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No change at Falkirk. Just one good trade unionist out of a job

Stevie Deans and GrangemouthFor the Labour Party, nothing about Falkirk has changed. There never was any ballot rigging scandal there, as the BBC found three months ago. In spite of many column inches of the Sunday Times (£) devoted to “union dirty tricks“, there is no new smoking gun amongst the 1000 emails that Ineos have passed to the local Police (who must be pretty fed up with having their time wasted by any bigwig that happens to have a grudge against Stevie Deans), or presumably the Sunday Times would have told us.

The emails obtained by a malicious management determined to sack an effective union convenor no doubt reveal a desire to influence the selection – of the sort many people have who are in support of all potential candidates in all winnable seats in all parties. They will also no doubt reveal great anger and determination to put right the wrong done by the investigation whose bogus summary (the only part those involved in the Labour Party’s decisions on the matter saw) was found by the BBC not to reflect its actual findings. And yet Falkirk MP Eric Joyce wants it resurrected with the same officials in charge!

The only thing that has changed is that everyone who works down the road at Grangemouth has saved their job (at the significant cost of cuts to their pay and pension) apart from Stevie Deans. I don’t know anyone who has time off work for union duties who spends less time on those duties that they are paid by their employer, and I don’t expect Stevie Deans was any different. Unfortunately, he did use his Ineos email account and perhaps other resources for some of the union business he was not authorised to do by his employer (including Labour Party work). And that is why he is now out of work.

Stevie Deans was (and will no doubt remain) an exemplary trade unionist. As a convenor at Grangemouth, he clearly had a great deal of support from his members. In a ballot, eighty-one percent of his members were prepared to back him with strike action when his job was threatened. Even as late as last Monday, faced with a lockout by the plant management, 70% of the membership refused to accept the terms put to them over the heads of the union by management. He’d even managed to recruit 200 members to the local Labour Party – a feat unequalled at any other workplace in the UK by anyone in any union. And in Scotland, where significant numbers of trade unionists have switched their support to the SNP.

The workers at Grangemouth who have saved their jobs (and those of many more contractors and suppliers) have lost £3000 a year in shift allowances, more in other bonuses, and will see no pay rise for at least four years. They have made their choice. The alternative might have been the biggest industrial confrontation Britain would have seen since the miners’ strike but there would have been no guarantee of success. It is not for us to criticise the workers or their union representatives who did everything they could. Grahame Smith, general secretary of the Scottish TUC, puts it extremely well:

The real story of Grangemouth is that it was Government that was powerless to prevent one individual deciding the fate of a strategically vital national industrial asset, its1,300 strong workforce, and thousands more workers besides, and the fate of a local community.

Despite all the cajoling of Alex Salmond, Ed Davy and Alistair Carmichael, it took the Ineos workforce and their union Unite to take the decisive step that made it impossible for Ratcliff to walk away as he was determined to do just two days previously. It is beyond belief that one of the supposedly most powerful nations on the globe was incapable of stopping the closure of the Grangemouth plant.

The closure of a community centre in Grangemouth would have required a more extensive due process, and greater transparency and accountability than was involved in the decisions to close a vital industrial facility.

Far from being a crisis for the trade union movement, this is a crisis for democracy, political and industrial democracy.

11 Comments

  1. James Martin says:

    Yes, excellent article, and those in the Party whose actions led to the loss of a key trade unionist from his job should be held to account – and I include Milliband with his absolutely criminal referral of this nonsense to the police and his actions in reviewing the TU link because, it appears, of the suvvess of recruiting trade unionists to the Party as individual members, which ironically is what he claims he wants to achieve himself by it (the term ‘complete prat’ springs to mind here).

    Meanwhile the odious thug Joyce is given more free media airtime for his right-wing bile. Perhaps the enquiry we really should be having is over who took the decisions to impose this scumbag on the local Party in the first place…

  2. Robert says:

    Eric Joyce what can you say a thug a drunk and loud mouth who will be looking for a new job soon we hope.

    But I think Labour will now bringing in serious controls on UNIONs within the party and I suspect Blair’s lot will be behind it lets hope labour have a few backers, because I know in my local Union if this happens another UNION will be asking for disaffiliation.

    maybe Labour have a few millionaires from India or America waiting in the back ground.

  3. Rod says:

    Robert: “maybe Labour have a few millionaires from India or America waiting in the back ground.”

    Jim Ratcliffe, owner of Ineos, will probably bung in a few million after Miliband dumps the Unions at the Special Conference in spring.

  4. peter willsman says:

    Rod,Ed can not dump the Unions at the Spring Confce. because he does not have a single vote at the Confce.The Unions can only be dumped if they are misguided enough to vote to be dumped.

  5. Rod says:

    @Peter

    Thanks for your response.

    To me it seems that Ed has staked his political career on reform of the link connecting trade unions to the LP. From what Ed has said he wants to end the collective TU relationship.

    Let’s face it, we’ve had a policy review going on for what seems like an eternity and, to my knowledge, no-one suggested reforming the TU link. But, in the wake of Falkirk, reform of the TU link has become leadership-driven priority.

    Now, if after the Spring Conference Ed has to go home with nothing in the bag he’s going to look like the worst sort of turkey – the weak leader who couldn’t deliver. He will be portrayed in the media as the man who attempted to kerb union power but failed. For Ed, having previously nailed his ‘reform’ colours to the mast, this will look disastrous in the run-up to the 2015 election.

    We should expect a back-me-or-sack-me performance at the spring conference. In reality, this will be a choice between another five years of Cameron or a Labour government with significantly diminished TU input.

    Which would you choose?

  6. swatantra says:

    If we are to defend the link, the the Unions will have to change and reform. Otherwise, it’ll be a parting of the ways.

  7. Robert says:

    Thank god the people decided you’d make a bloody awful MP and I agree with them.

    Yes but we all know what the argument is with the Unions and if you cannot see it then you really do need to join the liberals.

    The Levy all Unions have told Labour they will no longer get the full amount from the levy, Labour is worried they would not get the millions, so they are now fighting to get the levy in full no deductions, hence the opt in I’ve already after 44 years opted out of paying it.

    It’s as simple as that, if you cannot see what losing eight or ten million would mean to labour then sadly old boy age is catching up with you.

    We have all seen Labour change to the Tory Lite party now your after the Unions to do the same.

  8. peter willsman says:

    Rod,the deal will be done well before the Confce.The Unions need to insist on an arrangement where Ed can say there has been reform,but the Unions keep the collective affiliation etc. and the 50% of Confce.CLPD are circulating a draft of such an arrangement.Only if the Unions weaken and sell out over 100 years of their power in our party will they be dumped.I am confident that the organised working class will not be that daft!!They would never be forgiven.

  9. Rod says:

    Peter.

    I’m hearing that Len is prepared to go below 50% – only a rumour, as yet.

    Miliband’s proposed reforms remind me of when New Labour were busying themselves with the privatisation of the NHS (Allyson Pollock’s book ‘NHS plc’ is good on this) and many were saying: even Thatcher wouldn’t attempt this. Now Miliband’s reforms go where Blair feared to tread. Who would have thought the Labour Party would end up with an anti-trade union leader…

    What’s interesting is that the Sainsbury Tendency feel unable to depend on Miliband to deliver. Having failed to be persistently bellicose on the ‘let’s bomb Syria’ campaign they’re not sure Miliband is prepared to deliver on internal anti-trade union reform.

    But, in my view, when Miliband handed the Falkirk report to the police he pulled a stunt that gave a very clear indication of his resolve.

  10. peter willsman says:

    Rod,the 50% is a red line which must not be breached.50%TUs and 50%CLPs represents the two wings of our federation which is the Labour Party.I will be writing about the key significance of this on LFs in a few days,as agreed with the Editor.To repeat,Ed has no more votes at the Spring Confce.than you do Rod!

  11. swatantra says:

    Just come back from the CLASS Conference. in London. It was great some good ideas about what should go into the Labour Manifesto.
    I got the feeling that people wanted a greater Coalitioon of the Left, that doesn’t mean another goddamn splinter group of Party; I see it as the only way of removing this Tory led c
    Coalition. Len made a good speech quite concilitory, and its thanks to UNITE that we have this new Think Tank CLASS being set up, with no interference from Unite btw. Class will explore new ideas for the Left more in tune with the modern world. Trade Unions are going to have to change. The Labour Pafrty is going to have to change. I’m going to change into a less tribal figure, because thats what we need. An end to this Tribalism.
    Owen Jones did a bravura Finale perfomance. I’m glad his on our side and not theirs. Brilliant.

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