So Grangemouth is safe, after Unite changed its mind and urged the company to implement the very ‘survival plan’ that it so fiercely rejected to begin with. Scotland’s commentariat have almost universally seen the episode a matter of how a wealthy owner of a private company is able to throw his weight around. The Labour Party, too, has unequivocally supported Unite, the union whose strike threat led to the plant’s closure in the first place. The party has proclaimed as evil the billionaire with a yacht and the lack of accountability of private companies. The thrust of discourse in Scotland has been that Unite may not have handled the issue very well until now, but that’s in the past – what matters now is the 800 jobs at threat. The truth, however, is that the significance of Unite for Grangemouth’s, and the Labour Party’s future is greater than ever.
Unite called a two-day strike because Ineos was investigating the conduct of a shop steward who had allegedly spent much company time recruiting workers to the Labour Party in order to dominate the selection of my Labour successor as parliamentary candidate in Falkirk. The union now says it was worried about jobs all the time, but this hardly squares with its placing of the shop steward at the top of their priority by calling a strike. When the company took the opportunity of the shut-down which followed to present its much-flagged ‘survival plan’, Unite rejected it out of hand. Unite figured the company was bluffing. It wasn’t. 800 jobs were lost and another 600 at the refinery next door threatened. That refinery next door is, of course, also owned by Ineos and however this situation pans out, Unite will still represent the workers at the whole site.