‘I call on every trade unionist around this country in the construction industry to come out on official action,’ Unite official Keith Gibson told a mass meeting of 1,000 unofficial strikers outside the Lindsey oil refinery in Killingholme, Lincolnshire yesterday.
Yesterday saw the fifth day of unofficial strikes in defence of jobs and union rates of pay and conditions, sparked by Italian contractors importing cheap labour and refusing to consider local workers at skilled rates.
The mass meeting was called ahead of talks between refinery owner Total’s managers and union officials in Grimsby mediated by ACAS.
The meeting voted unanimously to allow union officials to start talks with management.
Gibson told the crowd: ‘I think there should be a call for industrial action right around this country to make the government aware of how we feel and how we’re not prepared to let this industry go to the dogs.’
He stressed: ‘This issue is based around the defence of the construction industry national agreement which, we believe, with their use of foreign labour or otherwise, is a direct attack on a national agreement.
‘They won’t be happy until they’ve broken that agreement, until they’ve lowered the wages and living standards of construction workers in this industry.’
Unite steward Kenny Ward added: ‘Over the last week your heroic actions here have inspired thousands in our county, hundreds of thousands in our country and millions across the globe.
‘The fight against discrimination, the fight against victimisation and the fight to put bread on your table for your children started here at Lindsey.
‘Gordon Brown said it (the unofficial action) is indefensible.
‘If the prime minister will not defend the working man, if Parliament will not defend the working man, then the union will defend the working man.’
Meanwhile, mass meetings of around 400 contractors at the Longannet power station in Fife and about 130 at the Cockenzie power station in East Lothian decided to continue their unofficial action until Friday.
Around 80 workers at the ExxonMobil petrochemicals plant in Mossmorran, Fife, walked out again yesterday and are holding another mass meeting today.
Walk-outs were also continuing at the Stanlow refinery, Cheshire, Drax Power Station, near Selby in North Yorkshire, and Coryton oil refinery in Thurrock, Essex.
In a statement to the House of Lords on Tuesday business secretary Mandelson attacked the strikers, saying: ‘We should keep our sights set firmly not on the politics of xenophobia but on the economics of this recession.’
Lindsey refinery strike committee member Phil Whitehurst hit back saying the strikers had nothing against foreign workers.
He said: ‘People have said it’s racist. It’s not. We’re not part of the BNP. I’ve shunned the BNP away from here.
‘It’s about British workers getting access to a British construction site.’
Prime minister Brown condemned the strikes as ‘counter-productive’, claiming refinery owner Total was not discriminating against British workers.