Friday, January 30, 2009
Those few who are raising slogans like 'British jobs for British workers' need to sort their arguments out, because they're wrong and they're misleading, and they seriously damage the prospects for solidarity. What's more, they got that slogan from Gordon Brown, and that itself should warn them that there's something wrong with it. This is not about foreign labour as such - the vast majority of these workers have no problem working alongside migrant workers. And the decision to refuse local workers access to those jobs has nothing to do with the company involved being nice and pleasantly multicultural. Nor is it about labour shortages, as there are plenty of skilled workers available to the employers at the Lindsey oil refinery. Nor is it even about cheap labour in this case, although there have been attempts to use cheap labour to run down conditions in the past. This is about the way Italian workers, who aren't responsible for this problem, are being used in an attempt to break trade union organisation among construction workers in the UK, and in particular to break the terms of previous agreements. If it was about anything else, why would the employers exclude them from the jobs in advance? Why shouldn't the jobs be open to anyone?
If you look at the contributors to the forum on the Bear Facts website for construction workers (which unfortunately does allow that horrible slogan, 'British jobs for British workers' to occupy a prominent position on its front page), you can see for yourself what the arguments are. There are a few who talk about 'British' this and that. But most of the arguments are about why on earth workers should put up with their pay and conditions being shredded, why are unions still funding the Labour Party, and don't we need a general strike to sort this out once and for all, etc. There are also people who are explicitly standing up against the nationalist arguments of the minority. These people are taking an exceptionally brave stance in defying Tory anti-trade union laws, and they're not being intimidated by the attempts to paint them as racists. They are fighting when, by and large, union bureaucrats are not. For that reason at least, the left has to defend this strike and stand up against those who are trying to pass this off as some sort of Powellite reaction.
Update: Socialist Worker has produced a much more critical discussion of the strikes here.
Update 2: Alarming developments.