Brian Parkin reports on the major showdown over BiFab which could be the catalyst by which radical politics in Scotland decisively takes on a clear class character.
A wind turbine plant at Methil, Fife in Scotland has gone into occupation to prevent the Dutch owners SHL placing the company in administration as a first stage in its closure and the selling off of the site and assets. The BiFab factory currently employs over 1400 direct workers and contractors at the Methil site as well as assembly works at two sites in Lewis. The company has full order books thanks to the burgeoning demand for renewables in Scotland; including a new order for an offshore wind-farm for the generator and distribution company Scottish and Southern Electricity (SSE).
For the past decade power generation capacity in Scotland has been in decline, with fossil fuel station closures and falling load factors from the region’s two ailing and ageing AGR reactors at Hunterston and Torness. But rather than be a problem, trade union activists and environmental organisations have regarded this as an opportunity for Scotland to renew its energy base with a new generation of renewable technologies – a very real possibility given Scotlands enormous wind energy potential as well as the longest continuous coastline in Northern Europe with its huge endowment of wave and tidal stream power. This vast and potentially endless energy resource has also been seized upon by campaigners who see Scotland, with a higher proportion of its workforce engaged in industrial production compared with the UK as a whole, as being keys to an economic hi-tech renaissance for the region.
Also, as Scotland disproportionately depends on defence procurement contracts, the diversification of its key industrial activities and into environmentally and socially dedicated production is now dove-tailing into the equation. Recently the Scottish government concluded the submissions stage of a national energy strategy review to which rs21 (IS Scotland) members, in the Scot.E3 partnership with rank and file trade unionists, fuel poverty campaigners and environmental interests submitted expert evidence that strongly advocated an integrated renewable energy, employment, environmental and social policy. Key to the economic under-pinning of such a policy would be a downstream integrated energy economy in democratic public ownership.
For all too long Scotland and its workers have been in awe and at the mercy of big, greedy, robber baron corporate power. The huge petrochemical company Ineos with it two Grangemouth plants, plus the recently acquired Scottish assets of BP, has long union-busted and bullied its way around environmental obligations, collective bargaining rights and workforce pensions obligations and negotiating rights. More recently Ineos has acquired the fracking licences for gas extraction for the entire Central Belt between Glasgow and Edinburgh as well as substantial areas of the Pennines and parts of the east Midlands.
So now with a major showdown over BiFab, the unions in following the democratic impulse of their memberships to fight, can once again restore the reputation of the trade union movement in Scotland. As it says on the Scottish TUC BiFab campaign poster: surrender is not an option.
The fight at BiFab could be the catalyst by which radical politics in Scotland decisively takes on a clear class character. By combining the defiance and energy of an occupying workforce with a vision of a revitalised, green and socially dedicated industrial strategy, the prospects of resisting and defeating the abuses of corporate power through a democratic resistance become possible. And just maybe could be the spark that lights the fuse that then detonates the fight against the madness of markets and cruelty of capital.
Now with union demands for the nationalisation of the BiFab Methil plant and other facilities, it would seem that the Scottish government has been made an offer it cannot refuse as the campaign to save the BiFab factory gains popular and potentially massive support.
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