apparent attempt to undercut the wages, conditions and union representation of existing staff.

"Unions have fought hard for decent conditions for migrant workers and back the free movement of labour within the EU, but that is entirely compatible with wanting to see new jobs recruited fairly, with everyone given the chance to apply and be judged on the basis of their skills.

"There is much concern among unions at recent decisions of the European Court of Justice – particularly the Viking-Laval cases – that appear to allow companies to undermine existing pay, working conditions and pensions by moving workforces around Europe in this way. European governments must close this legal loophole that drives a huge hole through social Europe."

Article Index

For Your Information

Unite’s Three-Point Plan

Unite: 2 February 2009

Derek Simpson, joint leader of Unite, on Monday proposed a three-point plan for dealing with the current wave of unofficial strike action taking place across construction sites in Britain.

Derek Simpson said: "Unite is proposing a three point plan that the UK government should follow to resolve the wave of unofficial unrest gripping the UK. There needs to be a systematic approach which deals with the immediate problem of the current unofficial strikes and then addresses the root cause of the discontent. "

1. Resolve the immediate problem that exists at Total's Lindsey oil refinery. Reach an agreement which gives fair consideration for UK labour to work on the contract.

2. Carry out an investigation into the practices of contractors and subcontractors in the engineering and construction industry. Follow by action from the government which will insist that companies applying for contracts on public infrastructure projects, sign up to Corporate Social Responsibility agreements which commit to fair access for UK Labour.

3. Overturn European legal precedents which allow employers to undercut wages and conditions. A European Court of Justice precedent gives employers a license for 'social dumping' and prevents unions form taking action to prevent the erosion of UK workers' pay and condition. (The Viking case concerned the re-flagging of a Finnish ship to Estonia with the aim of applying lower standards to the seamen on the ship;

The Laval case concerned the application of Latvian wages and working conditions on Latvian workers employed by a Latvian company on a Swedish construction site.)

Mr Simpson continued:

"The government is failing to grasp the fundamental issues. The problem is not workers from other European countries working in the UK, nor is it about foreign contractors winning contracts in the UK. The problem is that employers are excluding UK workers from even applying for work on these contracts.

"The flexible labour market is a one-way street that only benefits the employers. We are now seeing the backlash as the recession bites. The government must ensure that employers do no not raise barriers to UK based labour applying for work. There should be a level playing field for workers who wish to apply for work on Britain’s engineering and construction projects. No European worker should be barred from applying for a British job and absolutely no British worker should be barred from applying for a British job."

Article Index

For Your Information

Total S.A.

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Total S.A. (Euronext: FP, NYSE: TOT) is an oil company headquartered in Paris, France, and one of the six "Supermajor" oil companies in the world. Its businesses cover the entire oil and gas chain, from crude oil and natural gas exploration and production to power generation, transportation, refining, petroleum product marketing, and international crude oil and product trading. Total is also a large-scale chemicals manufacturer.

Rejecting the idea of partnering with Royal Dutch Shell, French Prime Minister Raymond Poincaré insisted after World War I that France create an entirely French oil company. At Poincaré's behest, Col. Ernest Mercier, a graduate of the École Polytechnique expert in the electric industry, enlisted the support of ninety banks and companies to found Total on March 28, 1924, as the Compagnie française des pétroles (CFP), literally the "French Company of Petroleums". Petroleum was seen as vital in the case of a new war with Germany. However, the company was from the start a private sector company (it was listed on the Paris Stock Exchange for the first time in 1929). CFP took up the 23.75% share of Deutsche Bank in the Turkish Petroleum Company (renamed the Iraq Petroleum Company), awarded to France as compensation for war damages caused by Germany during World War I by the San Remo conference.

In 1985 the company was renamed Total CFP. In 1991 the company name became simply Total. After Total's takeover of Petrofina in 1999, it became known as Total Fina. Afterwards it also acquired Elf Aquitaine. First named TotalFinaElf after the merger in 2000, it was later renamed back to Total in May 2003.

Total operates in more than 130 countries and has over 96,400 employees.[1] As recently as 1992, the French government still held 5% of the firm's shares, down from a peak of over thirty percent. [2] In the time period between 1990 and 1994, foreign ownership of the firm increased from 23% to 44%.

  1. ^ "Group/Presentation". http://www.total.com. 2008-05-15. http://www.total.com/en/group/presentation/home_group/group_presentation_2330.htm. Retrieved on 2008-09-17. 
  2. ^ Chapter 2

Article Index

For Your Information

"The Facts on the Ground"

(Source: PR Publications)

The statement from Keith Gibson, of the GMB, elected onto unofficial LOR Strike Committee but writing in a personal capacity, gives the most detailed explanation of just what is going on so far available.

Gibson explains that the strike broke out as a result of a contract being awarded to an Italian firm IREM and that redundancy notices were issued as the existing British workforce were to be replaced by contract workers from abroad employed by IREM. He says the temperature was further raised by an identical situation at "Staythorpe Power Station where the company Alstom were refusing to hire British labour relying on non-union Polish and Spanish workers instead."

The strike broke out when on "Wednesday 28th January 2009 Shaws' workforce were told by the Stewards that IREM had stated they would not be employing British labour."


Were Total to be the sole employer, and not sub-contracting the work out to IREM, those workers of theirs who lost their jobs when the contract was awarded to the Italian company would have had to be offered the jobs before anyone else.

There is no doubt that many of the workers and the union leaders see the issue as one of opposing sub-contracting and the casualisation of labour and the right of employers to ride rough shod over terms and conditions. This is entirely supportable.

There is a  very real issue around sub-contractors undercutting locally negotiated wage rates, especially with the more intense exploitation in recent years of workers from Poland, the Baltic republics and other East European accession states. Since last autumn there has been a long-running dispute at a power station site near Newark, Nottinghamshire, where a Spanish-based contractor clearly has been using Polish workers as cheap labour.

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