By Peter Welsh – Unite Scotland It’s a malaise of the old media, perhaps a by-product of the cuts in resources they have suffered themselves down the years, that the only newsworthy trade union story is a bad news one. It’s to be expected in this econo …

Samantha Ritchie

By Peter Welsh – Unite Scotland

It’s a malaise of the old media, perhaps a by-product of the cuts in resources they have suffered themselves down the years, that the only newsworthy trade union story is a bad news one.

It’s to be expected in this economic climate but it’s also immensely frustrating because all too often, if the trade union achieves a successful resolution, the media interest cools. The fact is a lot of the very good work trade unions do day-in and day-out goes unreported.

That’s why initiatives like USI are so important. The people there are innovative thinkers from within the trade union family that not only have a grasp on the new media agenda but are constantly exploring the new – with no borders to their coverage of trade union issues.

And that’s why we’re delighted at Unite Scotland to not only support USI but also work with them to highlight the good news stories from our own membership and help build, in our own small way, global trade union solidarity.

Recently we’ve just won a very important dispute with BP in our road haulage sector. Last Thursday (27th February), after our members had taken three days of strike action and less than twelve hours away from further and indefinite strikes, BP settled with our LGV drivers on cuts to pay and pensions as a result of a forthcoming transfer of employment to DHL.

Part of the problem, aside from a typically belligerent approach to industrial relations by the employer, is the weak adaptation of the EU Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) (TUPE) laws in the UK, not least the grey areas over pensions.

Not to over simplify, but in the UK, basic terms and conditions are transfer to but not necessarily a worker’s existing pension entitlement. The imminent transfer of fifteen members from BP to DHL would have resulted in cuts of up to £16,000 a year on the pension value for one-third of the workers and upwards of £1,400 a year from the basic earnings of two-thirds of the workers due to the loss of an in-house BP share-match scheme.

For weeks BP – which posted a profit of nearly £8 billion in 2012 and whose CEO Bob Dudley pocketed a tasty £2.6 million on bonus on top of his basic £1.1 million salary – refused to budge on our members’ call for financial fair play. Why pay what you owe when the workers won’t be your problem in a few short weeks?

However, BP misjudged the resolve of our members. An initial three days strike action was balloted for and supported by 90% of the workforce and the workers took to the picket line last Friday morning at 4AM (in a typical Scottish climate that few natives would dare to venture in at such an hour). It was estimated that some 30 million litres of fuel remained inside the refinery gates over the weekend, affecting every Scottish airport and hundreds of forecourts across the country.

Although the initial strike was considered a success, it seemed an escalation would be necessary to achieve the full and fair recompense of our members from BP. An indefinite strike would also have had major consequences for the supply of aviation and motor fuel across Scotland, severely restricting the transport infrastructure, an incredibly difficult decision to take and a pressure to bear.

Fresh negotiations at BP’s insistence started after members returned to work on the Monday morning but given the company’s earlier rhetoric Unite were pursuing a resolution more in hope than expectation.

On Wednesday evening, after numerous proposals were rejected, less than eight hours before the second wave of strike action was to start, Unite representatives presented an offer to the membership that paid all current and future earnings and pension entitlement of the soon to be transferred workers. In short, the full recompense of all monies that would be lost upon the transfer of employment. This was unanimously accepted.

But why did BP fold so quickly? Was it economics, politics, public pressure, fear over supply? Probably a bit of everything but they were all provoked by our members’ resolve. So there are lessons to be learned from this victory that have future value for trade unionists everywhere.

It’s not rocket science. Our members are highly organised in terms of trade union density at the Grangemouth refinery and they are also highly educated in the intricate details of their work and sector (I often wonder how often politicians and plutocrats readily dismiss the niche knowledge the worker has of their roles and responsibilities?). That gives them the confidence, which ripples throughout the membership, the rest of the sector and the wider union that they can readily agitate to great effect if the situation demands.

Organise, educate and agitate. Do this and you’ll see that there is power in a union.

So, underpinned by these principles, this week’s top trade union headline from Scotland is that forty-two tanker drivers stared down the forth largest company in the world for pay and pension justice – over figures that represented mere drops in the tank for a goliath like BP – and won.

It’s an excellent outcome for Unite LGV drivers at the Grangemouth refinery and will boost trade union confidence across the rest of the UK road haulage sector.

Through USI we hope this case provides another demonstration that workers’ the world over can still win even in these difficult times.

Solidarity from Scotland.

Get the latest updates from Unite Scotland on Twitter: @unitescotland

Peter Welsh works in the Unite Scotland Campaigns, Communications & Policy Unit. He tweets @deftleftfoot


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Samantha Ritchie