Thursday, 31 October 2013

Another View on Grangemouth from Tony Gosling

Re: Stevie Deans, as Tony I think said, the police investigation came up with nothing. However, after resigning yesturday, the police are now going through his emails that show he was using company time to do Labour Party business - though why that is a police matter seems extraordinary. So what, sackable offence to be doing something other than your actual work you are paid to do, but how is it breaking the law?

Unite are accused of messing up, but they already capitulated some days before the company announced it was closing. They called off the strike over Dean's victimisation, as they described it. The Scottish Socialist Party: 'After talks broke down at [mediation service] Acas, the company said they intended to "go over the heads of the union" straight to the workers to ask them to sign up to new contracts on worse terms by 6pm on Monday 21 October. Unite and the shop stewards called on workers to refuse to sign and over 70% of trade union members at the site supported the union's call. This indicates that pressure from the shop floor and the stewards changed the union's direction at this stage.'

I don't blame Unite here. They were powerless. What happened at Grangemouth was that the employer went on strike, and it looks like they manipulated a situation over Deans (knowing the union would hold a strike-ballot over their dialogue with him which the union intepreted as victimisation, suddenly presenting the workers with a fait-accomplie over the workers pay and conditions having walked away from ACAS mediation and planning for the cold-shot down in an orchestrated way over many months). SSP again: 'There is clear evidence that Ineos, in all likelihood in conjunction with the UK government, had been preparing for a confrontation with the union. The stockpiling and the importation of fuel to mitigate the impact of the strike and the inevitable shutdown of the plant were at an advanced stage, even before the strike was announced. This alongside an attempt to decapitate the union leadership at the plant indicated the lengths the company was prepared to go to.'

'In the run-up to the 48-hour strike Ineos announced they were going to put the plant into a prolonged "cold shutdown" rather than a short hot shutdown. In other words, a signal that they intended to keep the plant closed, effectively a lockout of the workers.'

In the run-up to the strike Ineos was claiming the plant was "in financial distress" and losing £10 million a month. SSP: 'Unite, however, asked Richard Murphy, an accountant and a campaigner against corporate tax-dodging to review Ineos' public accounts, which themselves will not tell the true story. Murphy found Ineos Chemicals Grangemouth Ltd has added one-off measures to make the accounts look bad, including a write-off in the valuation of the petrochemical plant - in other words it was worthless. The same petrochemical plant that is now described as having a bright future of at least 15 to 20 years.  Ineos which is particularly opaque and labyrinthine through the deliberate use of sub companies, including the use of off-shore tax havens to hide profits and avoid tax. Already in 2010 Ineos moved its headquarters from Britain to Switzerland to cut its tax bill.'

'Murphy found that Ineos' accounts imply that they expect to make £500 million from Grangemouth alone by 2017 and that operating profits grew by 56% last year. Murphy says that Grangemouth chemicals made £7 million profit last year and £6 million the year before.'

"Unlike any other company they decided to factor in investment as a loss", said Murphy. "They are using accounting rules I don't recognise. They are using numbers I can't find in any actual published accounts." Ineos internationally also made a profit of over £2 billion in 2012.

As part of the deal Ineos will be bailed out to the tune of £134 million in Scottish and UK government grants and loan guarantees. The company claims it needs this to ensure a £300 million investment at Grangemouth over the next few years.

The reality of a billionaire hedge-fund owner holding a whole country's fuel supply to ransom is thought-provoking in the midst of a situation where there is much talk of nationalisation of the energy market in the UK.

In terms of the workers, perhaps the worst concession Unite have agreed to in backing down has been that they have also signed away an agreement that allowed for full time union representation on site.

Another important issue is the ethics of Ineos' new business strategy for the Grangemouth plant. The new investment is to build a new gas processing factory and tankers to ship shale gas from the States, where the dash for shale-gas without environmental controls has wrought massive impacts on the water-courses and local communities' health, not-to-mention the massive effects of global warming from methane gas released into the air. If this was a nationalised plant, maybe through a campaign of public information disclosing theses facts the utilisation of this gas would not be sanctioned.

The case for nationalisation and how the UK's membership of the EU prevents that, as well as the issue of labour flexibility in the global competitive race to the bottom has been eloquently described by former national president of the RMT Alex Gordon in Tuesday's edition of the Morning Star. I don't agree with everything he says, but do about nationalisation of public utilities (and industries/sectors in national strategic interest) and leaving the EU to have to do so. Read below:

To Fight Austerity we must quit the EU, by Alex Gordon
Tuesday 29th, Morning Star

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