The dispute at Grangemouth is the old trick of provoking industrial action – then holding the workforce to ransom by threatening their jobs unless they agree to the draconian changes in their employment packages that the bosses wanted all along. It’s exactly what Margaret Thatcher did to the Miners, and it is what Ratcliffe, a private Hedge Fund owner, has done to his employees.
But it is not just those who were threatened with job loss, Ratcliffe was also holding the UK and Scottish governments to ransom. 70% of Scotland’s fuel is processed at Grangemouth, and represents 8% of Scotland’s manufacturing capacity or 2% of its GDP.
Isn’t about time, the politicians turned the tables and called a halt to these blackmailing tactics by private energy providers?
For example, Ed Miliband’s announcement at LP conference which identified the public anxiety and anger about energy prices, has been met by the energy providers increasing their bills by 10%, in spite of OVO reports that wholesale prices have not increased.
The energy companies’ action is nothing short of a provocative Vs-up to the public and politicians.
Cameron et al have nowhere to go because they are caught between the public anger and their ideological commitment to the corporates. Meanwhile, Ed Miliband’s proposal to freeze prices for 20 months is criticized as not being able to prevent price hikes both before and after (as indeed, the current show of strength on the part of the energy companies is intended to demonstrate).
Too rarely reported, however, is Labour’s intention to regulate the wholesale energy market by pooling electricity prior to its being sold on to the energy companies.
But why on earth go to all that bother?
We’ve already seen the energy providers disregard for the public good; their indifference to increasing the numbers of cold-related deaths this winter, and people forced to choose between eating and heating.
How much further do the energy companies have to go, in clearly demonstrating that the UK needs to be able to control supply and energy prices on behalf of its people, the economy and the environment?
The political-bullying alone, is reason enough to curb the energy companies power by taking them into public ownership asap.
But on top of that, climate change and transforming energy provision away from fossil fuels will never be achieved through the markets.
… the project of sustainable capitalism was misconceived and doomed from the start because maximizing profit and saving the planet are inherently in conflict and cannot be systematically aligned even if, here and there, they might coincide for a moment. That’s because under capitalism, CEOs and corporate boards are not responsible to society, they’re responsible to private shareholders. CEOs can embrace environmentalism so long as this increases profits. But saving the world requires that the pursuit of profits be systematically subordinated to ecological concerns…
Profits depend on increasing sales and prices not on reducing energy consumption and supporting cheaper renewable energy. The first duty of a private company is to maximize the return to its shareholders.
However, taking the refinery into public ownership is not so easy given the EU/WTO legislation, negotiated and signed in secret by the EU Commission and Council of Ministers… and the UK government will be even further constrained by the US-EU FTA (Free Trade Agreement) currently being rushed through for 2014.
Once a country is locked into the GATS regime, the right of its government to regulate liberalized service sectors is diminished, paving the way for foreign transnationals to enter the domestic market. Any attempt to reverse the situation would be subject to WTO disciplines and penalties.
The same holds true for Royal Mail and the NHS. As an unelected Corporate Tribunal, the WTO has the power to overturn UK sovereignty on employment and environmental protection legislation, and many other decisions.
But as Michael Meacher writes:
… this disaster reveals the desperate need for a proper industrial strategy to safeguard and steadily enhance the nation’s manufacturing capacity. This dispute reveals the appalling consequences which flow from unconditional belief in private markets and the need for a strong supportive State role as exists in all successful economies today.
So how can we take back our public services and utilities into democratic ownership?
We are never going to dismantle this free trade regime with negotiation tactics… if we want to defeat the free trade regime or an institution like the WTO we need to build a new balance of forces led by social movements.
Essentially we need to organise/support a united anti-capitalist Battle-for-Seattle-on-Thames and reject the ever-increasing stranglehold of liberalisation, financialisation and the Washington Consensus. After all, none of us were even told about this, let alone voted for it. We certainly are already in the post-democratic era.
- Unravelling the spin: a guide to corporate rights in the EU-US trade deal