Workers’ fights are our fights – just as they were in days gone by

Scotland has a proud history of industrial struggles. Some won, many lost but all playing a role in the politicization of our land and people. Some were for improvement in working conditions, some for wider struggles and others for the preservation of jobs and even entire industries.

Now once again factories and entire sectors of our economy are threatened. It’s why support for the workforce whether at Ferguson Marine, Grangemouth Refinery or other sites is vital. Their struggle is ours, as much as the Miners strike was 40 years ago and which is rightly being remembered.

These struggles go back centuries not decades. The 1820 Rising was as the great Tom Johnston wrote, in his “History of the Working Classes in Scotland”, a general strike from which it was hoped a revolution might spring. The west of Scotland was almost entirely out as were other areas. It was as much about the rights of working people, as about working conditions.

In 1919 Red Clydeside saw the yards and factories shut down with troops and even tanks brought into Glasgow. That was a strike for a 42-hour week. As demobilization was occurring following the end of World War 1, unemployment beckoned for many. Reducing the hours worked increased the jobs available. This wasn’t about conditions of employment but avoiding the immiseration of mass unemployment.

The 1970s saw the UCS occupation which was dignified and for the right to work and not to see entire communities marginalized. The next decade saw the heroines and some heroes of Lee Jeans and Plessey along with other valiant efforts to stop factory closures. All would soon be overtaken by the Miners titanic struggle. That wasn’t for pay but jobs. There was no denial that the work had to change, and new skills and trades found. But it had to be phased to avoid the suffering which was what was eventually inflicted by Thatcher with all the power the state could muster.  

In every one of those struggles ordinary people rallied to the cause giving unstinting support. Some were successful in whole or in part, others were crushed. But all left a huge political legacy which lingers to this day.  Individuals, communities and the country were inspired and those who inflicted it rightly paid a price. Thatcher has never been forgiven and the memory of strikes and their leaders remains to this day.

But the need has come again as our industry and communities are once again threatened. It’s simply not good enough for politicians to say it’s just the way it is or its all rather sad and just to wring their hands. It’s also unacceptable for governments and councils to walk away and say there’s nothing they can do. Instead, it’s incumbent upon them to support the workforce in all efforts to stop closure, protect jobs and retain industrial capacity in our country.

It simply shouldn’t be this way and our nation cannot stand back as core sectors of our economy are closed, our land is de-industrialized and workers and future generations flung on the scrap heap. The plight of former mining communities across Scotland testifies to what can happen when work is cruelly removed, and social ills enter into the void. And it’s happening again albeit in different sectors.

Grangemouth Refinery is profitable. Not as much as it should be but that’s been due to historic underinvestment and the failure of management to restart the hydrocracker which would increase profitability threefold. That needs done, as does refining the oil from the Forties pipeline which lands there.

If it closes, Scotland will be the only major oil producing nation without a refinery capacity. 500 jobs on site and 2000 contractors currently work there, and numerous traders and small businesses depend on it. Its closure will also devastate the Forth Valley, and lay waste to numerous other sectors of industrial Scotland.

Across the country on the Clyde, Ferguson Marine stands threatened. The last yard still operating on the Lower Clyde. Fergusons is synonymous with Port Glasgow and its loss would devastate an already blighted town. As with an oil producing nation lacking a refinery capacity, it’s simply absurd that an island nation with numerous smaller isles and archipelagos should see it’s ferry construction capacity obliterated.

On the Clyde, as on the Forth vital skills will be lost, and apprenticeships will no longer be available for future generations, when these sites have been the industrial education and route into work for tens of thousands over the years. It's why these threatened closures affect us all. It’s the de-industrialization of our land, and it’s why they need to be opposed.

Ferguson Marine must be given the contract for the seven Small Isles ferries. Work for them is drying up and the order needs issued and fast. Sending the order in whole or in part to yards outwith Scotland would be a crime against our history, economy and society. Our fragile communities need the service and our industrial communities the work. The Scottish Government must now do so.

The workforce at Grangemouth is gearing up for a fight supported by Unite the Union. It’s about preserving skills and jobs, and about maintaining an industrial base. The UK has made billions from North Sea oil. It’s small change from what they’ll receive not just what they’ve already taken to fund the restarting of the hydrocracker and insisting on the refining of the Forties pipeline there’s a duty and a right. It’s economic and environmental madness to devastate a community and then to ship oil in and out by tanker.

A Just Transition has been promised and this is both unjust and it’s a closure not transition. The Scottish Government must give their full support to the workforce, the union and the community in their struggle. And it’s time for all Scots to get behind the campaign as was done in past disputes. Their struggle’s our struggle, as were those in days gone by. This is about preserving our Nation’s industrial capacity.

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