All in, its a pretty complicated affair, J. R. Ewing would have been proud of how Jim Ratcliffe, Chairman and CEO of Ineos and his team played the situation.
Where did it start? (DM link alert.)
Probably way back when this man:
|Eric Joyce MP for Falkirk West|
Punched this man
|Luke Mackenzie (Tory cllr)|
|Ben Maney (another Tory cllr.)|
|Andrew Percy was 'shoved' (Who wouldn't?)|
|Alec Shelbrooke was 'threatened'|
But I digress.
Since then, Eric Joyce decided to stand down as the Labour MP for Falkirk West, that in turn triggered the Labour party selection process for a replacement. Enter Stephen Deans, ex-chair of the Falkirk Labour party and ex-unite union official at the Grangemouth plant.
|Stephen Deans, carrying his homework.|
He has been the subject of disciplinary procedures, Ineos claimed he'd been using work hours and company resources (mostly his work's email account) to conduct a political campaign - that campaign being - to (allegedly) make sure a Unite union wo/man got the job of running for Joyce's vacated Westminster seat. Deans had been suspended from his job pending the outcome of the proceedings, the Unite union - displeased at the treatment of their man - threatened industrial action, which in turn led to the shut down of the plant. Ineos claimed that if strike action did take place the plant would need to be shut down and that was a complicated, expensive process which took time to complete. With that in mind, they went ahead and shut it down anyway and refused to start it back up until industrial action was taken off the table.
Unite subsequently did take industrial action off the table but instead of starting the plant back up, Ineos cut out the Unite union and balloted the work force directly on new terms & conditions of employment - a pay freeze, adjustments (downwards obviously) to pensions and a cut in shift allowance. The work force - advised by Unite - rejected the new T&C's and Ineos said the plant would close permanently.
(A quick point of order. Grangemouth has two separate work streams, there is a petrochemical manufacturing plant and a refinery. It was the former part that was closed, the refinery is owned by Ineos and Chinese state-owned Petrochina.)
Ineos made much noise about its survival plan for Grangemouth, Jim Ratcliffe...
...CEO and Chair claimed the site was losing £10 million every month but many commentators failed to see how a tiny saving on wages would assuage these losses, some went even further and questioned the notion the plant was loss-making at all.
Meanwhile, high level meetings were taking place to get the plant up and running again, the Scottish Government pledged actual money (a £9m grant) while Westminster ponied up some loan guarantees. Unite caved in completely, workers had no choice but to accept the new T&C's and Ineos management agreed to reopen the plant.
As you would expect, the media - ever keen to apportion blame as well as credit - claimed that without the backing of Westminster, the plant would have closed. Alex Salmond being interviewed by BBC radio four's Edward Stourton pointed out that the Scottish Government had put up real cash while Westminster got away with offering guarantees - something the Scottish Government could not do under the current devolved settlement.
The usual claims and counter claims from various papers still reverberate, in truth, it was a joint effort from both governments but indisputably led by Holyrood. What is being missed though is how the situation came to pass in the first place. Stephen Deans of Unite stood accused of subverting work resources for political campaign ends and was suspended, so Unite decided to strike. Ineos then took advantage of that to ram home changes to workers terms and conditions, using the strike as an excuse to shut the plant down.
In the aftermath, two questions still remain. How did one man heading up Ineos get to be in a position of such power, not just over the Grangemouth work force but also of an integral part of Scotland's industrial oil infrastructure? And, what is really going on in the Falkirk Labour party?
At this time, the Labour party (there is really only one, the 'Scottish' Labour party doesn't exist as a separate entity) refuse to reopen the investigation into what went on during the selection process. Unite still stand accused of coercing its members into joining the Labour party or signing them up without them knowing in order to ensure their preferred candidate, Karie Murphy, was selected to stand for Eric Joyce's seat at Westminster.
Meanwhile alleged leader of 'Scottish Labour' Johann Lamont managed to talk for around 9 minutes on yesterday's Good Morning Scotland about the Falkirk selection mess and say precisely nothing constructive at all.
There is no punch line to this, workers at Grangemouth are back earning but many contractors are not. It is still not fully known what went on, Stephen Deans might have used Ineos resources for the nefarious political ends of Unite, it in turn may have reacted far too quickly before the results of the disciplinary proceedings were known, and Ineos - in an act of wanton capitalist greed that would even have J. R. Ewing's eyes watering - took advantage of the situation to ram through its own cost cutting agenda.
Not good, not good at all.