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Trade Unionism

Grangemouth and the Limits of Trade Union Action

The recent conflict at the Scottish oil refinery shows who holds the whip hand under capitalism.

Grangemouth oil refinery and petrochemicals plant on a 1,700-acre estate on the Firth of Forth 25 miles from Edinburgh is owned by INEOS, the world's fourth largest chemicals conglomerate, and also the largest privately owned company in Britain. The Grangemouth plant is Scotland's only oil refinery providing 85 percent of Scotland's petrol, processing about 200,000 barrels of oil per day, it also powers the Forties pipeline which supplies a third of Britain's North Sea oil. INEOS, launched in 1998 is owned by its management, headed by chairman and chemicals industry veteran Jim Ratcliffe, and now has a turnover of $43 billion (£27 billion). PetroChina bought a stake in Grangemouth in 2011 in a deal that was meant to secure its future.

'Hovis Bakers Win Strike in Wigan'

The recent workplace dispute at the Hovis Bakery on Cale Lane in Wigan involving the Bakers, Food and Allied Workers Union (BFAWU) was over the use of zero-hours contracts, the introduction of agency staff, and the reduction in working hours. Some workers at the Wigan bakery had been on temporary zero hours contracts for up to three years before they were given full-time posts. The dispute was a clear example of the struggle between capital and labour and what Marx called the 'periodical resistance on the part of the working men against a reduction of wages, and their periodical attempts at getting a rise of wages'.

BFAWU are the old bakers union founded in 1847 in Manchester by journeymen bakers who campaigned to secure the Bakehouse Regulations Act of 1863. The Union represents 30,000 workers in the food industry in Britain.

Unions Should End the Link With Labour

In a bid to stop the Tories and the media painting Labour as a ‘class-based anti-cuts party’ (which planet are they living on?) Ed Miliband has proposed to weaken the links between Labour and the unions. This has been long overdue, but from a trade union point of view.

Trade unions were originally set up by groups of workers to bargain collectively, as a single unit, with their employer over their wages and working conditions. Today, it is true, they have become bureaucratic organisations run by highly-paid full-timers but workers are still better off with them than without them. They do provide some protection against arbitrary acts by employers and they are able to push up wages in a boom and stop them falling too far in a slump. Everyone should join one. They are the only protection workers have under capitalism.

Trade union consciousness

Editorial: What Can the Unions Do?

Trade unions are organisations of the working class established to improve and defend their pay and conditions of work in capitalism although they are limited in what they can achieve for their members. Unions arise out of the wage-relation that is at the basis of capitalism where the working class are forced to sell their mental and physical energies in order to live. Unions exert collective pressure on employers to prevent their members’ wages falling below the value of their labour-power. It is a way of ensuring that they are paid the full value of what they have to sell and can ensure that wages are not reduced below the subsistence level.

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