The flares from the tops of the stacks are an icon in the Grangemouth area and beyond. A distinct landmark which can be seen for miles as it belches out its pollution. This weeks events at the plant are also a landmark and the pollution from it may be just as long lasting unless we stop it in its tracks.
The backstory to Grangemouth is one of political wheeling and dealing, involving one of the most corrupt entities in Scotland, the Labour Party. Falkirk Labour Party has never really had a good relationship with the top echelons. Dennis Canavan had been an MP in the area since 1974, always a backbencher, but none the less respected. His commitment to Scottish Independence in particular proving a barrier to climbing slippery poles. When the Scottish Parliament which he had campaigned for was established, he resigned from the party after the application to become the Labour candidate for the area was rejected. The strong local support and resentment at the national party for refusing him endorsement saw him get elected as an Independent. This led to a vacancy in the MP for Falkirk West.
London labour imposed the notorious Eric Joyce, in defiance of local wishes. Eric Joyce was and is a prat. You only had to spend 10 minutes in his company to realise that. But he was dreadfully good at backscratching, and his skills required rewarding. Inappropriate relationships with teenage girls, drunk driving, and physical assaults in the House of Commons followed, eventually he became too much of a liability, and he was suspended from the party in 2012, announcing that he would stand down at the next election.
While all this was going on, Stevie Deans – who had recently become the chair of UNITE was recruiting members like topsy in the INEOS refinery at Grangemouth while he was shop steward, as workers realised that an attack on their pay and conditions was imminent and they were seeking to grow their collective power. He was also the Chair of the Falkirk constituency Labour Party. An all-women shortlist was proposed and accepted by the NEC. This was interpreted as manoevering by UNITE; Deans, and his favoured candidate Karie Murphy. Meanwhile her main rival Gregor Poynton, director of the company which handles PR for the Labour Party, was handing over a cheque to pay the membership fees of other new members while complaining bitterly about dodgy dealings in recruitment and the all-women shortlist. In the end, the Labour party ended up disbarring anyone who had joined after March 2012, upheld the all women shortlist and Katie Murphy withdrew her nomination.
But what has this got to do with Grangemouth you ask. Well, here’s where it gets nasty. The Labour Party decided to turn the report that they wrote on UNITE recruiting Labour Party members over to the Police. Yup, that’s right. A trade union shop steward who was not only recruiting for his own trade union and encouraging them to get involved in bigger struggles was reported to the police by a supposedly socialist party for doing so. Deans is one of the old school, one that actually thinks that Labour isn’t as corrupt as its made out to be. He learnt a vital lesson the hard way. Anyway, the police cleared Stevie Deans and sent the Labour Party off with a flea in their ear, but the damage was done.
JR (aka Jim Radcliffe) the local evil oil baron, was watching all this with gleeful interest. He wasn’t quite managing to squeeze enough out of the government despite the massive subsidies and tax exemptions that he was being given, and he had inherited pay and conditions for the workers in the plant which were half-decent, including a final pension scheme. JR didn’t like this. didn’t like this at all. He’d already tried to get rid of it before but strong leadership from the union had seen a climbdown. He needed those pesky union types out of the way. So he suspended Stevie Deans on a basis “no smoke without fire”, although he knew damn fine that all that smoke and mirrors was a concoction of the Labour Party itself.
UNITE, immediately launched a defense of Deans, and Radcliffe upped the stakes, imposing new terms and conditions and informing those who didn’t accept them they would be fired. Can he really do this, I hear you ask? Well, technically speaking, no. It is effectively dismissal. Its the same trick that was pulled at the Quarriers Workers. What this means in effect is that a permanent contract is nothing of the sort. It is a contract until management decide to end it and replace that contract with a poorer one. But erosion of workers rights has made this an acceptable maneover. The workers at Grangemouth were, understandably, massively pissed off and voted 92% in favour of strike action. So Radcliff got in a huff, and shut the plant, announcing that it would not reopen until sufficient numbers of people including the G’ment from whom he was trying to extort £130m from, licked his boots, as he swanned off in his luxury yacht.
So…you have one man shutting down a major source of energy supply in Scotland, attacking trade union officials, extorting money from the government and shitting all over his workers. And what happened? Within days a deal was done. Who said that the UK government don’t negotiate with terrorists? Rich economic terrorists they don’t even bother negotiating with, they just hand them what they want on a platter.
Is this what we really think we are capable of as a nation? To roll over and play dead. Do we not have confidence that we can run our own energy industry without multimillionaire playboys to tell us how it should be done? Grangemouth is a beacon, not just for the Falkirk area, but for the whole trade union sector. This is a massive defeat, and one we must learn from before every multimillionaire playboy descends on Scotland to try to buy up our resources and use them to extort money out of workers and taxpayers alike.
There is no point to independence unless we are going to use it, and the Scottish Government have shown no leadership over this. Admittedly they did not rule out nationalisation, but they did not demand it either. UNITE said some fine words, but there was no call for a work-in to demonstrate that nationalisation was a realistic possibility. A compulsory purchase order would have secured the resource and the union and the government working together could have ensured a smooth handover.
The Labour Party put in motion a train-wreck that the SNP are now slapping each other on the backs about because the casualties were not worse. Our political class has failed us. Self-interested and self-serving, the Labour Party can think of nothing beyond its narrow borders, while the SNP has a more global outlook towards international capital and how they can be the ones to sell our nation cheap before Westminster snaffles it first.
Scotland has the potential to be a world leader in wind and wave power (admittedly any attempt to corner the solar market is a non-starter). Iceland produces all of its energy needs from renewable energy and we should be following suit. Energy is critical, we are using more and more of it, and that dependence is hugely exploited by the cartel of energy companies which make huge profits from the domestic consumption of electricity and gas. Control over our energy infrastructure is vital. Oil and gas are a declining industry, but the skills of the workers within the industry are transferrable. A nationalised plant at Grangemouth could have been the basis for a new national energy strategy which lessens our dependence on fossil fuels, managing a transition and making the most of the skills that workers have to transform our energy economy. But instead we have left it in the hands of a petulant playboy, who cares nothing for the workers, nothing for the environment, nothing for the country we have, nor the country we seek to build.
We can do so, so much better.