Vivergo Workers Confront Employers, Police and GMB Union

Saltend workers blocking traffic in response to management’s refusal to negotiate

Construction workers at a biofuels plant near Hull face opposition from the contractors, the police, and now the GMB union after being locked out for more than a month.

The constructors had been working on a new refinery in Saltend, East Yorkshire, which had been commissioned by Vivergo Fuels Ltd. A dispute in early March saw workers blockading the entrance to the plant, after fifteen redundancies were announced, amid allegations that their sub-contractor, Redhall Engineering Solutions Ltd, had breached ‘first in, last out’ industry-wide agreements. They returned to work after one day, following negotiations between the GMB and Redhall.

Just over a week later, Vivergo cancelled their contract with Redhall, claiming that the company had fallen significantly behind on the project. However, it is reasonable to assume that Vivergo decided they wanted to be rid of an obviously militant workforce. The Redhall workers have been locked out since then, and are receiving no wages, though the GMB has set up a hardship fund.

But the construction workers have refused to take the company’s treatment lying down, and have mounted an assertive campaign to claim their transfer of employment rights. Hundreds marched to Hull on the 28th March. The GMB organised daily protests at the plant, until 10th April, when Vivergo refused to meet union representative in talks mediated by the ‘conciliation service’ ACAS. On 11th April, the workers stormed the site, shutting it down, and started blockading a roundabout, creating a tailback stretching to Hull city centre. The GMB planned a rally at the BP AGM in London on 14th (BP owns a large share in Vivergo). However, they suspended protests on-site after the police began a crackdown on the protests on the 12th, when more than sixty cops descended on the plant to enforce the Public Order Act – limiting the numbers who can protest at any one time. Two arrests were made.

The next step for the Saltend demonstrators remains unclear, but as ever, the unions are showing themselves to be complicit in attacks on working conditions. Instead of raising the alarm at the anti-democratic actions of the police, they cowered before them. As soon as the going gets tough, the union tops scramble to make a deal with business leaders, or their state enforcers in uniform.

If the Saltend workers are to have any chance of reinstatement, they must organise independently of the GMB union, on a rank-and-file basis. They must also reach out to colleagues in the construction industry, and throughout the wider working class, where they would find greater allies than amongst the well-heeled bureaucrats who run ‘their’ union.

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5 thoughts on “Vivergo Workers Confront Employers, Police and GMB Union

  1. c0mmunard

    Hey Adam,

    Do you have any reason to believe that the workers are opposed to the union's decision to call off the action, or indeed that the union's decision isn't really an expression of a decision they have taken?

    If there is evidence for this, it would be important to include it. But the union can hardly be blamed for accurately reflecting members' views, if that is what they are doing – we might wish their views were different, but that's something else.

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  2. Adam Ford

    As yet I don't have any information on that. The union's decision certainly follows the normal pattern whenever the police get involved in things. The tops do have to be seen to be acting legally, or they lose their (state) legitimacy. I can't imagine that there's no anger at the police and union tops, but then the big demo in London had been planned anyway, so it's likely the site protests would have been scaled down anyway. We'll see on Monday, when the protests resume, and the police try to limit them once more.

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  3. Rich

    “If the Saltend workers are to have any chance of reinstatement, they must organise independently of the GMB union, on a rank-and-file basis. They must also reach out to colleagues in the construction industry, and throughout the wider working class, where they would find greater allies than amongst the well-heeled bureaucrats who run 'their' union.”

    This is precisely how it began Adam. One of our comrades was instrumental in setting up 'lock-out' committees of the rank and file on the site. It has only been recently that the official trade union have got on board. We've also called sympathy action on similar sites around the country. The lads on the site are quite prepared to take action in defence of the national agreement regardless of what the tops might decide.

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  4. thegreatunrest.net

    Thanks for the summary of the situation, really useful.

    I was under the impression the GMB were backing the dispute and had “made it official”?

    Don't you think at this stage a rank-and-file organisation within the GMB rather than separate from it would be more useful?

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  5. Adam Ford

    GMB are certainly backing it in an official way, but we'll see over the next week what that translates to in practice.

    I think an argument for doing things outside the GMB is that there are two other unions potentially involved – Unite and UCATT (who aren't involved yet, but are the main construction union). Also, the construction workers are currently breaking the anti-union laws anyway, so I think any bureaucracy would try to strangle that.

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