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Sat 28 Oct 2006 04:00 AM

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Downing tools? Do it properly

Those Bahraini trade unions don’t mess around. Encouraged by the historic success of the Alba workers who managed to secure a 20% pay rise after stopping work for all of sixty minutes last week, the workforce at Bahrain’s only major oil refinery are now planning a protest of their own

Those Bahraini trade unions don’t mess around. Encouraged by the historic success of the Alba workers who managed to secure a 20% pay rise after stopping work for all of sixty minutes last week, the workforce at Bahrain’s only major oil refinery are now planning a protest of their own.

In an even more abbreviated show of defiance, the refinery workers have threatened to down tools for all of 30 minutes next Tuesday. That’ll show those greedy bosses.

And for maximum exposure, the union has decided to stage the stoppage between 6.15am and 6.45am. I hope someone has told the night watchman, as he may be the only poor sod at work.

If you’re going to organise a strike, at least do it when you’re likely to find a reporter who is actually awake to cover it for you.

The Alba strike had a slight air of surrealism about it, particularly for someone weaned on television coverage of the bitter, violent and enduring British miners strike of 1984/85.

More than two decades on, there are still sons and fathers who don’t talk to each other as a result of this low water mark in the trade union movement of that country. It is hard to imagine last week’s tea break-timed tiff having such an enduring legacy.

While you might say that the stoppage at the aluminium plant in Bahrain was undoubtedly ‘historic’ for being the first coordinated mass strike action of its kind in the kingdom, it didn’t quite go according to the traditional script of employer-employee pay rows.

Workers protest for one hour. Management invites press in to cover event and praises workers for supporting union. Union praises management for being equally splendid fellows. Management awards 20% rise and it’s trebles all round.

It is almost as though the union and employer negotiating team were infiltrated by a secret society of nice people who managed to sort it all out without any unnecessary fuss.

But some clues may be provided by the profile of the union – around 90% of whom are Bahraini.

One wonders would the same concessions have been offered to a workforce originating from the subcontinent. That really would be historic.

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