Many more people have heard of BP than have heard of Ineos, but the strike struggle against that company which has broken out at the massive Grangemouth oil refinery goes right to the heart of the overproduction crisis of capitalism.
Ineos is not primarily an oil company at all, but rather a chemical business which has become the biggest company of its kind in the UK by the expedient of acquisitions and asset-stripping – as witness its annexation of Grangemouth from BP’s business empire in 2005. As the merger frenzy of imperialism intensifies, it matters less and less precisely what commodity is being produced, so long as the concentration of capital and capacity in ever fewer hands succeeds in stealing market share from rivals and screwing maximum surplus value out of the workforce.
The absorption and gutting by Ineos of the unwanted operations of better-known corporate giants like BP, ICI, Unilever, Dow Chemicals and Union Carbide, using high yield bonds to finance the deals, has secured its place as the world’s third largest chemical company, employing over 16,000 workers in twenty different countries. It has an annual turnover of £22.6 billion.
Unite’s national secretary Phil McNulty holds the obvious moral high ground when he complains about Ineos robbing its workers’ pensions whilst coining £3 million a day out of the plant, but this directs attention away from the political point.
As the crisis intensifies, it is not sufficient that monopoly capital make a tidy profit. Only those players that can maximise market share and make maximum profits will live to tell the tale to their shareholders. And to achieve this, companies like Ineos are prepared to put everything under the hammer – the deferred wages representing years of unpaid labour sweated out of the BP workforce, the production units which are summarily shut down as being surplus to requirement and, when push comes to shove, the livelihoods of thousands of workers. For such an outfit as Ineos to take McNulty’s advice and curb its own anti-social behaviour would simply be to invite destruction by the competition. The successful capitalist must act as capital personified – or risk expropriation by his less fastidious brethren.
Vote-grabbing crocodile tears from the local Labour MP Michael Connarty about how “unacceptable” all this is should fool nobody. It is the Labour government which promotes the interests of big business at every turn and does its utmost to use the law to hinder organised labour from mounting successful resistance against the vandalism of companies such as Ineos.
The 1,200 Scottish workers who are rightly taking this defiant stand in defence of their pensions, conditions and jobs, and the hundreds of people in the Grangemouth community who rallied to their support on the eve of the strike, deserve the support of the whole trade union movement, not just in words but in coordinated action. What they least of all require is the “sympathetic advice” of ‘left’ Labour imperialists.
It is imperialism itself which needs to be identified as the enemy to be fought, along with all its placemen in the labour aristocracy – the enemy within.