If you cut through the hysteria currently being generated by the Murdoch echo chamber that is the Sunday Times and the Daily Mail whose hatred of trade unions knows no bounds, there is a stubborn truth that no amount of air-brushing will do away with. It is that Jim Ratcliffe, the billionaire owner of the vital national asset that is Grangemouth, has been prepared to hold the country to ransom, and in organising an old fashioned Victorian lock-out, has been quite prepared to close the plant down altogether. In order for this not to happen, the workers at the plant have been obliged to agree to all of his miserable terms.
Of course it has been quite difficult to follow this story without the benefit of labour correspondents, who long ago were done away with by the few newspapers of record. However, the elementary truth remains; that in 21st century Britain, the dice are loaded against working people, protections are being progressively stripped away and the first and last line of defence, possibly now the only real line of defence, the trade unions are being vilified. How ironic that the same newspapers, who complain of ‘harassment’ of Ineos managers in Surrey suburbs by inflatable rats, are the same newspapers that harass people every day on their doorsteps – and worse.
Much of Britain’s infrastructure is now owned by unaccountable foreign interests, vast transnational companies, often headquartered in distant parts of the World. ‘Globalisation’ has handed quite enormous powers to a handful of companies and individuals who are able – like Jim Ratcliffe – to hold the country to ransom. Major decisions over investment and jobs are made at the touch of a button, with no recourse to what might be good for the national, let alone, local economy. As power and accountability seeps away, employees are left defenceless and the Westminster Parliament increasingly looks and sounds like an old County Council.
A couple of weeks ago, the twelve long standing and loyal staff of the Gay Hussar restaurant in Soho heard that Corus Hotels were intending to auction the place. Corus Hotels is owned by London Vista Hotels Ltd, which in turn is part of Malayan United Industries, which is based in Kuala Lumpur. The Chief Executive of Malayan United Industries is one Dr Kay Peng Khoo, who I would bet has probably never ventured into the Gay Hussar, nor has an inkling of the rich culinary, political and journalistic contribution that the restaurant has made over the past Sixty years.
Of course the Gay Hussar is not Grangemouth, and I suspect many of Grangemouth’s workers would not have the time or money to lunch there as often as so many of the Labour greats have done over the years. But the manner in which its employees – and the restaurants customers are being treated, speaks volumes about the unaccountable nature of trans-national corporations in the early years of the 21st century.
There is now a serious attempt to secure the restaurant for futures generations of rebels and Rabelaisians, in the shape of a employee/diners co-operative. It is a model that has worked for pubs abandoned by the breweries, posts offices left by the GPO, and even the odd coal mine such as Tower Colliery in South Wales.
Grangemouth is an altogether different concern, but surely it is high time that different forms of ownership and control are considered for vital public assets. We should no longer be held to ransom by trans-national companies and billionaires.