Socialist Party
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27 June 2012

Police wade in at Coryton protest

Dave Murray

Unite the union stepped up its campaign to save 850 jobs at Coryton oil refinery by calling a protest at the Vopak fuel terminal in Grays on 25 June. The terminal is a major distribution hub for forecourts across southeast England.

Seventy union members and supporters gathered near the gate, initially to put their case to tanker drivers on their way in. About an hour into the protest the police "allowed" the demonstration to muster in front of the gates for a "photo opportunity".

As we listened to speakers including a construction electrician, Steve Hedley from the RMT, Rob Williams of the NSSN and an Asturian miner, the police became increasingly agitated. It had dawned on them that while we stood at the gates no tankers could go in or out.

Their first action was to step up the pressure on the Unite branch chair to ask us to clear the gates, producing a Vopak manager who said we were trespassing - which would allow the police to invoke punitive laws related to aggravated trespass.

The bulk of the demonstration stood firm, insisting on hearing out the Spanish speaker. Meanwhile, dozens of fuel tankers were backing up on each side of the gates. Ashen-faced senior police officers started trotting around to organise a more physical response.

When that response came it was brutal, as a line of riot police inserted themselves between us and the gates by violent pushing and open-handed strikes. The police left us in no doubt that they were ready to step up the violence and we were forced away from the gate.

The arrest of three protesters followed, one of them an activist in the rank and file committee of the Sparks construction electricians. We demand that all those arrested are immediately released without charge and that these jobs and skills are not lost.

Though we only held the gates for 40 minutes, news has come in that at least one forecourt, the Tesco superstore at Hatfield, ran out of diesel that night - a glimpse of what could be achieved if Unite could deliver effective industrial action at Coryton and solidarity across the industry.