James Tiberius Furie posted on the Facebook page “The OCG is for me! ( Unofficial page)”, and in a conversation on Messenger. He followed up with;

“Neil Rothnie.  You were there.  A fair reflection?”

My comment in reply to James is below.

James Tiberius Furie wrote;

Sit down get comfy here’s a brief history

This is real non erroneous fact Tommy (Tommy Campbell, OCG Chair and Unite) so it’s staying

Let’s go back

It’s the 80s and a group of offshore workers launch bear facts in an attempt to educate the workforce and empower them to fight for a better deal from the current set up of unions happy to sign hook-up agreements to maintain cosy relationships with big oil .

The then current unions took the activists from the bear facts campaign and the early stages of the oilc came about , In the post piper days they fought for unity and a single ukcs agreement however close they came the Tuc unions then distanced themselves from this group of offshore workers .

Fast forward to June 2000

Employment Relations Act 1999 came into effect for the offshore workforce on the 6/6 48 hours previously the Oca and ukdca agreement ended up signed by Oca – Gmb ,Unite

Ukdca – Unite

These agreements meant that two trade unions had entered into a partnership with employers to deny workers a human right to pick whom they would choose to represent them .

Also the legislation meant that despite membership figures (which would remain hidden for years ,all though the unions would periodically bang a drum threatening strike action , the alleged no strike clause meant they would never for fear of revealing membership figures ) they would keep the cosy set up !! Imagine that Unions in partnership with employers denying members a human right !

Who knows what the future holds , will the unions change approach ? Will they continue to protect the agreement? Will the contracting companies walk ?

I’d like to say we have the answers but we don’t and judging by the current crop of appointees and the masses still to have their eyes opened who knows ?

What you can be sure of is that the Furie activists continue to grow and the Unions hopefully will invite us to talks to use our knowledge to better things !

After 30 years all the TUC trade unions combined can only claim a mere few thousand members offshore out of the total workforce . And the great bulk of that minority look to the Furies for leadership. It is not the Furies who are the “Union busters ” but the power-crazy officials and organisers of the Gmb and Unite who cannot accept the burning need for workers’ unity in the North Sea over their own greed to keep their own golden Egg polished and the need to protect the agreements that so blatantly deny the people they supposedly represent the chance to have their terms and conditions negotiated rather than collectively begged .

The current crop need a change of attitude and direction before we all implode , and whilst it’s been fun and educating it’s also frustrating and painful and we are in it for the long haul .

My comment in rely to James:

Well James Tiberius Furie!  Looks like you’ve already spoken to someone else who was also “there” in the 80s.  Either that or you were there yourself, and you’ve just got an uncommon amount of energy for someone so old. 

Your version seems fine to me as far as it goes. But it needs to be said that, since way before the OCA and UKDCA sweetheart agreements, and right up until 2008, there was a 20 year attempt to build an independent, alternative union on the North Sea. That was the OILC. And that’s why I’ve suggested that if there’s going to be a serious attempt to challenge the employers and their “partners” in the unions, there should be an attempt to get the founding father of OILC, Ronnie MacDonald, to begin a discussion on the history and the lessons of that experience. Who knows the story better than him?

Where is OILC today?  Is RMT (and it’s offshore division) now just part of the problem?  The other TUC unions certainly are.  RMT is also part of the OCG.  And it doesn’t seem to be having any very positive influence on UNITE and the GMB. Does it?  I campaigned for and voted for OILC to become part of RMT. I now think I was wrong. I went on to be the first Secretary of the OILC branch of RMT and after that a member of the RMT Council of Executives.

I didn’t have the answers then.  And like you, I don’t have the answers now. I don’t know what it will take to turn the North Sea round.  Maybe nothing can.  But I do know what won’t turn it round.  It won’t be the official unions. They won’t “change their approach”.  And you can bet that if they did invite the Furies to talks, it wouldn’t be so they could learn from the Furies how to go on to better things.  If the unions tried to embrace the Furies it would only be so they could try and squeeze the fucking life out of us.

If the majority of offshore workers don’t say “enough is enough”, and soon, who knows where safety and wages and conditions will end up. And who says big oil and the Government won’t fuck up the entire industry through a combination of sheer greed and incompetence? The banks very nearly did for the global economy and would have if we (our money) hadn’t bailed them out. The industry globally has only a finite amount of time left.  Fuck!  It looks like we’re counting down on the future of the whole planet.  Yes! I know it’ll probably outlast you and me.

That’s getting on for half a century of failure by the offshore unions to offer the workers some viable united focus for taking some control of their lives offshore.  So it’s just about understandable that a load of guys keep their heads down and say “at least I’ve got a job”, “the money’s OK”, “it’s better than 5 (or 6 or even 7) days a week graft on the beach with no time off”, or a load of other rationalisations, which almost always finish off with “the unions are a load of crap anyway”. And those of us who persisted with the trade unions know how difficult that is to argue against.

But what really amazes me is that not one worker caught up in the Elgin near catastrophe has put his head above the parapet and let the rest of us know what really went on on the G4 well and the evacuation that followed.  Because death’s not like taking a wage cut, or getting forced on to 3 and 3.  The families ashore don’t ever get over the deaths. Nor do the survivors including those of us not even physically near the disaster at the time.  We came very close to multiple deaths that day in March 2012.  And there are no ‘lessons” out there which suggest that the industry won’t let such an “incident” happen again – next time with the wind blowing in the wrong direction. 

For years now, some of the best and most experienced guys offshore have been getting bladdered to meet cost cutting goals. Some guys have been finding something else meaningful to do with their lives. Others have continued to be dug out by the NRB because they demand a little bit of respect.  I suppose what happens next is how much more the Furies can put up with.  If it does all kick off, those who say “enough is enough” are going to have to deal with those guys on the tools offshore who are prepared to just go along with the prevailing culture dripping down from the top in a stinking cesspit of an industry. It was ever thus. Think about the miners. Time to find out who’s up for a fight and who’s not.

From here on I’ll be spending what time I can spare from my retirement and my new granddaughter, trying to make sure the lessons of the Elgin blowout are learnt and that everyone offshore knows what they are.  I don’t have to put up with the shit any more.  But like the rest of you I’ll have to put up with the effects of a major disaster if our luck doesn’t hold out.

I’ll put all the stuff I’m finding out about Elgin, out to anyone who’s interested.  I’ll post it on here. Be patient.  It’ll take some time to get it all on.  Maybe if enough guys get angry we’ll avoid another Piper Alpha sized disaster on the North Sea. And maybe some of that anger can be channelled into demanding some respect from employers and unions alike.

See you the demo when the date is finalised.

Author: Neil Rothnie

I'm a retired (2016) mud engineer. I worked offshore pretty much my whole working life - half on the UK - half on the Norwegian side. I was on the Rowan Norway on Ekofisk when Total were using her sister rig Rowan Viking to try and kill the G4 well on the Elgin Wellhead Platform, lost control and allowed it to blow out.

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