The Lindsey Oil Refinery is shaping up to be the new capital of labour militancy in Britain. The nationwide dispute over the employment of foreign workers in January was centred on the Lincolnshire plant. And Lindsey was the spark for another industrial confrontation yesterday.
Some 700 construction contractors have been sacked by the plant's owners, Total, for taking part in a wildcat strike, called after 51 workers were made redundant. And just as in January, workers at power plants and refineries around the country have walked out in sympathy with their Lincolnshire colleagues.
Hard facts relating to the events at the heart of the dispute remain elusive. The workers claim management broke an agreement not to cut jobs at Lindsey while there were vacancies elsewhere on the site. They have also accused bosses of victimising those involved in January's wildcat action. For its part, Total claims the workers refused to come to the negotiating table, giving the company no choice but to dismiss them.
The sensitivity of workers over the security of their jobs can easily be imagined – even sympathised with – in the present economic climate. And it might be that Total has behaved badly towards them. But it should be noted that the inflammatory accusations of these same workers in January that Total had discriminated unfairly against British workers were never borne out.
And, just as earlier this year, the manner in which these workers are venting their frustrations is doing them no favours at all. By walking out without holding a strike ballot, they instantly broke the law and ceded Total the moral high ground.
In refusing to follow due process in their dispute, these oil workers risk an even greater danger. One of the sacked workers was reported yesterday as saying that Total has "unleashed a monster". But the monster of arrogant and bullying labour militancy is just as unpopular in the broader country as it was when the state moved to suppress it three decades ago. If these workers want to build public support for their grievances, they are going about it in precisely the wrong way.