Oil Haulage Drivers Frustrated by Unite Manoeuvers

Tories effectively shut stations in March, in a union-breaking attempt

On 26th March, Unite announced a “massive turnout”, as drivers in the oil haulage industry voted to strike against employers hellbent on attacking their working conditions and living standards. We are now more than a month down the line, and the Unite hierarchy has successfully pissed away the strike mandate, which has elapsed under the anti-trade union laws. And for what? According to Angry Trucker, who was at the report-back to stewards on Thursday: “the government safety regulators have accepted the need for improved training systems. And the employers have guaranteed they do not intend to break the law. Not exactly groundbreaking.”

No sooner had Unite published the ballot in April than the papers were full of screeching articles about truckers ‘holding the country to ransom’ over the Easter period. Sensing a “Thatcher moment” – a chance to score a big symbolic victory over organised workers – the Tories went on the attack, with Cabinet Office Minister Francis Maude famously telling motorists to store “a little bit in the garage as well in a jerrycan”. Despite the fact that Unite had not given the mandatory seven days’ notice of strike action, huge queues piled up at petrol stations as a direct result of government scaremongering, with many forecourts forced to close for business until truckers brought fresh supplies!

With millions of drivers stocked up on fuel, and the army being trained up to deliver it, Unite simply sat on the ballot. They quickly announced that no strike would be held until after Easter, and then the union and corporate executives began a marathon series of meetings at the “conciliation service” ACAS. The original deadline to call a strike expired on 16th April, but in a highly unusual move the employers agreed to an extension of more than a week. This was not a magnanimous act of generosity on their part, but rather a calculated attempt to give the union bureaucrats more time to do their bidding.

And so they did. Top Unite officials reached an agreement with the tanker companies at ACAS, and duly referred it back to shop stewards at the end of the week. But the shop stewards overwhelmingly recommended rejection of the ‘deal’. As Angry Trucker explains:

“The fuel tanker bosses seem to have decided hot air can replace concessions in the tanker drivers dispute[…] the only area where there appears to be movement is on training. Here, the employers have agreed to suggestions put by the relevant statutory bodies for industry specific training and qualifications meeting most of the union’s requirements.”

However, no real progress has been made in regard to the adoption of industry-wide bargaining and common pay and conditions, or on pensions, where final salary pension schemes are being replaced with inferior money purchase schemes.

So essentially, there has been no material step forward for the (already trained) two thousand truckers at the centre of this dispute. And yet the union fat cats had the cheek to present this shabby ‘agreement’ to a membership who demanded a strike over the exact same conditions in March!

Truckers have until 11th May to vote on the ‘deal’, and a large rejection is expected. In that event, a new strike ballot would have to be called before the drivers could officially take action, and we can expect that union officials would drag their heels even then. Assistant general secretary Diane Holland was careful to play to both employers and the membership, when she commented that “Delegates felt the proposals did not meet members’ expectations and are recommending that members reject them in the consultative ballot.”

But the employers she meets with know well where her priorities lie. As a union bureaucrat, Holland and all the Unite tops have separate and often contradictory interests to the grassroots, because their well paid position as a go-between depends on them successfully imposing the will of the bosses.

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