The author of a new book on the Grangemouth refinery says it’s wrong that such an important national asset is in the hands of just one billionaire.
In The Battle of Grangemouth, former Grangemouth welder and plant operator Mark Lyon explores the history of the plants, and especially the industrial disputes between workers and Ineos – the company owned by billionaire Swiss-based tax avoider Jim Ratcliffe.
The book was launched in Grangemouth on Friday night (March 17), shortly after reports that Ineos was in talks to a buy another vital part of national infrastructure from BP – the Forties Pipeline System.
And Mark – who was the Unite convener at Grangemouth during the disputes – says he wants the book to start a national conversation about who holds economic power in Scotland.
“The book obviously looks at the industrial disputes in detail,” Mark said. “But I wanted to go beyond that and ask – how did an industry that was once owned and run by and for the public, end up in the hands of Ineos, owned and run by and for Jim Ratcliffe.
“We ended up in a situation where one man was able to threaten the complete closure of a vital part of Scotland’s economy. He reduced tax by shifting the company to Switzerland, but still is given massive subsidies from the public purse – without any guarantees around jobs or fair treatment of workers.
“The Grangemouth plants are at the heart of the Scottish economy, and more than that, they’re at the heart of a community,” Mark added. “We all have an interest in how they are run and managed. It is completely wrong that such an important national asset is in the hands of just one wealthy individual.
“We have gifted the economic levers of Scotland to a tiny group of people and Grangemouth is just one example of many. The possible sale of the Forties pipeline just adds to those concerns. We’ve become a benefits society for billionaires.”
The book outlines the history of Grangemouth, from the days when it was owned by nationalised company British Petroleum, until it was bought out by Ineos.
In the book, Mark asks us to consider if the 2013 strike at Grangemouth was planned for by Ineos, so the company could use the false threat of a permanent shutdown to defeat the power of workers, to intimidate politicians and to squeeze more public cash from public bodies.
Mark says he was leaked internal Ineos presentations showing that the company was planning for industrial action as early as August 2013.
“The slides showed that the company were asking their site management team to make the necessary preparations for their desired action, and to submit a ‘first pass’ plan on what needed to be put in place to enable the stoppage by August 24,” Mark noted.
“The text of the slides shows that they were considering how to shut down the plants, and were preparing for the possibility that the strike would take place over a sustained period of time.
“This was in the event of action that we had neither talked about nor contemplated. An employers’ strike!”
Unite general secretary Len McCluskey and Scottish secretary Pat Rafferty were guests at the launch of the book.
“At Grangemouth, plants that were once owned by all of us are now in the hands of an individual billionaire,” McCluskey said. “That power was used to try to break the workers and to make demands of the Scottish Government. The only thing that prevented him achieving total victory was the hard work and determination of Mark and his fellow Unite representatives at the plant.
“Unite has worked very hard to repair industrial relations at the site and – despite the efforts to break the union – membership has returned, as workers see the importance of representation at the site. Workers know that trade unions are their first and best defence when it comes to pay, terms and conditions.”
Unite Scottish secretary Pat Rafferty pointed out that “our industry and our manufacturing are in decline”.
“We have a jobs crisis where too many people either can’t find work or can only get work that is insecure, and with little pay or dignity,” he said. “The blame for all that lies with an economy run by and for rich people whose only interest is a short-term profit.
“Unite is determined that the lessons of this important book are learned because a situation where immense power comes without full responsibility does not serve either the people of Scotland or the Scottish economy.
“That’s why, in the weeks to come, Unite will ask those in Holyrood and Westminster to consider its message. We cannot go on like this.”
- Find out more about the new book, Battle of Grangemouth: A Worker’s Story, and how you can get a copy here. Unite members can receive a special discount by entering the code UNITE17 — proceeds will go to the Trussell Trust food bank network.