Sunday, October 27, 2013

Grangemouth and the limits of industrial power

It's understandable that UNITE emphasise the news that Ineos won't close Grangemouth‎ (http://www.unitetheunion.org/news/unite-grangemouth-now-has-a-fighting-chance/‎) rather than the price being paid in pay, conditions and pensions.

‎The employers have won by threatening to walk away and close the plant - and criticism of the tactics of the trade union is clearly to be expected (http://workerspower.co.uk/2013/10/grangemouth-unite-dispute-2013/). It may be that an attempt to generalise a fight could have lead to a better outcome.

However, this episode is, fundamentally, a reminder of the imbalance in power between labour and capital in our existing social order. Labour (us) consists of real people, with homes, families and communities as well as jobs. Particularly at a time of high unemployment we cannot easily walk away from our employment relationship.

Capital, on the other hand, seeks profit without concern (in the final analysis) for social consequences‎. If a firm is willing to close a plant and walk away it can do so - and, as Ineos have now shown, this can greatly empower wealthy bullies who want to increase profitability at the expense of their workforce.

Workers cannot resist such tactics by strike action, but only by occupation on the model of the Upper Clyde Shipbuilders forty years ago. Given the legal shackles now borne by our trade unions it is difficult to envisage official support for such action in the absence of a strong, militant and independently organised rank and file.

Without this, our union organisation in even the strongest and best organised workplace is always vulnerable to capital's ultimate sanction of closure.

Which is why, as well as industrial organisation, our workers movement needs political representation. Ultimately we should be fighting for a society in which ownership of the means of production is with the community as a whole (rather than some rich bloke on a yacht miles away). 

Here and now we should be fighting for a Government which would legislate to strengthen workers' rights - and would be prepared to intervene to nationalise vital productive assets put at risk by the sort of bullying and blackmail with which Ineos appear to have got away.

Which is why we need to step up the fight to preserve a political voice for trade unionism (‎http://defendthelink.wordpress.com/). To stop future owners like Jim Ratcliffe from carrying out further assaults upon working people we need our movement to aim for the sort of social and political changes which cannot be won through workplace organisation alone.

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