Ineos Will Fall is taking action for a climate-neutral port in Antwerp. For us, this fight is inextricably linked to the fight for quality jobs and respect for employees. We don’t just write that, we also take it into account in our actions.

At the end of 2019, a six-week strike took place at Ineos Phenol in the port of Antwerp. We, climate activists of Ineos Will Fall, decided to support this strike and joined the Ineos employees in the early hours on the picket line 8 times. We thereby made it clear that we unequivocally support the fight for a healthy and safe working environment and respect for basic rights. The climate-neutral, circular-economy port for which the climate movement is also fighting can only be realised with the knowledge and experience of the people who work there.

While on the picket line, we listened to the story of workers and employees, a voice that is not often heard within the climate movement. Among other things, we learned how board members of Ineos punish their workers for merely expressing concerns about safety and social rights. This is worrying and we believe that this kind of corporate mentality has no place in the port of the future.

The reason for the strike at INEOS Phenol was the dismissal of a man with 27 years of service. It is no coincidence that this man, as a trade union representative, had already fought against social mismanagement at INEOS in the past. In 2009, he started a lawsuit for failure to pay the correct number of statutory holidays. The Ghent Labour Court finally decided in favour of the employees of INEOS Phenol and condemned the company to pay compensation to all employees, for a total amount of 2.6 million euros. In 2011, the Council of State had to intervene to protect the endangered right to strike of the workers of INEOS Feluy.

The misbehaviour of the chemical giant goes beyond Belgian sites: it is part of the management culture of INEOS. INEOS owner Jim Ratcliffe became a multimillionaire by buying, liquidating and reselling companies, a practice that cannot be said to have a social added value. In 2013, he threatened to close INEOS’ entire Grangemouth site (UK) unless employees and trade unions agreed to a wage freeze and a strike ban for a period of 3 years.

Despite the anti-social policy and tremendously polluting production processes that INEOS harbours, the Flemish government is doing everything in its power to please the company. For Project One, they can count on millions of euros in State aid, as the Flemish government guarantees up to 500 million euros to finance two new factories, as well as huge discounts on their energy bill.

Rolling out the red carpet for this project is anything but economically sensible. The investment is so risky that banks and other investors will only step in if the Flemish Government stands as guarantor for half a billion euros. The business plan behind this plant is apparently not so solid at all. What is more, the port risks completely missing the boat in the transition to a circular economy and, as a result, see its competitive position deteriorate. Project One is not the forward-looking project for which taxpayers’ money should be used.

    Whereas all efforts should be put on transitioning to a circular and climate-neutral port, INEOS Project One is going backwards. This transition is an enormous challenge, but it also offers many opportunities. It can improve the quality of life in many areas: in addition to a livable climate, it also will help getting better air quality, something Antwerp is longing for. The transition to a fossil-free port is also an absolute necessity from an economic point of view, because continued investment in the fossil industry will lead to tremendous costs and damage in the near future (floods, heat waves, storms, forest fires). The fossil industry, and the shale gas industry in particular, is also known for causing human rights violations: people are driven from their land, local residents become ill, and nature is poisoned and irreparably damaged. Ineos Will Fall does not want an industry that thrives on human rights violations.

    A climate-neutral and circular port is the best guarantee of a healthy and prosperous future. Ineos Will Fall demands that from today on, industrial policy focuses on attracting activities that fall within a carbon and climate neutral vision for the port, while at the same time providing quality jobs. Instead of giving subsidies to anti-social companies that only exacerbate climate change, Ineos Will Fall demands the establishment of a social transition fund. Such a fund can be used to guarantee as much job and income security as possible for workers in and around the port, and for vocational guidance and training so that workers can more easily find employment in the new circular economy.

    Concrete cooperation between the climate movement and the workers’ movement is not always self-evident. There is a difference in culture, for example, and that was noticeable on the strikers’ picket line. The first contact was uncomfortable, the strikers wondered what we were going to do there and were worried that we would steal attention away. Actively expressing solidarity by showing up every morning at 6am and braving the freezing cold with them was appreciated and brought us closer.

    The mistrust of the workers is understandable: their immediate future and livelihood is at stake. Finding a new job outside the petrochemical industry is not straightforward. If today’s fossil industry suddenly disappears or collapses, it will be a tragedy for many families. The memory of the social tragedy of the closure of the mines is still alive. Ineos Will Fall clearly takes a position on this: workers cannot pay the price for the reckless behaviour of investors and entrepreneurs in the fossil industry.

    INEOS Project One has no place in the port of the future. The project is disastrous for climate and environment, and is led by a company with an anti-social management culture. We are therefore reaching out to all workers’ and social organisations who, together with us, are demanding visionary policy and investments: the transition to the port of the future will be social or will not be!