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Mass march demands government action as the Battle for BiFab grows

Philip Stott reports 

1,000 workers from the threatened Burntisland Fabrication – BiFab – their families and supporters from other trade unions marched to the Scottish parliament to publicise the “Battle For BiFab” and to demand Scottish government action.

Angry, colourful and determined, the sea of GMB and Unite trade union flags cascaded down the Royal Mile to the Holyrood parliament building. More than 600 workers walked off the job at Burntisland and Methil in Fife to travel to Edinburgh for the demonstration. However, dozens of workers stayed behind to blockade the gates of the yards to ensure none of the completed work could be moved.

Workers on the Isle of Lewis – BiFab’s third yard in Scotland – even turned away the Ministry of Defence as the BiFab plants were put under the control of the workers and the trade unions.

Gary Smith, Scottish secretary of the GMB, told the rally outside the Scottish parliament: “If you had not occupied those yards on Monday then the your jobs would have gone and the yards shut.”

The GMB convener for BiFab, Mike Sullivan, called on the Scottish Government to take the plants under their control and to ensure wages were paid.

The threat to over 600 staff and the jobs of 1400 in all who rely on BiFab began a week ago when the company said it could not pay wages and was on the brink of going under. At mass meetings on Monday, workers agreed to a “work-in” in order to complete the contract but also to ensure they occupied the sites to prevent any attempts at asset-stripping.

The threat of BiFab entering into administration, management claim, is due to money going unpaid to them by the Dutch company Seeway Heavy Lifting. SHL are contracted by the Scottish power giant SSE who will run the Beatrice Windfarm Project the BiFab workers are employed in.

With both SHL and SSE seeking to pass the buck to others, nothing less than the opening of the books of all parties involved in this project for inspection by the trade unions will do. The unions should demand full access to this information to get a real picture of what is happening.

Colin Morgan from the Methil yard told us: “SHL need to pay their biils and stop lying about the skilled work we carry out. The Scottish government should be out here treating this like the national crisis it is”

Public Ownership 

Socialist Party Scotland members marched alongside the workforce and also distributed hundreds of leaflets in support of the struggle and calling for the books of BiFab, SHL and SSE to be opened to trade union inspection, the public ownership of BiFab to defend the jobs and skills, and for workers control and occupation of the yards.

The trade unions directly involved, Unite and the GMB, will have the backing of the entire trade union movement in demanding that the government act now to save the jobs and skills that are so vital for the communities involved.

Indeed, GMB and Unite representatives in press interviews this week have called for “public sector control” of the company to save the jobs, if required.

In a very positive move the workers action committee are organising protection of the assets and work already completed by controlling what comes in and what leaves the three yards.

BiFab workers have continued to work on the project this week even though wages are not currently being paid.

While this tactic – “a work-in” – of course allows access to the yards, equipment and the completed work so far, if there is no swift resolution in the next couple of days consideration could be given to stopping work while occupying the yards. This would add significant pressure onto SSE, SHL and BiFab management, and the government, to resolve the situation in favour of the workforce.

As is the norm today in these big projects a labyrinth of contractors and sub contractors are used by big business to lower costs and increase profit. Contractors continually attempt to drive down costs, targeting wages, sick pay, holiday entitlements, safety etc. That’s why Socialist Party Scotland calls for the nationalisation of the major energy and construction firms to guarantee full rights and the rate for the job across the industry.

With renewables, oil decommissioning and waste to energy projects increasingly important for jobs, public ownership and democratic control by workers and the government is essential. We need an end to the blatant profiteering of the multi-nationals and a public owned sustainable energy sector.

On no account can the SNP-led Scottish Government fail to act. That means standing up to SSE, SHL and BiFab management and demanding answers and immediate payment to ensure full payment of wages. If this is not done, the government must act and carry though the public ownership of BiFab. Workers will also want to know how much public money – via Scottish Enterprise and others – has been given to BiFab and others involved in the project.

The communities of Fife and the Western Isles, the areas most directly affected, need and will demand action from elected politicians. The trade union movement must rally behind this campaign. The GMB and Unite and the workers involved are speaking for all facing cuts to jobs, wages, austerity and attacks on our services. This is a fight for the entire trade union movement in Scotland and beyond.

  • Defend every job. No cuts to pay and conditions at BiFab
  • Open the books of BiFab, SHL and SSE for trade union inspection
  • Scottish Government must act and bring the company into public ownership
  • Workers control and occupation of the yards to stop asset-stripping
  • Strike action and stoppage of work on the project if no agreement this week
  • Active solidarity from all trade unions for the BiFab workers