Grangemouth: an ongoing battle
Last weekend in Grangemouth, union members, family friends and the local community came together to celebrate a story of resilience and courage. The occasion was a reception for the launch of a book by the site’s former convenor Mark Lyon – who was sacked by Grangemouth management in the aftermath of the dispute that hit the headlines in autumn 2013.
At the reception Mark received a standing ovation, including from fellow speakers Unite General Secretary Len McCluskey, Unite Scottish Secretary Pat Rafferty and Stevie Deans, former vice-convenor at the site. Stevie, who was hounded by the media during the Falkirk Labour Party fiasco, and whose employment also came to an end during the dispute, thanked Mark for writing a book that gave the local people’s side of the story. And this was one of the points to which all the speakers returned during the evening - the importance of working people and trade unionists writing their own history.
Pictured: Mark Lyon receives a standing ovation from everyone in the room and from (on the platform from left to right), Pat Rafferty, former Labour MSP Cathy Peattie, Unite General Secretary Len McCluskey and Stevie Deans
The sense of solidarity, warmth and friendship that was so evident at the reception is an aspect of trade union life that is very rarely portrayed in the mainstream media. Yet it is these bonds that help to sustain people when they have to face employers like Jim Ratcliffe in the daily grind of defending the workforce from constant attack.
The story Mark tells in the book covers the longer history of the site, but the main focus is on what happened when Ratcliffe took control in 2005, after BP sold it off.
Ratcliffe is a majority share owner in Ineos, which means that this massive oil refinery and national energy resource, whose loss would be ruinous for the Scottish economy as well the local community, is now effectively controlled by just one man.
This is what makes the Grangemouth story so important. It illustrates all that is wrong with contemporary economic management. BP Grangemouth was once a successful nationally owned concern, but over the years it was first partially and then fully privatised and conditions gradually eroded. This process accelerated after Ineos took over. As Mark writes in the book:
In a few short years Ineos have managed to convert one of the most valued workplaces in Scotland, where people would devote their entire working lives, into a third-rate and discredited factory where the workforce detest the management and the future is uncertain.
Things came to a head at the site in 2013, when, after a long period of deteriorating industrial relations, members voted to strike to support Stevie Deans, who, after a prolonged and irregular disciplinary procedure, was facing dismissal. In response, the Ineos management closed the site down, and threatened to make the closure permanent unless the workforce accepted major cuts to their pay, pensions and working conditions. In the end the members had no choice other than to call off the proposed strike – the whole community was being held to ransom by a man who was completely unaccountable to anyone. Stevie Deans then resigned rather than waiting to be sacked, and Mark was sacked in February 2014.
Mark won his interim tribunal against unfair dismissal in March 2014, since there was basically no case to be made against him. The company have since made a settlement. Stevie Deans now works for Unite and Mark Lyon works for the International Transport Workers Federation.
But Grangemouth still suffers from poor management, and the future of the site is not clear. So, while the book is a cause for celebration, it is itself part of the continuing battle at the site. As Len McCluskey wrote in his appreciation of the book, ‘with this book Mark has done the movement another service’.