Men working on church are last to leave in oil refinery dispute
By Douglas Hyde
A LL work ceased last Tuesday on the site of the 1-‘-great 140,000,000 Anglo-Iranian oil refinery now being constructed on the Isle of Grain, Kent, which is regarded as a top priority in the country's fight for economic recovery, when the last of some 6,000 men employed by a variety of contracting firms came out on strike.
All, that is, except the work on a Nissen-type prefabricated church, 60 ft. by 70 ft., which Is being constructed for the thousands of Catholic men there, many of whom are also resident In the camp provided for them.
This work continued because it is in the hands of a small contractor whose men had not, so far, been called out by the strike committee.
" But if they call them out. I shall not oppose it," Fr. J. J. Nevin, full-time chaplain on the site, told me, " because 1 do not want my church to become a matter of contention in an industrial dispute."
And on Wednesday the men were called out. They were the last to leave their jobs.
But on the previous Sunday, when more than 3,000 men, the majority of whom are Catholics, were already out on strike, Fr. Nevin had warned of the political and spiritual aspects of their action.
Preaching in the site cinema, which is being used for Mass until the church is completed. he told 600 of them: "This strike will be watched with interest throughout the country. and with more than interest by Communist agitators.
"They will be only too anxious to use your present very trying position to foster still further their own diabolical ends.
" As a priest responsible to Almighty God for the spiritual lives of thousands of workers residing at this refinery. I have no intention of standing by whilst Russian sympathisers try to divert you from the paths of truth and justice." The men he was addressing were mainly ones who had been brought by Sir Robert McAlpine and Sons, the contractors, direct from Irelandgood Catholics, who, coming from a land where Communists are rarely encountered, would find it difficult to recognise those whose main intention is to hold up the work as part of their general fight to weaken the West.
For months the Communists have been selecting certain undertakings of military or economic strategical importance and putting everything they have got into sabotaging them.
By concentrating the;r forces in this way they have effectively disrupted in recent weeks the work of a number of factories engaged. for example, on the production of essential components for aircraft and. significantly, first moves have invariably come from members of the Communist dominated Electrical Trade Union.
The huge oil refiner!, upon which such high hopes are played. was an obvious choice for them.
As on most such jobs, there was plenty of discontent-much of it fully justified -which they could use. Conditions there are bound to he difficult: it is set in the bleak Thames Estuary and, as often happens on building jobs employing large numbers of men, the mud is appalling.
Added to these morale-lowering physical features was the fact that when the men employed by one contractor, McAlpines, enjoyed less favourable conditions than those enjoyed by others So some spontaneous action by them was likely to occur sooner or later in any case, despite the fact that it is precisely this firm which employs most Catholics, among whose men there were relatively few Communists.
It only required the example of strike action. and the inflamed feelings it arouses. to touch off a much larger strike.
Typically. on February 15. such a small strike came on the part of men employed by Wimpeys. another firm of contractors-and those concerned were members of the E.T.U.. who walked off a iob when the firm refused to employ a member of their union who, they alleged. had caused trouble when another great refinery was under construction.
From then on the Communists concentrated their attention on the site, following what is now their recognised technique. First the big spontaneous strike occurred among the men least suspected of Communism: then, after several days, they were joined. as "an act of solidarity "-again quite genuine so far as most of them were concerned-by the whole of the workers employed by all the contractors concerned.
This meant that the Communists were now right in on it.
The strike committee was extended to include representatives of all the new strikers, many of them. of course, members of the E.T.U.. and other craft unions in which the Communist influence is strone. And at once a new Communist efficiency was revealed-sub-committees to lead every aspect of the struggle with military thoroughness.
The rote of the Communists is clear--to keep the strike going for as long as possible. to reject all offers of mediation, and to lay down conditions that the employers are unlikely to accept.
For the Catholics. as the more farseeing ones agree. the course of action is pretty clear-to press for the settlement of genuine grievances but to do so without being used as catspaws of the Communists, This in practice would appear to call for an early resumption of work so that talks can begin-and the grievances will not be settled without talks-and then a firm line and some plain speaking to the effect that employers as well as workers can unwittingly by their action play into the hands of the Communists.