Richie Venton, an activist in the Scottish Socialist Party, makes the case for nationalising Grangemouth on his blog which we are re-posting.
The devastating announcement that multi billionaire Jim Ratcliffe is walking away from the petrochemical plant at Grangemouth, putting this vital national asset into liquidation, means the loss of 800 skilled jobs, with countless hundreds more jobs threatened through the repercussions to the local economy.
And the same INEOS capitalist dictator has warned that Scotland’s only oil refinery will remain shut down unless the workers in that part of the huge industrial complex accept cuts to pay, pensions, shift allowances and bonuses that would total a loss of £10-15,000 per worker.
This is feral capitalism at its blatant worst, red in tooth and claw, fangs plunged not only into the workforce but the wider Scottish population. And contrary to the lies peddled by Ratcliffe and his well-named PR company – Media Zoo – this has nothing to do with the ‘financial distress’ of INEOS, and even less to do with any refusal on the part of the workforce or their union UNITE to see sense. INEOS bought Grangemouth off BP in 2006 as part of a much bigger £6billion takeover. It helped INEOS become the 4th biggest chemicals company in the world, with 51 manufacturing sites in 11countries across North America, Europe and Asia.
INEOS – which in an obscene insult to language is Greek for ‘bright new dawn’! – has plunged the Grangemouth workforce and the whole of Scotland into darkness and despair with their animalistic pursuit of profit at all cost.
Back in 2010, Ratcliffe moved INEOS headquarters from the UK to Switzerland, to dodge company taxes of at least £100m a year.
They’ve paid no UK taxes for at least the past 5 years. And again contrary to their lie-machine in recent weeks, in 2011 Grangemouth petrochemicals made operating profits of £31m – which rocketed to £49m last year. Globally, INEOS last year had a turnover of £43billion, and profits over £2billion. So pleas of ‘financial distress’ from Ratcliffe and INEOS wouldn’t fool a child learning sums at nursery, let alone the adult population.
Hell bent on even steeper rises in profit, this one-man dictatorship over Scotland’s only oil refinery and petrochemical site – employing 1,300 directly and 5,500 in the supply chain – issued a poisonous cocktail of blackmail and bullying. They demanded £150m off the taxpayer as a price for investing and retaining Grangemouth. They demanded cuts of £50m in operating cuts per year from the workforce – make the workers pay!
They perversely used the fact that Grangemouth accounts for 85% of Scotland’s fuel supplies and 30% of England’s to hold a bazooka to the heads of both Westminster and Holyrood, demanding public subsidies for their profits.
Within the workforce, Ratcliffe and INEOS saw one of the most powerfully organized industrial trade unions in the country as the enemy of their rapacious profiteering. So in the manner of Thatcher’s well planned confrontation with the miners in the 1980s, INEOS began to stockpile supplies in advance of provoking a showdown with the union and workers. Recently documents emerged proving that as far back as last March they were preparing for a strike this November!
But they weren’t just indulging in the arts of Mystic Meg: these billionaire gangster capitalists were out to consciously provoke strike action and then isolate and vilify the workers and UNITE as they held the country to ransom in demand of public funds for private capitalist profits to thrive.
To their eternal shame, the British Labour party leadership supplied Ratcliffe with an opening when they started a political witch hunt against UNITE convener at the site, and local constituency Labour Party chair, Stevie Deans. Labour – and the police who they scandalously sent a report to!! – subsequently cleared Stevie of all wrongdoing, but INEOS persisted with new investigations, ploughing through his emails, hunting for misuse of company resources for political activity – all in an attempt to decapitate the union and provoke strike action as a smokescreen for their real strategy.
SIGN OR BE SACKED
When the union stewards discovered management documents proving this long-planned provocation, they tactically withdrew the 48-hour strike due last weekend. Ratcliffe, besotted by his own wealth and arrogance, probably misread this as an act of weakness, and issued ‘sign or be sacked’ notices to the workers in their own homes – demanding that within 3 days they sign for new contracts involving £10-15,000 a year cuts to their incomes, or face the sack in 45 days. When workers refused to be browbeaten into submission – over 680 of the 1,000 UNITE members returned the forms unsigned to the union – Ratcliffe has stepped up the brutality even further, liquidating the petrochemical arm of the site (800 jobs), and still refusing to fire up the refinery unless the other 500 workers cave in to his dictatorship over terms and conditions.
PROFITS AND PAWNS
Even the mainstream media, not usually sympathetic to the workers’ side of any struggle, have overwhelmingly condemned the methods of Ratcliffe and INEOS. But the crunch question is what should be done now?
It is perverse in the extreme that an industrial complex that accounts for 10% of the nation’s GDP, and 85% of fuel supplies in Scotland, as wells it’s implications for the key Forties oilfield, is in the hands of one man – a tax-dodging multi-billionaire to boot. This one fact captures the lunatic immorality of capitalism as a system. Profit is all. People are pawns.
Ratcliffe declares the site ‘worthless’ and in need of huge public subsidies, and yet INEOS’s own company accounts confirm that last year sales jumped by 50%; gross profits rose by 20%; operating profits leapt by an incredible 56%.
So oil-rich Scotland has only one oil refinery, and it’s fate is in the hands of one venture capitalist!
As columnist Ian Bell rightly says (Herald 23 Oct 2013):” Strategic national assets are not something that can be left to the markets, far less individuals with big money and small ideas”.
CHINESE STATE OWNERSHIP?
Ratcliffe is pulling out, leaving devastation in his wake, because not even his obscene levels of bullying and blackmail have screwed the loot he wanted out of workers or governments. The SNP government is absolutely right to be looking at alternative ownership to retain the jobs, skills and vital economic output of this vast enterprise. But why, for instance, should they seek a takeover of Grangemouth by the Chinese state? The central bureaucracy of the Chinese Communist Party, who have rapidly transformed themselves into some of the most rapacious capitalists in the world, without a care for the health or safety of their workers – who are killed in the mines and elsewhere on an appalling scale – are already half-owners of the INEOS operations at Grangemouth. Is that where the Holyrood government seeks a new owner?
NATIONALISE – DON’T SUBSIDISE
Anyone would welcome a rescue of the entire operation – the refinery as wells the petrochemical plant – but instead of seeking either another multinational capitalist or the Chinese state as saviours, it would make infinitely more sense for the Scottish government to nationalise the whole complex – bring it into the collective ownership of the Scottish people.
That way they could also usher in new, democratic forms of management, incorporating the workers through their elected unions, and the Scottish government, in pursuit of the interests and well-being of not only the workforce but the entire population. In the old phrase, they should nationalise, not subsidise; take over the huge assets of a multinational that has revealed the real nature of capitalism as a system, and deploy the skills and expertise of the workforce as part of a state-owned energy industry, which could begin to look after people and planet alike.
INDEPENDENCE AND SOCIALISM
This whole episode also highlights the case for independence – for having the powers to take energy and other key industry into outright public ownership and control. But it also highlights the need for an independent Scotland based on the interests of the working class majority, not those of a few multinationals being bribed into investing here by low corporation taxes and public subsidies, only to bugger off again when it suits them.
We need to push for public ownership to save the jobs, skills, livelihoods and energy and industrial output at Grangemouth – and step up the argument that self-government for the Scottish people is the surest route to stopping modern pillage and plunder by capitalists with ‘big money and small ideas’