by Caroline Colebrook
TOTAL STRIKERS are standing firm with support spreading across the country. Thousands of other power workers have walked out in sympathy in a wave of solidarity that has forced the employer back to the negotiating table.
But the strike and lockout at the Total oil refinery in Lincolnshire is part of a much wider struggle that will last for many years, crossing international boundaries and which could sweep away Britain’s Tory anti-union laws, which are already being defied by solidarity strikes.
The strike began a week ago when 51 steel erectors, platers and welders were made redundant by a contractor at a time when other contractors were recruiting.
The unions protested that this breached an agreement that no one would be made redundant while there were vacancies on site.
Over 900 workers walked out on unofficial strike after the others were sacked last week. Total management agreed to talks with the unions but didn’t turn up on the day.
Then the French-owned company dismissed all the strikers by post and told them they could apply to get their old jobs back but only if they signed new contracts agreeing to cross picket lines in the future.
The strikers were furious and on Monday on the picket lines they made a bonfire of the scab letters and the new application forms.
“Let them show us how many want to go back in there crawling on their bellies for their jobs,” Phil Whitehurst of the GMB union declared. “We go out together. We go back together.”
Sacked worker Kenny Ward told the meeting: “Would Total do the same in France? Absolutely not, because there wouldn’t be a tanker on its four wheels.
“They’d all be turned over on their sides, blockading every road to this refinery, because the French wouldn’t put up with it – or the French government, or the German government, or the Spanish, the Italians and every other government in the European Union. But our government will. Our government will be subservient to companies like this. But we won’t.” Unite’s national officer, Tom Hardacre said: “The outrageous sacking of workers at Lindsey is one the most aggressive acts I’ve witnessed as a trade union official. Even some of the employers at Lindsey did not want to issue the letters to the workers but were forced to do so.
“Last week we were attempting to broker a deal to get a resolution to the unofficial dispute but Total have allowed the dispute to escalate without any strategy to resolve the problems.”
This comes just a week before the major construction unions in Britain begin a ballot for a national strike on the issue of imported labour.
It has not, as some bosses had hoped, become an issue setting the workers of Britain against their colleagues from other countries but one of building solidarity with equal opportunities, pay and conditions for all workers. Many of the migrant workers are joining in the solidarity actions. And it is an issue causing similar strikes across Europe. In the end it is a battle the bosses will wish they had not started because it is building anger, courage and solidarity across a continent.
Now, after insisting they would never talk while the workers were still on strike, the Total managers are finally sitting around the negotiating table with union officials. The strikers say they won’t go back unless Total agrees to withdraw the original redundancies; re-instate all the rest of the sacked work-force and agree to no victimisations.