Correspondence on these pages recently concerning the situation at Grangemouth has been almost unanimous in its condemnation of the union Unite’s actions, while overlooking the opportunism of Ineos. Several contributors have shown obvious relish in harking back to previous ill-judged actions by unions, while giving not the slightest acknowledgement of the historical reasons for the existence of unions in the first place.
It’s true that our 21st century global economy presents different challenges for industry, and employees now have to accept that their jobs and futures are under the control of that global market, for better or for worse. The workers at the Grangemouth complex have just had a salutary reminder of that fact.
The shock, disbelief and distress which were clearly evident on the faces of the workers following the announcement of the closure of the petrochemical plant highlighted far better than words could do, how it feels to be powerless in the face of economic forces seemingly beyond our control. Yes, they have “clean” jobs, and no longer have to work in dangerous pits below ground as their forefathers did, but should their gratitude, therefore, forever over-rule their wish to maintain their current living standards?
Those who repeatedly drag up the alleged average salaries of Ineos employees are missing the point. Each of us lives according to our means, so a cut in income will inevitably have a negative impact on our lifestyles. The fact that some people earn much less than us is not a factor which we generally take into account when our personal circumstances are threatened. The threat of industrial action gave Ineos the perfect opportunity to deliver two master strokes: first, by choosing that moment to announce its proposed wide-ranging changes to pay and conditions, and second, by playing the perfidious game of “divide and rule” by asking employees to submit a piece of paper giving their consent, or otherwise, to those changes – a tactic used by 19th century cotton mill owners to discourage union membership.
This tactic, as always, served to pit worker against worker and, despite Unite’s inevitable capitulation to the proposed changes to their terms of employment, there will now no doubt be a degree of mutual recrimination and ill-feeling among employees for some time to come.
Broughty Ferry, Dundee
AS A sympathetic observer of the desperate events in Grangemouth, the people I admired were the workers who saved the day by effectively sacking their local union leaders.
These apparatchiks were prepared to sacrifice the livelihoods of 800 workers and 2,000 contract employees on the altar of their own obstinacy and self-interest. And the situation was not helped by the First Minister warbling: “We will never allow the closure of this facility” – another fantastic promise he was in no position to fulfil. Accepting a three-year wage freeze, a viable pension and a no-strike clause in return for job security is a good bargain in the brave new world of international petrochemicals.
The plant’s survival depends on processing cheap shale gas, so Alex Salmond should also revisit his point-blank refusal to allow the tapping of Scotland’s known reserves.
(Dr) John Cameron
St Andrews, Fife
Everyone in Grangemouth, Scotland and the UK has breathed a sigh of relief that the Ineos petrochemical plant has a long-term future.
Ineos will now go ahead with a £350 million investment in new infrastructure facilities, which will allow Grangemouth to import cheap shale gas from the US. (your report, 26 October). This is essential since a shortage of ethane from the North Sea means the plant’s two ethylene “crackers” are running below capacity and losing £10m a month.
The shale gas basins in the world are enormous promising long-term prosperity. The European Union’s energy commissioner says Europe should abandon expensive climate policy and develop shale gas, thus reducing dependence on volatile foreign energy supplies. Estonia now meets all its power needs from shale and other EU countries are urgently exploring for shale gas.
In a rare moment of sanity, Prime Minister David Cameron promised to introduce simplified regulations to start fracking. This technology would help cut energy bills and create tens of thousands of jobs.
So, Alex Salmond, why are we not exploiting this wealth beneath our Scottish feet for the benefit of Scotland and Grangemouth?
Linlithgow, West Lothian
The unions and Alex Salmond crushed in the same day. Without doubt, a watershed. The unions and independence spiked by capitalism – well Labour is only faintly pink now isn’t it?
Stan Hogarth, Edinburgh
When the dust has settled and we can look at the trauma of Grangemouth dispassionately, one factor, greater than all others, comes to the fore. It is the strength of Scotland as an integral part of the UK, a leading world economy, with 60 million people and the wherewithal to withstand the blow of Grangemouth, that is now apparent for even the greatest of doubters to see. The UK economy could have absorbed a blow like the closure of Grangemouth, should it have come, with relative ease.
This would not have been the case had Scotland been separated and on its own. Pointing out the likelihood of a similar situation being repeated in other large organisations employing thousands, and countless smaller businesses dependent on them, is not scaremongering. On the contrary, it should be the duty of every business and employer to point out the certain consequences of breaking up the UK.
Why is Professor Gregor Gall advocating that three steps “must” be taken so Grangemouth “doesn’t happen again” (your report, 26 October)?
The use of language such as “legal obligations, government control and compulsion” smacks more of China than Scotland.
The three-steps argument assumes they will be of mutual benefit to employers, employees and the community. This is not necessarily so as measures of this kind could well be the thin end of the wedge.
Recently, attention has focused on the apparent readiness of people to sacrifice freedom for material gain. Surely the last thing we want in a liberal democracy is a form of authoritarian capitalism?
In OUR vastly over-governed Scotland, it is incredible how the Grangemouth problem suddenly appeared from nowhere.
The real question is why did the MP and MSP for Grangemouth not see this coming? The same goes for the four elected councillors and seven list MSPs for the area. Why were 13 elected people not sufficiently in touch to have foreseen this potential economic calamity? All we now hear from them are their useless sighs of relief that the crisis is over.