Eine Kleine Nichtmusik

Witty and pertinent observations on matters of great significance OR Incoherent jottings on total irrelevancies OR Something else altogether OR All of the above

Monday, October 28, 2013

Sometimes it's hard to escape the conclusion that the USSR got it right in some ways

Not far from where I live there has been a wee spot of industrial relations bother recently, not that you'd know much about it from the English press. In short, a fairly minor dispute at a foreign-owned oil refinery and petrochemical plant (once publicly owned - ah, those halcyon days!) escalated when the company decided to suspend one of the main union organisers supposedly because he had been involved in a row (totally unrelated to his work) over the selection process for a local Labour Party election candidate. The dispute was due to become a strike, and when after much intervention from all kinds of outside agencies including the Scottish government the strike was called off, the company decided to lock out the workforce. They declared that unless the workers took massive cuts in pay and conditions, and agreed not to go on strike for the foreseeable future, they would close the plant down with the loss of 800 jobs, around 10% of the Scottish economy, and the effective destruction of a community. The trade union involved (Unite, of which - and of its forerunners - I have been a proud member for over 25 years) took the inevitable decision that preserving jobs was more important than preserving working conditions, and crawled to the plant management with the unsurprising result that the plant was miraculously saved. You can read all about it here, here, and most recently here. (And by way of balance, here is an decently-argued article more sympathetic to the management viewpoint.)

As I said, it's hard to feel top bitter about the "betrayal" by the union when clearly their members' primary concern at the end was for their jobs to be protected at whatever cost. I may feel bitter at the abandonment of the workforce by the Labour Party which supposedly is the party of the working person (though that had ceased to be the case well before Blair turned it into a Thatcherite clone of the Tories). I may feel that the Scottish government could have done more to temper the rampant capitalism-red-in-tooth-and-claw of Jim Ratcliffe and Ineos. But I reserve most of my disgust for Eric Joyce. This piece of shit was sacked from the Labour Party for drunken brawling in the House of Commons bar, for which he was arrested - twice. As a result, the Labour Party in Falkirk (whose MP he is) had to select a replacement to stand in the next election (Joyce is currently a partyless independent, and may stand as such come the next election). It was for his participation in this process that the union convenor Stevie Deans was targeted by the Ineos mamagement, and this seems less surprising when one reads Mr Joyce's comments on the Grangemouth dispute. He whined that Labour party politicians had "proclaimed as evil the billionaire with a yacht and the lack of accountability of private companies". Remember this is someone who used to pretend to be a Labour politician himself: what in Hell's name is wrong with bemoaning that lack of accountability, which allowed the company to hold Scotland to ransom in order to worsen the pay and conditions of its workforce, simply because it could? What is wrong with criticising a tax exile (whose financial affairs are currently under investigation by the tax authorities) when his response to not getting all his own way in the past has been to move jobs overseas? Joyce described Ineos as following through on something Labour did not have the moral courage to do, and has used his own web site to take the employer's side against the union and the workers. My question, then, is: how much is Eric Joyce being paid by Ineos to act as its tame spokesrodent? I can't believe he bends over and assumes the position for them quite so brazenly with no quid pro quo: Joyce after all was the first MP whose cumulative expenses exceeded £1 million (and it isn't as though he has been an MP for very long), and who justified the spending of taxpayers' money on oil paintings for his several houses by pointing out that they "looked nice". When he is rightly binned by the electorate at the next election, will Joyce take up a cosy position on the Ineos board? Has he simply trousered some of the money Jim Ratcliffe neglects to pay to the UK taxman? Or will he find a Matisse or two in his Christmas stocking? No wonder Joyce is so delighted at the lack of accountability of foreign companies: we will never know.

For me, the whole affair shows how much better off we would all have been if (a) Scotland were an independent nation and (b) the Grangemouth plant had been renationalised. Because however laudable Unite's motives may have been in caving in to the management's demands, this is just the thin end of a very large wedge indeed. From her on, any company wishing to save a few quid by shafting its workforce, be it over pay, or pensions, or working hours, or safety provisions - any such employer need only close down the factory involved and refuse to reopen it until they get their way. It will be like the caricature of the 1960s and 1970s trade union militants (a caricature in which there was indeed some truth) who would go on strike at the drop of a hat with no regard to anyone's interest except their own: except now the militants are the foreign speculators who own our industries.

I hope that everyone who bought shares in British Petroleum (the original, majority state-owned, operators of the Grangemouth plant) when Margaret Thatcher sold it off in the 1980s is feeling suitably pleased with themselves at the way things have turned out. But of course they are: they will have turned a nice profit when they sold their stolen public property to Ineos.


At 29 October, 2013 16:00, Blogger JoeinVegas said...

What - politicians in it for themselves, and not the good of the people? Absurd.


Post a Comment

<< Home