As we await news today of whether one man, the owner of Ineos, will accept total capitulation from the Unite Union at Grangemouth, some of us are left bemused over what on earth has forced the closure of the plant? In order to make any sense of the whole debacle and who is at fault for the horrendous state of affairs for the workers and their families, we need to travel back in time and move forwards to the present day.
Who is at fault? The Unite Union? Ineos? Labour? Westminster? the Scottish government? The workers?
At one point or another the blame has been rested at all their doors.
Unite for threatening a strike, Ineos for playing hardball and refusing to talk, Westminster for barely bothering about it,the Scottish government for not doing enough to sort it out, the workers for not being willing to compromise.
The fact of the matter is, the whole situation was made in Falkirk and at Westminster.
When Labours MP Eric Joyce decided that he wanted to drunkenly challenge for the heavyweight boxing championship of the Westminster bars it set off a whole chain of events which have all been badly handled and with absolutely no thought for the constituents of Falkirk, the community, and the workers of Grangemouth.
When Eric Joyce was kicked out of the Labour party but refused to stand down as the areas MP till the next general election it started a round of infighting within Labour about which candidate should replace him. With Labour having moved so far away from old Labour values and with the devaluation of the role the Unions have to play in the party, The Unite union tried to fight back from within and try to encourage as many of their local members as possible to sign up as Labour members in order to back their own preferred candidate. This resulted in full scale allegations from the Blairite wing of Labour that the union had been fraudulently recruiting local party members, and it got so bad that they even reported the Union to the police while suspending the local party convenor who happened to be a Unite shop steward. It was one unholy mess.
Eventually having caused all this furore Labour decided to drop their allegations and make them all good mates again.
What has all this got to do with Grangemouth? Read on..
Ineos the current owners of the Grangemouth plant decided to suspend the Unite shop steward involved with the Falkirk debacle for using his company computer for his activities within the Labour party in Falkirk. At this the Unite union got right behind their man and threatened strike action unless his suspension was lifted. The company saw this as an ideal situation to escalate the argument for their own ends and claimed that the plant was losing money hand over fist and they needed to restructure, thereby they demanded that the Union agreed to the loss of its workers final salary pension scheme, the worsening of workers conditions and further demands to stave off closure.
Naturally the union wasn’t going to take this lying down and decided to call the companies bluff and again threatened strike action, unfortunately the company weren’t bluffing! The Union tried to press for talks to negotiate, but the company refused to do so, the situation they said was non negotiable.
The result as we all know is that the plant was closed and the threat of closure of the refinery itself has also been threatened.
Meanwhile with all this going on, Westminster has barely bothered their backside over it, it wasn’t even included in prime ministers question time, and the national media down south have largely ignored it.
Recently the Westminster government have come out with a few meally mouthed comments, but as has been reported have done next to nothing about it behind the scenes at Whitehall. Anyone would think that they were fairly happy about this dire situation, and why not? It is not that big a deal is it? Grangemouth is Scotlands only refinery and petrochemical plant, but there are two such plants in the North east of England, so England gets the oil refined there, no problem then.
There is no doubt that the outcry would be at hurricane level had one of the plants in the North of England been threatened in this manner, but hey its only Scotland right!
The Scottish government too has been getting the blame for not doing enough to alleviate the situation in some quarters, of course that is forgetting quite conveniently that our devolved government can do very little about it all, Energy being a reserved matter belonging to Westminster.
What we are left to conclude thus far is that it all boils down to Labour lunacy, Incompetent Union, a Turf war, Westminster not standing up for Scotlands Interests and indeed passive contributors to holding a community and country to ransom and quite happy to see further asset stripping.
The Scottish government hasn’t the power to force compulsory nationalisation on an unwilling company, and cannot interfere with energy matters to any real extent except tinkering round the edges.
There is absolutely no way that any reasonable responsible government should allow any one company or one individual to ride rough shot and hold workers and a country to ransom, but Westminster allows it and possibly is quietly encouraging it. An Independent Scotland would not allow for this to happen!
Other than Labours incompetence I think that we can say that Ineos deliberately took full advantage of their petty squabbles with the Unite. I have no doubt that they saw a fantastic opportunity to engineer the outcome we face today, but not because they were losing money as they allege, rather to maximise profits.
All we need to do is look a bit more closely at this companies history, and it does not make for good reading.
It is effectively owned by just one man, Jim Radcliffe.
This report from the Mail dating back to 2008.
“In just nine years, Mr Ratcliffe has built up his company, Ineos, from nothing to become the third-largest chemicals firm in the world ? yet he remains a largely secretive figure.
Experts say his group, which is valued at £5billion, has transformed the energy sector by buying up unwanted plants from industrial giants such as BP, then slashing costs to maximise profits.
Mr Ratcliffe owns two-thirds of the company’s shares, giving him a personal fortune of around £3.5billion and making him the 25th richest man in Britain.
But his tough approach has sparked conflict with unions who fear long-standing agreements are being torn up.
It is Mr Ratcliffe’s refusal to negotiate in their dispute over pension rights that prompted union bosses to call a 48-hour strike at his refinery in Grangemouth, starting at 6am today.”
As we can see he was trying back then to force the workers to give up their pension rights!
“Since launching Ineos in 1998, he has completed a series of audacious takeovers, then slashed jobs and reformed pension schemes.
Some deals have been controversial. After buying ICI’s chlorine business at Runcorn, Cheshire, in 2001, Ineos was awarded £50million of taxpayers’ money to keep the plant open.
In March last year, Ineos received £9million from the Scottish Executive to safeguard 410 jobs at Grangemouth.
Three years ago, Mr Ratcliffe bought BP’s entire petrochemicals division, including Grangemouth, for £6billion, quadrupling his company’s value overnight.
But Ineos’s rapid growth has caused it to take on £9billion of debt, including a £430million ‘black hole’ in its pensions fund.
After the purchase of Grangemouth, Mr Ratcliffe announced he was phasing out BP’s generous non-contributory, final salary pension scheme for new employees, sparking union fears over the pensions of existing workers.
Shadow Business Secretary Alan Duncan said last night: “Gordon Brown’s destruction of employee pensions has put strikes back on the agenda for Britain. This is one of his particularly ugly chickens coming home to roost.”
Note how a certain Gordon Brown finds his way into this story from way back then!
We have heard claims from Ineos that they are losing money hand over fist and need to make cutbacks to make further investment to safeguard jobs at Grangemouth.
But we have heard Unite claim that quite to the contrary Grangemouth is in profit and makes good profit.
How can this be? They cannot both be right surely? Indeed they can, it depends on how one looks at it.
Ineos has massive debts and is losing money, but it is not Grangemouth that is causing it.
This article from the Guardian in 2010
Ineos, the debt-laden chemical group that has just unveiled plans to move its headquarters from the UK to Switzerland to save tax, has itself been handed tens of millions of pounds in tax relief on the huge £6bn debt burden it used to fund its acquisition spree.
Britain’s biggest private company used borrowed money to aggressively grow a company that includes half of ICI, BP’s former refining business and other unwanted businesses from the world’s leading chemical groups.
The revelation that Ineos, a sprawling company with more than 80 separate firms registered at Companies House, has made huge savings on its tax bill and is now on the point of leaving the UK has provoked fury from unions.
The TUC general secretary, Brendan Barber, said: “No UK company with a major domestic presence should be able to cut its tax bill simply by moving a tiny part of its operations overseas and pretending to no longer be a UK company.
“If HM Revenue & Customs does not already have enough powers to prevent this, then the government should change the law so that companies who rely on UK workers, knowhow and infrastructure to generate profits are contributing their fair share to the public finances.”
If ever a story highlighted why Scotland needs to regain its Independence, this story of Grangemouth does.
We cannot afford for any more of our industrial base and our assets to be destroyed as it has been by Tory and Labour governments since the 1970’s. We cannot allow any more of our workers and their families to be thrown on the scrapheap for generations down to Westminsters negligence, mismanagement, maliciousness and greed.
we have to stand up for ourselves and we have to do it now!
and finally from the Daily Record a report that says how much profit Ineos made last year and the year before at Grangemouth…..a massive con job!