Time to Stand Against Ineos’s Injustices

Climate Camp Scotland organisers explain why it is preparing to challenge Scotland’s worst polluter and envision a Grangemouth beyond fossil fuels.

About ten years ago, INEOS launched an all-out attack on their workforce at the Grangemouth refinery and petrochemical complex. After previous attacks on pension schemes and working conditions, INEOS’s owner Jim Ratcliffe, the UK’s richest man at the time, finally succeeded by getting rid of Unite the Union’s conveners and forcing worse conditions, including pay freezes and strike bans, on everyone working at the plants. To this day, the defeat remains a humiliating reminder for workers that, in the words of Brian Parkin, “an ideal position from which to be kicked in the teeth is when you are on your knees.” 

For the last ten years, INEOS at Grangemouth has also made other headlines. Nowhere else in Scotland comes close to contributing to climate change and environmental harm as much as INEOS’s Grangemouth complex. The oil and gas refinery, chemical works, fracked gas mooring, oil terminal, associated heavy industry and power plants are in the immediate area of Grangemouth town, with five of Scotland’s biggest polluters on one street. At least 30% of the UK’s crude oil runs through INEOS Grangemouth. The site is Scotland’s main producer of petrol and diesel, as well as plastic pellets for the manufacture of single-use plastics, produced at a rate of 60-70 billion plastic pellets per day. Fracked gas is imported from the US to the site. According to INEOS themselves, the complex consumes energy “roughly equivalent to Glasgow, Edinburgh, Aberdeen plus Falkirk”.  For this reason INEOS has been consistently ranked as Scotland’s worst polluter for years.

While the headlines are dominated by other crises, it is easy to forget that climate breakdown is intensifying by the day. The latest IPCC assessment report (largely ignored by the media) predicts that the 1.5 degrees target will soon be breached, and that an immediate phase-out of fossil fuel usage is needed to have a chance at keeping global warming below 2°C, the limit for irreversible catastrophic climate change. Perhaps ironically, the entire area of INEOS’s industrial complex in Grangemouth is threatened by rising sea levels. 

Easier still to forget is how climate and social injustices connect, driving pollution and deprivation for those least responsible for causing the climate crisis, both globally and nationally. Employment by INEOS of Grangemouth residents has declined for decades, with labour increasingly carried out by contractors travelling from out of town, while better-paid permanent staff tend to live elsewhere. This has led to depopulation, unemployment and social deprivation in the town, in addition to noise, air and visual pollution through flaring, alarms, and groundshakes. The fossil fuel industry relies on extracting not only from the earth’s reserves of natural resources, but from the communities they deem expendable.  INEOS is sacrificing the people of Grangemouth, its own workers, and the planet for the pursuit of profit. Here we see fossil fuel capitalism hellbent on destroying the homes and livelihoods of millions on the frontline of the climate crisis. 

In the face of such outrageous injustice, Scottish Government responses mostly sustain the same abusive relationship that of the former Unite convenors endured with the fossil fuel giant. Desperate to prevent the site from being closed, Mark Lyon, the former Unite convenor, explains in his book The Battle for Grangemouth how every attempt at compromise with INEOS’s management resulted in betrayal, including and his own dismissal. Yet the Scottish Government follows the same tactic: afraid of closure and job losses, they choose to believe vague technological promises of carbon capture and storage and a blue hydrogen plant – expansions designed by INEOS to continue fossil fuel usage. Despite INEOS constantly being fined by the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency (SEPA), and even floating the possibility of a nuclear reactor to power its Grangemouth operations, the Scottish Government continues to treat INEOS as a partner in the ‘just transition’, inviting them to committee meetings and inquiries, only to be surprised and offended when INEOS doesn’t even bother to send representatives. The fear of closures with resulting job losses and further deprivation drives the Scottish Government into a state so toothless and disoriented, that INEOS feel they can get away with just about anything.

In spite of all this, resistance has formed on all levels. Local communities fought back against INEOS attempting to take away Bo’ness Road, with Friends of the Earth Falkirk staging cycles along the refinery and the community council obstructing the takeover. Local residents organise litter picks and nurdle clean-ups of beaches to highlight plastic pollution in the sea. Extinction Rebellion Scotland staged a 12-hour blockade of INEOS headquarters, highlighting “the collusion between government, fossil fuels and finance on maintaining business as usual in the face of catastrophic climate breakdown.” And just last autumn, hundreds of workers in the refineries staged wildcat strikes and took to the streets to demand better conditions. The power of corporate giants is fragile and open to challenge on all sides. What is needed is a concerted effort and a big moment to bring all these struggles together.

This summer, Climate Camp Scotland will organise a five-day long camp for climate justice in the vicinity of INEOS’s fossil fuel infrastructure. We will bring together climate and environmental activists from across Scotland and beyond, to reflect, strategise, train, and take direct action against Scotland’s worst polluter. But we also invite all local people in Grangemouth and the wider area, as well as every worker in the industry, to collectively envision a Grangemouth beyond INEOS and beyond fossil fuels. We want to hear from you what your vision is for a real ‘just transition’ that is worker-led and community-centred. The struggle for a better future needs all of our movements together side by side, despite our differences and disagreements. The sites of the worst injustices are the best places to stand up and start organising. Let’s begin in Grangemouth this July.

Climate Camp Scotland is an autonomous national collective organising against fossil fuels and for climate justice in Scotland. We want to build bridges between frontline communities, workers, and the climate movement, and normalise mass action against the fossil fuel industry. Climate Camp Scotland will take place 12-17 July 2023. Find out more: https://actionnetwork.org/forms/get-emails-2/