|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.