Grangemouth is sorted. The workers are working, the management is managing and the Unite and Labour Party conspirator has resigned and been blamed as a rogue trade unionist by David Cameron. We have then a scapegoat to blame and can all sleep soundly at this dark and foreboding time of year when witches and warlocks abound and effigies are burned on bonfires.
We can also be comforted and reassured that at the 13th hour the combined might of the First Minister and Prime Minister showed that being Better Together, rather than Weaker Divided, can after all pay dividends. Who would have thought such a practical demonstration of the power of solidarity between politicians – in this case ironically unionists and nationalists – could kill stone dead the reputation of a trade union and the notion that Scotland is somehow more socialist than not just England, but China, and even Cuba too?
Sure, the petrochemical plant is still making a loss of £10 million a week but in time that will be turned round and it will be profitable again – thanks to shale gas we refuse to produce in Scotland but are willing to import from the United States. Only when the closure of Grangemouth’s petrochemical plant was announced, though, did those who often only ever use the despicable word “profit” in that pejorative way some people say the n-word or, according to Sainsbury’s, “Coloured Gentleman” suddenly recognise that the alternative must mean loss, with no customers and no jobs.
So, in a psychological way the Grangemouth dispute, distressing and disturbing though it has been, has served some purpose in that it has woken some (though clearly not all) of our political elite to what realpolitik is like, be it dressed in tartan or wrapped in a Union flag.
But wait, before we pat ourselves on the back, raise our glasses in true Scottish triumphalism to our sagacity I need to rain on everyone’s parade. The truth of Grangemouth is only now beginning to evolve slowly with the revelations that Unite, the union at the heart of the dispute, has not only had people involved in what is believed to be vote rigging within the Falkirk Labour Party but employed the intimidation of management and the management’s families, including their children.
Firstly, before I go on to comment on the latest revelations it needs to be said – where has the leader of the Scottish Labour Party, Johann Lamont, been during the whole three-act tragedy. Be it in the opening scenes that demanded her reaction, the central act of the dispute that required her leadership, or even the happier closing chorus that merited her comment she said nothing. Zilch. Zero. Not even a smidgeon or scintilla of criticism or correction.
Lamont, herself a member of Unite, made no impression, impressed no stamp of her authority – leaving us to conclude she is no more than a puppet dancing to her union’s vested interests rather than the warrior I had hoped of her. In her silence she defended no jobs, effected no negotiations, countenanced no compromises or urged any reality unpin the union leadership.
If I were an advertising man I would be photoshopping up a poster with a child on Johann Lamont’s knee saying to her “Mammy, what did you do in the Grangemouth dispute?” and sell it to the SNP or Tories. Whatever one’s view on which side was right, Lamont’s inaction would be properly exposed.
But secondly, having found Labour’s Lamont absent without leave, I also need to right a wrong on the union account – and correct our Prime Minister. The Unite Scottish convener, Stevie Deans, cannot be dismissed as a rogue activist, making trouble where others in Unite would fear to tread. He is in fact typical of Unite, typical of its methods and is no scapegoat as a result. The clear, unadulterated reality is that Unite’s methods put the futures of all its members, and beyond, at their unaccountable, unrealistic mercy.
We now know that not only was Unite completely divorced from the true worldwide market conditions that threatened closure of Grangemouth (that could have been easily established by its officials reading the business papers), but it was also running an intimidation campaign against managers and their families that involved demonstrations outside their homes, in their driveways and putting posters through their neighbours’ doors – and worse.
These actions are called “leverage” and are defended as appropriate on the Unite website and by officials for confronting evil employers and managers. But those at the receiving end were not evil, they were trying to protect jobs and many faced losing their own jobs if the plant closed and the company shrank as a result. And since when has a union been arbiter of what is evil? Unite officials, such as Scottish convener Stevie Deans and General Secretary Len McCluskey, must have known about and sanctioned their leverage unit. Police were called but no charges were brought – which means the law must be changed to end such intimidation
So, while the Grangemouth dispute is sorted its woes and repercussions still have a long way to run.