In a symbolic act of defiance, sacked construction workers burned their dismissal letters outside Lindsey Oil Refinery (LOR) on Monday 22 June. This sent a clear message to the bosses of Total (LOR owners) that mass sackings, in effect a lock-out, will not intimidate hundreds of strikers back to work. As GMB steward Phil Whitehurst said: "Let them show us how many want to go back in there crawling on their bellies with their begging bowls."
Keith Gibson, LOR strike committee
Hundreds of Lindsey contract workers walked out on unofficial and 'illegal' strike action on Thursday 11 June to stop 51 redundancies being imposed without consultation or the opportunity to transfer to another contractor. Since then, Total have refused to negotiate unless there is a return to work, yet have insisted that the 51 redundancies would go ahead anyway.
Faced with this ultimatum, a mass meeting on 16 June voted to appeal for solidarity action from engineering construction workers across the country. Since Total's 'mass dismissal by press release' of 647 strikers, walkouts have spread like wildfire, affecting over 20 power station and petrochemical sites.
Total have declared war on trade unionism and the NAECI national agreement. This dispute is no longer just about 51 sacked workers, it's about the future of our industry. The employers want to break the solidarity of construction workers and smash effective trade unionism so that they can get rid of the national agreement, to bring in cheap labour and drive down wages to boost their profits.
We won't let them. We must stand united together to defeat these greedy bosses. They say they won't talk unless we return to work - that's what they said in February, but we forced them to. They say we should have an official ballot - but the ECIA (employers' association) is organising to make the ballot illegal! They say we could apply for our jobs back - we won't let them pick and choose. As steward Phil Whitehurst said: "We all came out together, and we'll all go back together."
Unite steward Kenny Ward asked: "Would Total do the same in France? Absolutely not, because there would be tankers turned over on their sides... because the French (workers) wouldn't put up with it... But our government will. Our government will be subservient to companies like this. But we won't!"
We need to be more like the French workers. We are making a stand against unemployment and cheap labour, against the anti-trade union laws and against big corporations like Total trying to make us pay for their capitalist economic crisis. Support us in this fight.
Update on 23 June:
Lindsey workers got a huge boost today as around 2,000 strikers and supporters marched and rallied outside Total's oil refinery. The pressure of spreading unofficial action (Sellafield, Longannet power station and Coryton oil refinery have joined over 20 sites taking action) has forced both the GMB and Unite unions to now officially support the dismissed 647 workers.
Trade union flags decorated the march, giving a real feel of trade union power. At the rally GMB general secretary Paul Kenny pledged: "A solution we will have. A sell-out we won't. And there will be no solution without all the dismissed workers being reinstated and the 51 sackings being rescinded." Then he pledged £100,000 for a hardship fund.
Total's mass dismissals have backfired on them. They have clearly been rocked by the spreading strikes and support for the Lindsey workers. Having insisted that there would be no negotiations until a return to work, they are now "actively encouraging" the contractors to seek talks. Workers are hopeful of a breakthrough but prepared for the long haul if that's what it takes.