Offshore workers form new union

Submitted by Janine on 18 October, 1991 - 6:42 Author: Tom Rigby

"We've only been recruiting since last Friday and so far the response has been very positive indeed. The people offshore know us, I'm very optimistic."

That's how Ronnie MacDonald, Chair of the Offshore Industry Liaison Committee (OILC) summed up the tasks facing the committee just four days after they had made the momentous decision to form themselves into a new union for offshore workers.

"The decision was not taken lightly", explained MacDonald. For a long time now the OILC has been pushing for a unified bargaining approach from the North Sea unions. However, after praising OILC activists during the unofficial strikes of '89 and '90, the national officials of the TUC unions involved have returned to their old narrow, sectional concerns.

Anger against the officials reached a peak this summer with the signing of another hated 'hook-up' agreement.

This deal is for the period before oil starts flowing. It involves automatic de-recognition at a date determined by the oil companies and does not recognise the rights of sewards to bargain over health and safety at any time.

Just 2,000 people are covered by this deal. That amounts to one-wighteenth of the offshore workforce. And in this deal, no provision was made for the victimised OILC activists who remain sacked and blacked after the strike of 1990.

Despite all this, OILC activists continued to pursue a line of trade union unity.

And OILC initiative to pull the competing unions togethe into a united federation was snubbed by national officials of the AEU and EETPU who failed to attend meetings to discuss the issue at this year's TUC.

It seems that the breakdown of this initiative, followed by the pathetic proposal to set up a completely toothless sub-committee of the Confederation of Shipbuilding and Engineering Unions to deal with the offshore industry finally convinced OILC activists to take up the cudgels theselves and form a new union.

All serious trade unionists have a duty to rally to the OILC.

Their lightning strikes, and rig occupation have been an inspiration to us all, and their upfront campaigining style has proved that trade unionism can be popular. By their actions, these brave fighters have done more for trade unionism than all the fine - or not so fine - words of Airlie, Jordan, Willis, Edmonds and all the other TUC fat cats put together.

People, such as the leader writer of the Morning Star who have condemned the OILC activists for "playing into the hands of the extreme right" deserve only contempt.

After 25 years all the TUC trade unions combined can only claim a mere 6,000 members offshore out of a total workforce of 36,000. And the great bulk of that minority look to the OILC for leadership. It is not the OILC who are the "splitters" but the power-crazy officials of the AEU and the EETPU who cannot accept the burning need for workers' unity in the North Sea.

As Ronnie MacDonald put it, "we reject completely any attempt to paint our union as similar to and comparable with the UDM or the EETPU. Our business is not strikebreaking but defending the interests of the offshore workers. We want all trade unionists to know that."

Send messages of support and donations to OILC, c/o 52 Guild Street, Aberdeen, AB1 2NB, Scotland.

Publications available from OILC telling of their fight for union rights and decent health and safety in the North Sea include Striking Out, price £5, and The crisis in offshore trade unonism - a discussion document for the TUC; both available from the above address.

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