Talks with contractors on Tuesday afternoon and evening, aimed at ending the bitter dispute over the sacking of 647 workers at Lindsey oil refinery, were adjourned until today.
With workers defiant and calling for national strike action, the strength of the working class has forced union leaders to make the dispute official, demand sacked workers are reinstated and give guarantees that those who have taken part in sympathy strikes will not be victimised.
Total, owner of the North Lincolnshire site, was at the meeting to ‘observe’ the talks with sub-contractor Jacobs.
Some 3,000 workers at construction sites round the UK have walked out in support of the sacked Lindsey workers.
The Lindsey workers first walked out on 11 June in protest at a sub-contractor axing 51 jobs while another employer on the site was hiring people.
Just over a week later, Total announced that 647 construction workers had been sacked for taking part in unofficial strikes.
Since then, sympathy walkouts have taken place at Lindsey and at other sites around the UK.
Workers, who were given until 5pm on Monday to re-apply for their jobs, publicly burned their dismissal notices on Monday.
On Tuesday, about 2,000 men demonstrated at the gates of the oil refinery, waving placards saying ‘Total injustice’ and ‘say no to the death of the construction industry’.
GMB general secretary Paul Kenny told a rally on Tuesday: ‘We are weeks away from a national ballot.
‘A solution to the dispute may be in sight, but I want to make it absolutely clear, publicly, that a solution we will have, not a sell-out.
‘And if there is any suggestion from any quarter that the solution involves the people who were sacked are not going back to work, or those who have been victimised elsewhere in the country not getting their jobs back, then I say they haven’t got a solution.
‘From the moment Total or their contractors dismissed our members, this became an official dispute.’
News Line talked to several of the workers as they gathered for their demonstration and rally.
Sacked Lindsey worker, Edward from Cleethorpes said: ‘We’re here because 900 have been sacked.
‘They (Total) won’t talk to ACAS, they won’t talk to anybody.
‘At the moment, everything is at a stalemate.
‘But this is going from strength to strength, with plants from all over the country coming out in sympathy with us.
‘If Total tried to do this in France, they would not get away with it.
‘The workers in France would block the ports, everything.
‘That’s what we should do. We have to do something, they are out to smash the trade union movement.
‘Nobody wants to be out of work, nobody wants to be on strike – but enough’s enough.’
Another sacked Lindsey worker, Peter added: ‘I’m here because I’ve been sacked by TV!
‘I’ve not received any letter from the company to apply for my job back.
‘I’m not going to beg for my job and I’m not going to be blackmailed.
‘I want the unions to make this official and back the men, as they should have done in January and February this year.
‘They should stand up to Brown and his cronies.
‘The whole country should be brought out.
‘Brown is a Tory. The working class should bring him down.
‘I’d rather see a more left wing government than this Labour government.’
Sean Reed from Grimsby, also a sacked Lindsey worker, said: ‘We were here for the 51 workers to begin with but now it’s 647 of us.
‘They’ve told us to re-apply for our jobs.
‘We’ve refused. We won’t beg for our jobs.
‘I think they are looking to mothball the project because it is running £200m in debt plus six months behind target.
‘It’s the management that have mucked things up, not the workers.
‘We shouldn’t pay for their mistakes.
‘They want to break the unions, they don’t want solidarity.
‘You break the unions, the game’s over.
‘I want the union to make the dispute official.
‘They should have a proper strike ballot and you would see everybody is prepared to come out and stand their ground.
‘There should be national action, it’s starting to happen now, but it needs to be official action.
‘The government are not backing us at all, they are just trying to stay out of the picture.
‘We have to defend our trade union rights and conditions.’
Lindsey striker, Unite member Des Smith told News Line: ‘We’re out in support of our fellow workers.
‘How can this strike be illegal when the prime minister is self-elected, we were railroaded into Europe without a referendum and all the MPs have been caught with their hands in the till?
‘Because we are fighting for the opportunity to work in out own country, how can the government class this as illegal?
‘Gordon Brown is a traitor to the Labour movement, to the British workers.’
Sacked Lindsey worker, Daniel Casey from Dumbarton added: ‘We’re here to get our jobs back.
‘The 51 sacked is one thing but as far as I’m concerned it’s bigger than that – they are trying to smash a national agreement.
‘If they get away with that, they’ll cut our wages.
‘They’ll want us on the National Minimum Wage and make it a free-for-all for foreign companies to come into this country.
‘We’re determined to get our jobs back on the same wages and conditions, nothing less will do.
‘We have to stay out until we win.
‘Personally, I would want the unions to make our dispute official.
‘We have to break these anti-union laws, we need to bring the whole country out in support.’
Walter Murray, a shop steward from BP Dimlington gas terminal, near Easington, said: ‘We should have stayed out in February.
‘The last time we picketed here, they promised us 120 jobs.
‘But the problem is they were still bringing in 20 workers a week.
‘We had the full support from around the country, we should have stuck at it.
‘We’re going to have to now, it’s come to it.
‘We have to stay out until we win. That goes for the other unions.
‘We’ve got all banners here today. It needs the whole country out.
‘We need a general strike.
Les Woodhall, also from BP Dimlington, added: ‘They are out to smash the unions and get cheap labour.
‘This is government-made. They say the government is standing aside but it’s not.
‘The government is causing all the trouble by not standing up against the employers.
‘We should have a total strike, a countrywide strike, that’s what we need.’
Sacked worker D Pritchard from Barnsley said: ‘We need to carry this dispute forward.
‘We’re here for the long haul.
‘We’re going to stop them breaking our agreement.’