by Tam Burke
Several hundred workers, some with their families, from the BiFab (Burntisland Fabrication) energy engineering company marched down Edinburgh’s Royal Mile on Thursday, 16th November to the Scottish Parliament demanding action to save 1,400 jobs under threat and payment of their wages. They are still working even though the company says it can’t pay any more wages. This is due to Dutch owned Seaway Heavy Lifting(SHL) refusing to pay for their order of jackets for marine wind turbines. SHL cite “production problems and cost overruns” by BiFab. This news came out of the blue to workers, union leaders and Government ministers. There is anger at the callous disregard for the livelihoods under threat. The wider community beyond that depends on the spending of BiFab workers will also be badly hit.
At the rally Pat Rafferty, Unite Scottish Secretary, declared that the jobs are viable jobs in a viable industry and will not go. Gary Smith (Scottish Secretary of GMB, which has over 400 members affected), took the same militant stance on Radio Scotland that morning. A worker told me “I’m 44 , I’m a single parent with a wee girls at school. She’s looked after by my Mum while I’m working. I do up to sixty-six hours a week. We’re all hard workers and these days I’m too old to travel out the area for work. SSE (Scottish and Southern Energy, a partner with SHL) have a stake in this situation. They’ve received millions in Government money for renewable energy so should be made to help out. If the job goes, I’ll work at tattie howkin’ (gathering potatoes) or delivering take-away meals, but we’re not giving up our jobs.” The prospects for these workers and their communities is grim if Bifab, SHL and SSE get away with this strike of wages. A few workers might become delivery drivers, but in an area of mass unemployment, who’d be buying the meals? More likely the cafes, chip shops and take-aways would close up too.
A round the clock guard of workers on the yard gates has been mounted to prevent movement of material or finished work out of the yards. It’s not total workers control, but a very public and brave display that the workforce is united and determined to stand no nonsense from the employers or the Government, showing the potential power the working class have when they organize and fightback. There’s no hardship fund set up yet for donations from other trade unions or the public, who would probably give generously to support the BiFab 1,400. Everyone all over Britain can see how the rich get away with reaping in the £millions and dodging their taxes while the working class are hit all the time, whether in work or not.
Pressure is now on the SNP Government to save the jobs and get BiFab, SHL, SSE to stump up. John Swinney, deputy First Minister has said “The Scottish Government is determined to secure the future of BiFab” The focus if the current talks is on resolving the problem with the contract for the work between BiFab and SHL, though financial help from the Government is not ruled out. Scottish Government has proudly proclaimed its encouraged expansion of renewable energy, hand in hand with the big capitalist firms, both from home and internationally. At the opening of the Queensferry Crossing Bridge recently, Nicola Sturgeon, First Minister, lauded this as an achievement of Scottish Engineering, appealing to the national feeling. In truth, materials and resources beyond Scotland are required. With BiFab there is the opportunity For the First Minister to stand up for a workforce mainly from Scotland, to prove by her fine words and back those workers to victory. However, the only way to save the jobs is to expand workers control beyond the yard gates and to take over the running of BiFab. It should be nationalised, along with other firms such as SSE and SHL. The whole of the renewable energy and Engineering industry must be nationalized. planned according to need of the many, not the interests of the few millionaires. Then the jobs and energy supply would really be on a viable footing.