Strikers threaten to 'unleash a monster' over sackings

Decision by French oil company to lay off hundreds of workers at Lincolnshire refinery provokes walkouts across the country

Wildcat strikes at power stations spread across the country yesterday as workers threatened to "unleash a monster" and potentially threaten electricity supplies.

The week-long clash between the French oil giant and its workers escalated yesterday when the company announced it was sacking 647 people who had taken unofficial action over job losses. "The lights will go out," said one worker at the Lindsey oil refinery, where unofficial action has led to a dozen sympathetic strikes.

Emergency talks at the terminal in North Lincolnshire collapsed last night with the unions accusing management of "bullying and intimidation". Total insisted it could not negotiate while it was faced with an illegal dispute.

Many of the sacked staff at the site, which was the scene of a bitter strike over the employment of foreign workers in February, heard the news through the media before letters from management arrived informing them that they had until Monday to reapply for their jobs.

About 1,200 angry workers gathered at the main gates yesterday waving placards castigating "greedy bosses". Fellow workers at power stations, refineries, and plants in Cheshire, Yorkshire, Nottinghamshire, Oxfordshire, South Wales and Teesside walked out in a show of solidarity.

Hopes of an agreement were dashed last night, when the Acas conciliation service announced that a planned meeting between management and unions had failed to materialise. An Acas spokesman said: "We were invited by Total management for potential talks between the parties today. After discussions between Total management and their contractors, they decided not to go ahead with the talks. We remain in touch with the parties."

Union officials, who said they had waited for four hours in vain, reacted with fury. The GMB leader Paul Kenny described it as an "outrage and a disgrace" that the talks did not go ahead, adding: "Total has not even had the decency or courtesy to turn up at the meeting that they themselves arranged. Total is totally without integrity. Bullying and intimidation is not the way to bring about peace."

Total's robust response read: "These negotiations cannot take place while [we are] faced with an illegal dispute. We have had contact with Acas today and hope to be able to talk with them further next week once our contractor workforce has had the opportunity to decide if they wish to continue on this important project."

Problems at the refinery, where another strike took place in February after an Italian company brought in foreign workers, began when a sub-contractor laid off 51 workers involved in the construction of a new refining plant while another employer on the same site was hiring new staff. Total insisted that those concerned had come to the end of a four-week building contract, while the newly employed staff were being brought on board to provide pipe installation work. But more than 1,000 employees walked out in protest.

Yesterday, Total announced that almost 650 of those would be sacked after its main contract company, Jacobs, made "frustrating" attempts to encourage the strikers to return to work and enter proper negotiations.

"Total will soon realise they have unleashed a monster. It is disgraceful that this has happened without any consultation," one sacked worker said yesterday. "It is also unlawful and it makes me feel sick. If they get away with this, the rest of the industry will crumble and it will be like a turkey cull. Workers will be decimated and unskilled employees from abroad will be brought in on the cheap, treated like scum and sent back after the job is done. There is a serious possibility that the lights will go out because of this. We just cannot stand by and see workers discarded like an oily cloth."

As Downing Street condemned the action and urged workers to reapply for their jobs, staff at the Lincolnshire site sent text messages to sympathisers across the UK which read: "Cometh the hour, cometh the man. Your support is now needed more than ever. If you are supporting our brothers across the country thank you. If you're not yet out, just remember next time it could be you. We must fight this NOW."

Workers at the Staythorpe power station in Nottinghamshire, Ferrybridge power station in Yorkshire, Stanlow oil refinery in Cheshire and around 1,100 construction workers building a bio-fuel plant on Teesside responded to the call by walking out. Total insisted its oil refining work at Lindsey was unaffected.

Wildcat strikes: Back to the 60s?

*For those of us with long memories, or just a healthy interest in economic history, the wildcat strikes tearing through the nation's refineries and building sites are an uncanny reminder of previous waves of "unofficial" industrial militancy, especially in the car industry in the late 1960s (and we all know the unhappy ending to that tale), whence the term "wildcat" came. It meant shop stewards would simply disregard the law and any agreed negotiating procedures and lead workers out on strike.

The rise of shop steward power was to governments at the time a most disturbing phenomenon, as it was for the TUC and the union establishment. Harold Wilson's Labour government and Ted Heath's Tories tried to introduce or enforce legislation to tame the wildcats but both were overwhelmed by union power. We are now, as then, on the brink of a difficult decade. The national cake was shrinking or not growing quickly, and so to win a higher living standard you had to use muscle – if you had any. Hence the industrial strife.

The stresses also led to inflation as governments attempted to placate interest groups by throwing "confetti money" at them. We see the beginnings of a nastier decade this time too in the official strikes, such as the Tube dispute and the usual postal disputes going on at the moment.

We might also, most dangerously, see it manifested in more resentment towards immigrants and foreign workers. Public-sector pensions on the one side and huge bonuses in the City on the other will become ever more towering symbols of mutual antagonism as a well as battlegrounds in their own right. Class war?

Economists say the Nice Decade (non-inflationary continuous expansion) is over – prepare for the Ugly Decade.

Sean O'Grady

Arts and Entertainment
books
Voices
Caustic she may be, but Joan Rivers is a feminist hero, whether she likes it or not
voicesShe's an inspiration, whether she likes it or not, says Ellen E Jones
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and the Dalek meet
tvReview: Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Sport
Diego Costa
footballEverton 3 Chelsea 6: Diego Costa double has manager purring
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Life and Style
3D printed bump keys can access almost any lock
techSoftware needs photo of lock and not much more
Arts and Entertainment
The 'three chords and the truth gal' performing at the Cornbury Music Festival, Oxford, earlier this summer
music... so how did she become country music's hottest new star?
Life and Style
The spy mistress-general: A lecturer in nutritional therapy in her modern life, Heather Rosa favours a Byzantine look topped off with a squid and a schooner
fashionEurope's biggest steampunk convention heads to Lincoln
News
Dr Alice Roberts in front of a
peopleAlice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Star turns: Montacute House
tv
News
i100Steve Carell selling chicken, Tina Fey selling saving accounts and Steve Colbert selling, um...
Arts and Entertainment
Unsettling perspective: Iraq gave Turner a subject and a voice (stock photo)
booksBrian Turner's new book goes back to the bloody battles he fought in Iraq
News
The Digicub app, for young fans
advertisingNSPCC 'extremely concerned'
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Some of the key words and phrases to remember
booksA user's guide to weasel words
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Senior Data Scientist (Data Mining, RSPSS, R, AI, CPLEX, SQL)

£60000 - £70000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Senior Data Sc...

Law Costs

Highly Attractive Salary: Austen Lloyd: BRISTOL - This is a very unusual law c...

Junior VB.NET Application Developer (ASP.NET, SQL, Graduate)

£28000 - £30000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Junior VB.NET ...

C# .NET Web Developer (ASP.NET, JavaScript, jQuery, XML, XLST)

£40000 - £50000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# .NET Web De...

Day In a Page

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

As the collections start, fashion editor Alexander Fury finds video and the internet are proving more attractive
Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy

Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall...

... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy
Weekend at the Asylum: Europe's biggest steampunk convention heads to Lincoln

Europe's biggest steampunk convention

Jake Wallis Simons discovers how Victorian ray guns and the martial art of biscuit dunking are precisely what the 21st century needs
Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Lying is dangerous and unnecessary. A new book explains the strategies needed to avoid it. John Rentoul on the art of 'uncommunication'
Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough? Was the beloved thespian the last of the cross-generation stars?

Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough?

The atomisation of culture means that few of those we regard as stars are universally loved any more, says DJ Taylor
She's dark, sarcastic, and bashes life in Nowheresville ... so how did Kacey Musgraves become country music's hottest new star?

Kacey Musgraves: Nashville's hottest new star

The singer has two Grammys for her first album under her belt and her celebrity fans include Willie Nelson, Ryan Adams and Katy Perry
American soldier-poet Brian Turner reveals the enduring turmoil that inspired his memoir

Soldier-poet Brian Turner on his new memoir

James Kidd meets the prize-winning writer, whose new memoir takes him back to the bloody battles he fought in Iraq
Aston Villa vs Hull match preview: Villa were not surprised that Ron Vlaar was a World Cup star

Villa were not surprised that Vlaar was a World Cup star

Andi Weimann reveals just how good his Dutch teammate really is
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef ekes out his holiday in Italy with divine, simple salads

Bill Granger's simple Italian salads

Our chef presents his own version of Italian dishes, taking in the flavours and produce that inspired him while he was in the country
The Last Word: Tumbleweed through deserted stands and suites at Wembley

The Last Word: Tumbleweed through deserted stands and suites at Wembley

If supporters begin to close bank accounts, switch broadband suppliers or shun satellite sales, their voices will be heard. It’s time for revolution