The furore over the strike by workers at Grangemouth refinery is predictable. Government Ministers have lined up to say that the dispute is unecessary. Yet all the workers are doing is defending their final salary pension. What is especially important about the dispute is the fact that the workers are striking against the introduction of an inferior scheme for future workers. TGWU-Unite has rightly pointed out that if this division between existing and new staff is allowed then it will progressively undermine the future of the final salary scheme.
“Ineos insisted the existing scheme will still close to new entrants on 1 August. They made that a condition of any negotiated change. We were unable to agree to that condition. Accepting a money purchase scheme for new entrants means we would eventually be unable to protect the existing scheme because of the diminishing number of members that would be affected.”
Ineos Capital which owns Grangemouth has raised the stakes by trying to blackmail the workers into retreating. They have suggested that a £750 million investment at the plant could be jeopardised by the action. They are threatening to invest elsewhere.
Ian Fyfe, Human Resources Manager at Ineos said:
“We’ve assessed that without this investment, huge amounts of this plant will close down and we’lllose 650 jobs, half the workforce. That’s what’s at stake. That would be a tragedy.”
The company is scandalised by the fact that the union is striking “in support of non-existent colleagues”.
Experience elsewhere has shown that once you accept that workers doing the same job are on different pension schemes, then it undermines the possibility of solidarity amongst the workforce. Progressively, as the numbers on the final salary scheme shrink, the chances of mobilising those on the inferior scheme in defence of a pension scheme they are not on, worsen.
The Grangemouth workers have significant industrial power. That they are using it in defence of “non-existent colleagues” is a cause for celebration. At the same time, of course, they are striking because they recognise that an inferior scheme for new staff will undermine their pension, sooner or later. Workforce solidarity is undermined once workers accept that some of their number can work for inferior pay and conditions. Unity then become very difficult to achieve if not impossible.