Grangemouth refinery workers’ jobs at risk

Why is Scotland’s main oil refining plant planning to become a mere import hub?

Proletarian writers

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The case of Grangemouth highlights how problems created by the capitalist-imperialist system cannot be solved while that system remains in place. Almost every proposed solution finds itself in conflict with the interests of monopoly capital and its quest for profit above all else.

Proletarian writers

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On the morning of Wednesday 22 November, 500 Grangemouth oil refinery workers received an email informing them that the nature of business at the site would change from refining and supplying 80 percent of Scotland’s oil to simply being an import hub for finished fuel products.

The email further informed them that this change would take place by around spring of 2025. The email did not indicate, however, whether their jobs would be safe, or how many would be retained on the site in future. Nor were they told that measures will be taken to retrain and redeploy any workers who might be made redundant.

Sharon Graham, general secretary of the trade union Unite, has stated that her organisation will leave “no stone unturned” in the fight to save jobs at the refinery, and will “hold politicians to account” for their actions. What is needed, however, is for the union to extract undertakings from both the government and the employers that no worker will be disadvantaged by the changes. On past showing, it can be expected that the union will not subject either government or employers to such unwelcome demands.

As long as Britain’s trade unions remain shackled to the imperialist Labour party, the interests of workers will continue to come a remote third to protecting imperialist interests and serving the electoral needs of Labour. This has been amply proven during the course of every significant industrial dispute over the last 120 years.

It was proven again during the course of 2022 and 2023, when British workers struggling to make ends meet were told by their union leaders and Labour politicians that they should accept below-inflation pay offers. The same leaders at the same time urged us all to support the fascist forces of Ukraine – forces that had been killing trade unionists and workers in Donbass for nine years!

What is behind the shift away from refining?

There has been an oil refinery at Grangemouth on the Firth of Forth for over 100 years, and it has been a major employer for the people of that area. In an ITV News at Ten video report, local people expressed great concern over the news of the planned changes, worrying about potential job losses and the wider impact on the economy.

The current owner of the refinery is Petroineos, a joint venture between British chemical giant Ineos and China’s PetroChina. The reason behind the company’s decision to transform the site from a refinery to an imported fuel terminal only has not been made clear. It remains to be seen exactly what kind of fuel the site is expected to receive, and from where it will be coming.

A look at the wider energy situation in Europe may hold the key to Petroineos’s announcement, however. After all, similar moves are being made across the continent following the self-defeating sanctions war on Russia, as country after country shifts away from Russian gas towards reliance on imports of liquid natural gas (LNG) from the USA.

Given the high cost of transportation by tanker from the United States, this fuel is by far more expensive than the cheap Russian gas it is intended to replace, which can only add to the already out-of-control inflation crisis in Britain and elsewhere. The only people who are benefiting from the switch are US-based LNG producers – and all the US-based industries that will be able to outcompete their European rivals as a result of soaring energy prices in Britain and the European Union.

Why don’t ‘green’ subsidies seem to result in a greener world?

The Grangemouth site has also been the focus of climate change protests, leading some commentators to suspect that this may be another major driver behind the planned changes at the refinery. Petroineos certainly claims to be investigating the feasibility of setting up “green enterprises” at the site, including a possible bio-refinery.

Even members of the ruling class (those who don’t have some vested interest in the oil or related industries) recognise the need for the world to move away from fossil fuel as a contribution to the fight against global warming. For this reason many bourgeois governments, including imperialist governments, are giving out subsidies to corporations that appear to be able to deliver on that goal. In the capitalist world, the owners of capital are not prepared to invest unless they can be reasonably satisfied that good profits will be forthcoming – hence the need for subsidies to make up for what they lose as a result of abandoning their profitable polluting activities.

While up to a point this is all well and good, it is notable that financial assistance from governments is invariably provided only to the ‘poor’ capitalists and that nothing at all is done for the workers deprived of the means of earning a living as a result of changing technology.

The Grangemouth situation represents in microcosm the sheer uphill struggle of trying to save the planet in the face of capitalism’s desperate need to expand at all costs. All too often, the subsidies provided by the government disappear into the corporate maw without any progress whatever being made towards the goal they were supposed to further.

According to Member of the Scottish Parliament (MSP) Humza Yousaf, the Scottish government wants to transition to a ‘net zero economy’ as early as possible. Yousaf says the transition must be “just”, taking “every worker with us”. Fine words, indeed, but where are his concrete proposals?

Yousaf’s ability to provide workers with retraining and fresh employment opportunities at a time when every kind of education is being cut back in the vain hope of cutting government debt and reducing inflation would appear to be entirely illusory. Moving to ‘net zero’ will cost a very great deal of money – billions not millions – but where is it to come from?

Why, it has to be borrowed from finance capitalists at astronomic rates of interest that have to be paid for out of the taxes collected from the already hard-pressed working population.

No wonder the working class is sceptical of ‘net zero’ and can even be attracted to climate change denial theories. What they see from their point of view is that, whilst the government offers a bonanza in subsidies and contracts to a few monopoly corporations, ‘net zero’ is simply a recipe for disaster for most ordinary working households, many of whom are already stretched to the limit and sinking rapidly as a result of the already raging inflation crisis that our government’s ‘green’ energy policies will only stoke further.

This is why trying to green the world under capitalism is like trying to race through knee-deep mud.

You have to be red to be green

Nevertheless, we do all have a duty to the generations who will follow us to do our best to ensure that our planet remains habitable. We communists have always pointed out that you have to be red to be green. It is urgent and essential that we dispossess and dethrone the ultrarich cliques who rule the world in order that we may establish socialist societies in which the economy serves purely the interests of the working people and their families.

Such a society will not have to borrow money at huge rates of interest from financiers but would itself own all the surplus that its workers produce. Society would simply deploy all its vast resources to resolve whatever problems it might find itself confronting.

To bring socialism to Britain might seem to be a far off dream to some, but we must not be daunted. Capitalism is working hard to demonstrate to the working class that it is the cause of all their misery, and the dulcet anticommunist tones of the Labour Party (which throughout its existence has been avidly preaching the false lesson that capitalism can be good for workers provided they are prepared to struggle a bit) are increasingly being rejected by a justly sceptical working class.

As the economic crisis of global capitalism intensifies and the drive into a third world war accelerates, more and more opportunities are opening up us to connect a Marxist understanding with the masses, who will ultimately be the ones to put its vital lessons into practice.

The case of the refinery workers serves to remind us once again that what is needed above all else in Britain is class-conscious education and organisation, aimed at arming the working class for the struggle for socialism, our only salvation.

Only by picking up the weapon of Marxist science can the working class learn to become the master of its own destiny.