Sunday, February 1, 2009
Immorality In Immingham
I went to Immingham on Friday. It’s not what you’d call a destination resort. You drive forever across a flat landscape. Then you see two dozen thin chimneys sticking up through the horizon, like cardboard models. You can smell them long before you arrive. It must be like living in a petrol station.
Local people are quick to defend their oil refineries. They say I should have arrived by night, because then they’re lit up like Disneyworld. On Friday morning it all looked post-Apocalytic. Immingham is not a place to go for your holidays; especially if you’re Italian. I wasn’t there to see the refinery, but to visit the community television station.
Immingham has a great sense of community. The studio is the only purpose-built local station in the country. It’s a fantastic resource: yesterday they were telling you how to keep fit while walking your dog. And on their dog cookery programme, they were making doggy pizzas. With unemployment in North Lincolnshire up by 47% in the last year, there’s plenty of time to walk your dog.
I’d set my car’s sat-nav to the postcode of the television station, and it took me the pretty route, right past the Total site. It looked like a film set. Blue flashing lights and no-entry barriers. An enormous crowd swarming round the gates. That was just the press. There were cameras on ladders, scaffolding, in helicopters in the sky, and hundreds of men with rather polite placards, like “In the Wise Words of Gordon Brown: UK jobs for British Workers”.
The sat-nav led me through the town, bored seagulls resting on lampposts, into a painfully shabby council housing estate, and deposited me outside someone’s front door. I could see the studio building across their back garden, so made my way round to the Immingham Resource Centre and Museum. The car park was full of police backup vehicles. The town was quiet as a morgue.
It is about as far removed as you could get from bustle of bankers’ wives shopping in the boutiques of Davos. Not a big demand for Prada on the Humber. Those world leaders and economists should get themselves to Immingham to smell the coffee. Or, rather, the oil products.
Already the politicians are condemning the protests. Of course these strikes are indefensible: the Italians’ bid was cheaper; under EU law, Total had every right to add a few cents to its share price by going with the stingy option. By all means ignore any corporate responsibility for the existing workforce, just allow your sub-contractor to moor a boatload of Italian workers in Grimsby docks, while the Immingham unemployed stay at home to watch dog-cooking videos. Let them look out of their peeling windows at the giant plant, built by their fathers in the 70s, which is, and always has been, their only source of income. A quarter of Humberside lives in abject poverty, but how could that non-global fact make any sense to the subcontractor in California who weighed up the bids and chose the Italian option. Why should a multi-national have a heart?
When Brown made his “British jobs for British workers” speech in 2007, I actually agreed with him, despite the risk of sounding like a member of the BNP. Local does matter. On Friday night Gordon Ramsay tried to cure a downturn in one of his protégé restaurants by gathering together hundreds of townsfolk, a local farmer, butcher and the restaurant owner in an effort to persuade them all to forsake the chains and go local. It was a neat, logical circle, and it worked. Mandelson calls it protectionism. But in these times, the global economy has let us all down, and the pitiless and cynical, albeit logical and legal, way in which Total treated its loyal community down in Immingham must be a sign that things have to change.