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Blackmail by the bosses

The longer the lockout at Grangemouth refinery continues the more calculating and shifty the Ineos management appears

The longer the lockout at Grangemouth refinery continues the more calculating and shifty the Ineos management appears.

The unjustifiable disciplinary proceedings that the company instituted against Unite convener Stephen Deans following Labour's self-inflicted wounds incurred during the Falkirk candidate selection saga appeared at first to be a knee-jerk case of victimisation against a trade union official.

But as Ineos rebuffed all efforts to defuse the situation, it became clear that the company was angling to provoke a strike.

And since Unite refused to be manipulated in this murky manoeuvre, calling off its planned strike at the refinery, the company imposed a lockout of the workforce.

What was less clear then or since is what this major chemical transnational corporation's motivation is.

It certainly wants Unite and its members to hoist the white flag and give up the hard-won conditions achieved over decades, accepting job losses, lower pay, less favourable pensions arrangements and a permanent guarantee of no strike action.

The company claims such a trade union surrender as an essential first step to securing the future of the Grangemouth plant.

Ineos doesn't add derecognition of Unite, but it would effectively have achieved this if its tactic of going over the heads of union representatives to appeal to the workforce proves successful.

The locked-out workers' determination to stand firmly by existing agreements and negotiating procedures indicates that they understand the scale of the assault being directed against their living standards and workplace rights.

They and their union do not accept the company claim that Ineos is losing £10 million a month or that this demands urgent drastic action.

Such has been the company's duplicitous approach so far that the union would make a huge mistake if it were to accept at face value this portrayal of Ineos finances.

Len McCluskey's approach to HM Revenue and Customs urging a formal investigation into the company's finances must elicit a favourable response.

Taken together with the management's brinksmanship in refusing to restart the plant without guarantees of union surrender and government subsidies, Ineos claims of poverty are designed to weaken resistance among the workers.

It is a high-stakes game of blackmail which requires intervention by both Holyrood and Westminster to end this attempt at negotiation by ultimatum.

First Minister Alex Salmond has already spoken out, asking for the union's agreement not to go on strike, which Unite's Scottish secretary Pat Rafferty has gladly given "to allow negotiations to take place for however long it takes."

Salmond also urged Ineos to reopen the plant, but Ineos chairman Jim Ratcliffe remains obdurate, insisting theatrically that the clock is ticking and that the future of Grangemouth "is absolutely in the hands of the workers."

If the situation was indeed in the hands of the workers, the Grangemouth refinery would reopen immediately because they recognise its vital role in providing a living for them and their families and, above that, for its crucial contribution to Scotland's economy.

But Ratcliffe is insisting that these skilled workers and committed trade unionists should bow the knee to management by diktat.

It is important for workers throughout Scotland and further afield that the Grangemouth workforce does not take the line of least resistance.

This might be portrayed as putting job security before trade union membership, but the reality is that workers would be swapping collective strength for individual weakness and management dictation.


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