Energy Workers to Stage More Protests as Companies Raise Bills but Not Pay

Energy Workers to Stage More Protests as Companies Raise Bills but Not Pay 1

Yves here. Lovely. Even though the staredown between UK energy company employees and their overlords has not gotten to the point of a strike, the impasse seems serious enough that that’s a plausible outcome.

I’d appreciate UK reader input. In the US, strikes by government workers are illegal (although some states allow state employee strikes) and some private sector workers also have restricted labor action rights. Readers may recall that just last month, Biden intervened to block a planned railroad worker labor stoppage. The politics of that would seem counter-intuitive. From WSWS on July 17:

The White House announced an executive order Friday afternoon creating a Presidential Emergency Board (PEB) to intervene in a national contract dispute in the railroad industry.

The announcement of the PEB, a form of federal mediation, blocks a potential strike by over 100,000 railroaders, which could have legally taken place as early as 12:01 AM on July 18, at the expiration of a 30-day “cooling off” period. Last week, railroaders in the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen voted by 99.5 percent to authorize strike action.

Workers have been without a contract for nearly three years, and conditions in the railroads are atrocious. Tens of thousands of workers have resigned in recent years, particularly due to the punishing work schedule, in which 70+ hours a week are not uncommon. Workers are on call 24/7, leaving them unable to plan a family life or even schedule medical appointments. In addition, workers have not had a pay increase since the expiration of the last contract, leaving them at the mercy of 9 percent inflation. Meanwhile, the Class I railroads have made record profits during the pandemic….

The move by Biden was widely expected. However, it is significant that the chief agitators for the appointment of a PEB were the rail unions, which had been pushing for it since May. This amounted to a demand that the government intervene to make illegal a strike by their own members. At the same time, SMART-TD President Jeremy Ferguson issued a statement denouncing as malicious lies claims that the unions were pushing for strike action or for wage increases that would keep pace with inflation.

The appointment of the PEB makes clear the true meaning of Biden’s boast to be the most “pro-union president in American history.” In plain language, this means that Biden is aggressively promoting the pro-corporate unions to suppress worker opposition.

This is a long way of introducing the notion that some private sector workers in the US have restricted labor action rights because the importance of certain industries gives their employees too much power their shutdown could have broad economic impact. I don’t seen any hint in the article below that the employees of power companies face any such restrictions.

Of course, the execs might be telling themselves with all the threats of shutdowns because Russia, that a strike will never be noticed. Or they might even welcome a strike now as a way of reducing energy demand now, to the benefit of supply in colder months.

By Adam Ramsay, openDemocracy’s special correspondent. You can follow him at @adamramsay. Adam is a member of the Scottish Green Party, sits on the board of Voices for Scotland and advisory committees for the Economic Change Unit and the journal Soundings. Originally published at openDemocracy

Energy Workers to Stage More Protests as Companies Raise Bills but Not Pay 2

Grangemouth Oil Refinery in central Scotland. ‘The justified sinner’, some rights reserved.

Energy workers are promising rolling protests at major sites across the UK as employers push up bills and profits soar despite falling real-terms pay.

Speaking from Drax power station in Yorkshire, where he described working conditions as “red hot,” industrial scaffolder Richard Foster said workers at 29 sites across the UK had committed to protesting every other Wednesday until their wage demands are met.

Workers taking part in the action demonstrated at a number of sites that are vital to the UK’s energy infrastructure yesterday, including Drax, Grangemouth oil refinery in Scotland, Pembroke oil refinery in Wales, and Humber oil refinery in England.

“All they’re doing is driving profits up and driving wages down,” said Foster, who described workers on the site as “incensed”.

“We’ve paid our taxes to these companies,” he added. “They’ve had millions for them to have the privilege to give out £4,000 electric bills.”

Some workers on the sites, he said, are on rates as low as £10.36 an hour. For them, he said, “it’s either going to be energy or food in the winter time. They’re only just above the minimum wage.”

The demonstrations are targeted at the Engineering Construction Industry Association, the main employers’ association for the UK’s engineering and construction industry, and are in response to a pay rise offer of just 2.5% – which would amount to a significant real-terms cut. Foster insisted the actions are not officially strikes – yet – although he said employees had lost pay as a consequence.

He accused company bosses of being “rogue employers who won’t come back to the table to renegotiate the cost of living crisis”, adding that he believes the firms are “waiting for a recession – and then they’ve got an excuse not to pay us again”.

The Drax group posted profits of £398m last year, and increased its dividends to shareholders by 10% in February. Ineos group, which owns Grangemouth, reported profits of more than £2bn over the last financial year. The company’s owner, Jim Ratcliffe, has previously been listed as the UK’s richest person, but is now based in the low tax jurisdiction of Monaco.

The workers involved in the actions produce between them a huge portion of both the petrol and the electricity used in the UK, with Drax, Britain’s largest power station, providing 6% of the country’s electricity on its own. Should the actions develop into full blown strikes, they could have the capacity to shut down much of the UK economy.

The walk-outs come at a febrile time in the UK, with strikes on the railways and in Amazon warehouses alongside the first ever national call centre strike, and many other workforces balloting for action. Energy prices are soaring, and 100,000 people have already signed up to support the ‘Don’t Pay’ campaign and default on their bills.

Climate activists across the UK offered their support to the energy workers, with Climate Camp Scotland tweeting “full solidarity” for the walk-out at Grangemouth.”

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