‘british jobs for british workers’?

by Gregor Gall

Construction workers’ anger against the employment of foreign labourers has boiled over. The revolt that started on Wednesday this week in Lincolnshire at the Lindsey oil refinery, then spread north to other parts of Humber and Tees, and has now reach Scotland and Wales. Around 3,000 workers have walked out on unofficial strike and they have been joined by several thousand other unemployed construction workers in protests at various construction sites.

This is the first sign of a robust, collective response by workers to the economic downturn, and it is clear that this spreading solidarity and sympathy action has been driven by the membership. In a growing economy, the employment of foreign labour for workers is not necessarily a problem for existing workers, so long as the extra labour is a supplement rather than an alternative and on the same wages and conditions as those of existing workers.

But come a recession, particularly in a sector where work has always been sporadic, peripatetic and discontinuous because of the nature of the construction projects, this balance can change quickly and dramatically. Earlier in January this year, Unite organised a demonstration at a power station construction site in Nottinghamshire to highlight the issue of foreign contractors employing only foreign labour. This practice has continued to anger workers as mass unemployment continues mounts. As reported by the Guardian, their outrage is not against the employment of foreign workers as such, but that some contractors are only employing foreign workers:

“The argument is not against foreign workers, it’s against foreign companies discriminating against British labour … If the job of these mechanical contractors … at INEOS finishes and they try and get jobs down south, the jobs are already occupied by foreign labour and their opportunities are decreasing. This is a fight for work. It is a fight for the right to work in our own country. It is not a racist argument at all.”

This perceived injustice is arguably supported in European law by the outlawing of discrimination on the basis of nationality – because it goes against the full and free movement of labour within the EU. But alongside this argument, there are those who see the issue and strikes in racist and xenophobic terms – about the need to reserve “British jobs for British workers” at any cost. They have supported the strike explicitly so. The British National party and other far-right forces like the UK Independence party could make political capital out of such sentiment, especially in the run up to the European elections in June this year.

What gives these views real purchase is that Gordon Brown, when chancellor in 2007, promised “British job for British workers” and, judging by the strikers’ placards, they have not forgotten this. Indeed, the slogan has come back to haunt No10: while Gordon Brown tells his audience at Davos that “protectionism protects nobody”, a Downing Street spokesman has the awkward job of maintaining that the prime minister has no cause to regret his earlier words. But the unions and the left in Britain could equally well use the political opportunity to mobilise a huge campaign to demand the right to work as they did in the 1970s and 1980s.

The strike raises thorny issues for the government. Gordon Brown will resist the pressure for what many would term “economic nationalism” because of the arguments that protectionism and trade barriers will lead to less global trade, worsen the existing recession and promote economic inefficiency. He will no doubt be aware of the political ramifications of what these policies did, when implemented, in Europe in the 1930s. But the longer his market-led solutions to market-created problems show no sign of working, the more electors will feel, as protesters in France were saying this week of their leader, he has merely indemnified the banks against their own recklessness and the greater pressure he will come under to move down this protectionist road.

Click here for a pdf of the No One is Illegal pamphlet “Workers’ Control not Immigration Controls”

34 thoughts on “‘british jobs for british workers’?

  1. This is an interesting analysis of this dispute which is exactly what we need, that is to dig deep beneath the sloganising and examine all the contradicions. Some of the responses have been just the usual reaching into the Trotsky toolbox, and presenting them as answers in an utterly de-contextualised manner. The fact that the fascists are having to adopt fake-left rehtoric says a lot, they are attempting to usurp the class based grievances being expressed in a confused and prejudiced manner. Communists need to respond with a mores sobre and non-sectist assessment about what is happening, this workers action could unfold in ways completely unexpected, in a direction which can break out of the current domnant chauvinist slogans. Which is precisely why the bureaucrats who dont control it want it killed off now.


  2. “This is the first sign of a robust, collective response by workers to the economic downturn, and it is clear that this spreading solidarity and sympathy action has been driven by the membership.”

    It’s sad that a political tendency which has its origins in the AWL have put themselves to the right of the latter on what is a serious litmus test of a left organisation’s commitment to internationalism.

    No matter how much you reassure yourself of your left intellectual credentials with (utterly banal) statements that we should not “reach into the Trotsky toolbox” and “present answers in a de-contextualised manner”, the bottom line is that this commune article fails that test.



    No to the nationalist strikes


  3. Luke,

    The article you link to on the Workers’ Power site makes very little attempt to examine the contradictions of the (highly unfortunate) situation, particularly

    – that we are in favour of the existing workforce being able to keep their jobs and opposed to revolutionising the workforce if it will disrupt collective organisation, even if the new workers’ pay rates etc are the same.
    – the sentiment “British jobs for British workers” is indeed chauvinist, but it is only as bad as the employer insisting on using no British workers at all (which is also illegal). We should fight both.

    Your piece also meanders on a number of central points. For example, you “unreservedly oppose” the strike and write “The task of socialists is face up squarely to the unhappy fact that this strike wave has reactionary goals and to oppose it without equivocation or hesitation”. But you also call on the TUC (!) to launch a similar strike with different slogans, and also call on the strikers to “drop all their demands that divide workers along national lines [my emphasis] and to call off the reactionary strike”.

    … So which is it? Do you demand that the strike stops immediately, or do you encourage it to continue but drop only those demands that are reactionary? How can you effectively combat the heavy racist influence on the strike (much of it emanating “from below” and from the union bureaucracy as well as the BNP) while “unreservedly opposing it” “without equivocation or hesitation”? Instead you seem to be saying the situation/strikers’ consciousness is impossible to change, so we should just call on the union bureaucracy to initiate some other, different strike (even though in fact the Unite bureaucracy is not opposed to either nationalism or protectionism).

    And would you cross the picket lines? IS (forerunner of the SWP) told their members not to do so when the dockers struck in solidarity with Enoch Powell, but to go to the picket lines and denounce racism. Rightly, I feel, and I think in the current situation that is more clear-cut. Of course you/we/the far left has little resources with which to “intervene”… but what would you do if you were there?


  4. I’m not sure how much I accept the argument that “The argument is not against foreign workers, it’s against foreign companies discriminating against British labour.” People know that there are laws against racism, and besides that there has grown up a tendency of people not to want in a public arena to be seen to be making overtly racist statements. All the time you here, “I’m not racist, but…” followed by a stament, whose logic if not always its overt content is racist.

    All of the placards, I’ve seen all the staments I’ve heard have been around the theme, “British Jobs for British Workers”, meaning precisely that. That was the reactionary message of Frank Field on BBC News today. The issue is complex, perhaps one reason that most of the organisations on the left, as far as I can see, haven’t posted anything concrete on their websites yet.

    As I’ve posted on my blog today Reactionary Little Shit even the question of Trade Union rates isn’t straight forward. If you are not careful you could end up on that logic supporting import controls against foreign made goods because foreign Trade Union rates are lower than British union rates!

    There is clearly a reactionary, nationalist wind blowing that is bringing with it all kinds of dangerous ideas, protectionism being one of them. And as I set out in a blog on this issue last week Oil on Troubled waters the consequences for workers could be very bad. As I pointed out there the logic of the current dispute would be that French refinery workers call on Total to close down their British refinery and provide instead “French Jobs for French Workers”. I was talking to a worker from the nearby Bentley factory at Crewe who has just been laid off, he was quite concerned. As he said, he works for a German company and could be doubly hit. First if the slogan “German jobs for german workers were adopted” his factory could be closed and moved to Germany causing thousands of job losses here. Alternatively, if people decided they should only buy cars made in their own country then they’d close anywy because most Bentleys are sold overseas. Logically, it would mean thousands of job losses from Nissan in Sunderland, Toyota in Derby, Honda in Swindon and so on, not to mention there are about a quarter of a million British workers currently working in Europe, all of whom could be sent home to the dole if this idea were adopted.

    As I say in my blog above, we need to support workers in struggle, but we need to oppose the reactionary nature of the demands being raised, and instead suggest a series of demands that could really begin to deal with the actual problems those workers are facing.


  5. I also think it quite odd that Luke takes the position he does (the strikes are simply reactionary and should be unequivocally opposed) given that he calls for support for plenty of non-working class forces, whatever their reactionary politics, purely on the basis of what people they are fighting against, e.g. anti-US imperialist struggles by the Iranian regime, Hezbollah or Hamas.


  6. In Glasgow during the Rent Strikes of World War One many of the strikers raised chauvinist slogans of My Man is Fighting the Huns whilst we are being robbed, Orange bands helped blockade tenanments against bailiffs. I cite this as an example that when the working class acts even militantly it is not virgin pure and interested in, (or indeed should seek to) fitting the means test of sectarian socialism. The dispute arose after yet another employer adopting racist policies of excluding one nationality in preference of another it could more easily expliot. The workers have responded to a genuine grievance with prejudices and chauvinist slogans, these are not an end in themeleves the movement could have a dynamic that develops beyond these slogans. The movement is contradictory – many workers sputing the same chauvinism in one breath equally speak of adminiration for French workers militancy!
    Communists and trade unionists should seek to spread these actual unnofficial strikes of workers into a movement to resist the recession – encouraging the development of different slogans – the opposite of the current chauvinist and little-England prejudices. That is a real possibility. It is impossible that the TUC or union leader will call unofficial strikes of such a nature – to counter-pose fantasy, under the control of bureaucrats to a real movement is in reality to opt out of the real world into one with nice ready made pure solutions. That is not serious politics.


  7. David says:

    “that we are in favour of the existing workforce being able to keep their jobs and opposed to revolutionising the workforce if it will disrupt collective organisation, even if the new workers’ pay rates etc are the same.”

    This is neither here nor there. Existing workers in the plant are not being replaced by Italian workers. An Italian firm has won a contract and intends to use Italian labour. It was revealed in today’s papers that the union negotiated the new Italian workers the same national contractual conditions as the existing workers, on the same pay. “Revolutionising the workers” is just a phrase, one whose meaning is not at all clear here (capitalism always revolutionises production, so what?)

    You then say:

    “the sentiment “British jobs for British workers” is indeed racist, but it is only as bad as the employer insisting on using no British workers at all (which is also illegal). We should fight both.”

    I don’t think this is about racism – there is no evidence of that at all. It’s about nationalism, which is just as reactionary. Where the workforce are from – what country, what town, what city – should be of no consequence to Marxists whatsoever.

    You then seem to object with us making demands on the TUC (what a surprise?) Of course we should call on the leaders of the trade union movement to build a “we won’t pay for their crisis” movement. The fact they are doing nothing is opening the door to reaction.

    Do we want the existing strike to carry on? No, because its goals are reactionary: opposing migrant labour by an Italian firm, putting “local” (ie British) labour first. Do we want to mobilise a similarly militant movement around progressive goals? Yes.

    So, in concrete…

    If we had a member at the workplace they would go along to the first meeting of the strike committee, slap down an internationalist resolution completely changing the character of the strike, if it was rejected they would walk out, making it clear they cannot support a reactionary strike movement.

    Would we cross picket lines? No. I could quote you Trotsky on not supporting reactionary strikes, while also not crossing picket lines, as this would undermine the union in general, which remains an instrument of working class self-defence, despite one reactionary strike.




  8. This type of little Leninism and Trotskyism is such a caricature. This reminds me a little of Lenins own rebuke of the critics of the 1916 Easter Rising in Ireland, he argued that:

    “Whoever expects a ‘pure’ social revolution will never live to see it. Such a person pays lip-service to revolution without understanding what revolution is. …..The socialist revolution in Europe cannot be anything other than an outburst of mass struggle on the part of all and sundry oppressed and discontented elements. Inevitably, sections of the petty bourgeoisie and of the backward workers will participate in it – without such participation, mass struggle is impossible, without it no revolution is possible – and just as inevitably will they bring into the movement their prejudices, their reactionary fantasies, their weaknesses slid errors. But objectively they will attack capital, and the class-conscious vanguard of the revolution, the advanced proletariat, expressing this objective truth of a variegated and discordant, motley and outwardly fragmented, mass struggle, will he able to unite and direct it.”

    Sectarian vanguardism of today cannot envisage such a possibility, of the real, actual working class in its own struggle, actually developing and evolving. The fact we have before fus or the first time in years – self-organised workers taking wild-cat strikes in open and sucessfull defiance of the anti-union laws is irrelevent to a sectarian, all that is important is that the workers fit into the ready made viewpoint and plans of the sectarian or be dammed as reactionary. Whether it is broken by the union bureaucracy, the state or usurped entirely by reactionaries is then irrelevent. If communism is to have a future however in the 21st century its this sectarianism that needs to be rendered irrelevent.

    We need to see these actions in their historical context of years of defeat and shackling by anti-union laws, wild-cat strikes are to many something than happens in France not England. In that sense these actions sparked by the actions of this employer should restore hope in what is possible – workers taking actions themselves either by this movement breaking free of its current prejudices and developing or in the near future a new wave of rank and file action developing with workers finding a new confidence in themselves.


  9. What complete garbage.

    The comparison with Lenin on the Easter Rising is amusing. The goal of that struggle – Britain out of Ireland – was progressive. The goal of this struggle – British jobs for British workers – is not.

    Apparently for the commune the goals of the strike have nothing to do with whether it is worthy of support. For those only concerned to tail the backward consciousness of this section of workers, the method of struggle and the historical context is the only criteria used to determine one’s view and attitude. How trite. Is this seriously meant to pass for Marxist analysis?

    A version of this argument – the context is everything, the goal is nothing – has appeared on many blogs. Particularly, SocialistUnity.Com. The argument goes something like this. Sociological factors are used to explain “what the strike is about”. This is often the use of cheap labour, the consequences of European Union law. That this often involves distorting the facts is by the by. The goal of the strike – “British workers first” – is then labeled “unfortunate” but not sufficient for us to cease showing our solidarity.

    What nonsense. Once this method is adopted where do you end? White nationalists from deprived working class estate riot. The cause is capitalism, obviously. Therefore don’t mention the – “unfortunate” – political goals of the riot. Just blame the system and get down and talk to the racist mob.



  10. How about a look at what some of the people involved in the strike are saying. More contradictory than the tabloids and Workers’ Power are claiming. It’s also interesting that the way the BNP relate to it is to dress themselves up with the language of trade union solidarity, not only nationalism (which they of course have in spades). Chris is quite right, the slogans are terrible but the situation can/could be changed and it is foolish to flatly oppose the strikes, showing indifference to who takes over the movement and who defeats it and how.


    Some choice quotes (accurate representation of spread of views: don’t just read the first couple)

    “Hi lads
    What a turn out @ L.O.R., lads,I”d like to thank you all for being there,it”s what we”ve all been waiting for.My confidence has now been fully restored in the working men of my industry,I was getting a wee bit despondant at the lack of action and indifferent to all the fine words that were being spoken,words just go so far and ultimately end up being redundant.Us Brits are a very accommodating and helpful race of people,what foreigners tend to forget is when the chips are down,there is no nation fights harder when our backs are to the wall,they should study the History books about us Brits,that”ll tell them EVERYTHING they ever need to know about the BRITISH psyche & backbone.Our ancestors built the biggest empire in History,and we are no different to our forefathers at all in respect of courage,fortitude and sheer bloody mindedness when it comes to a fight,be it a battle in warfare or a social battle.Excuse me for a minute lads,I feel what I really mean to say to them is,”DON”T f**k WITH US.” Wink Wink Wink”

    “I think when the brave men of LOR get back on the right side of the fence, and that is without any doubt, because the industry will not allow anything else as a first proposal in our victory agenda, then the W*** are going to be targeted evertime they go to the toilet.

    We did not take this to a racial level W***, you did, now get ready to reap what you sow. I have worked in your country and respected your culture and industrial rules, just remember you drew first blood not us.

    Go home now, you have now outstayed the welcome we gave you by not involving you in our plight”

    “We want to be careful with the nationalism, lads, so that things don’t turn nasty. I’ve got nothin against the Italian workers as such, they’re just doing a job, putting food on the table for their families. They’re not W*** (Without Papers- as they are EU citizens and are legally allowed to work here)- besides this is racist. Many of us have worked abroad- Germany, Spain, Middle East- did we think or care about jobs in those countries? Getting at the workers is just going to give us a bad reputation, and turn the public against us.

    The problem is with the tenders, Total management and probably the govt. for allowing foreign companies to undercut. The govt. shouldn’t allow this to happen. They haven’t thought about the social price to the area, only the price of the contract.

    These jobs should go to British workers, cos we can do the work and we need it. Just leave the racism and aggro at home- it doesn’t do anyone any favours.”

    “I think you”ll find that the RACISM was begun by ALSTOM,NOT us,at Staythorpe,after all THEY were the ones that declared THEIR intention of NOT using BRITISH labour,so the RACISM agenda can hardly be levelled at the British workforce pal.We are all aware that the foreign labour are here quite legally,that”s NOT the relevant issue in question here,the salient point is that we,the BRITISH labour are being DENIED the opportunity of securing employment on any of these sites where major foreign companies are prevailing.They have given out statements saying that there will be NO redundancies applied to their CURRENT British workforce,I”ve YET to hear any one of them confirm the obverse of that statement and say,”YES,WE WILL BE RECRUITING BRITISH LABOUR.”,this is what we ALL want to hear.As far as I”m concerned the RACIST issue is aimed fairly & squarely at the major foreign companies,NOT the men they employ,after all it was the company spokesman who stood and made the scurrilous and illegal statement,and if you read it there is only ONE way it can be interpreted and NO other.Your remark about the foreign lads just putting food on the table for their families would meet with astounded derision from many of our lads if it was said at a meeting,it could be interpreted as by allowing them to feed their families it denies OUR lads the chance to feed THEIRS.I quite agree about the aggro we don”t need it, THAT”S what would turn public opinion against us,as for the RACISM that has to be addressed towards the companies themselves,it is THEY,not their workforce who have marginalized us. Wink”

    “I’m a Brit working overseas, just like many of you have done in the past – and might end up having to do in the future. Please think carefully about how you deal with your situation. The last thing we all want are bosses exploiting the divisions between workers that are based on nationality. The scum that send jobs from profitable factories in the developed world to sweatshops exploiting children and wage slaves in other parts of the world would end up having a field day with all of us if they could play us off against other Europeans. I might be wrong, but I think the tawdry sell-out leadership of the union has a lot to answer for, particularly in its continued funding of New Labour (the Tory B Team), and its backroom deals that sell out working families. Instead, they should have been building links with effective workers organizations around the world, helping to unionize on a global scale, and taking the fight to the exploiters who tell us we’re lucky to have some dead end job. Moreover, our unions, the organizations that take our dues, also need to grow a backbone and form a new party run by workers that stands for the interests of workers. Right now, Europe is ripe for such a party. The massive protests in France and Greece are just a precursor for what is to come. Ever thought of contacting and building links with those workers and strengthening a Europe wide protest against workers getting the shaft? Sounds like a better option than having the real guilty parties. that cabal of bosses, union leadership sell-outs, and New Labor continuing to take advantage of the working class. Just my thoughts, Digger”

    The reason I’m writing is that I speak Spanish and Portuguese and the dispute is front page of El Pais, Spain’s most popular daily. However, inside, the report suggests that the *** [BNP] are largely involved. If this is so, you are on a hiding for nothing. These guys are ANTI-Union, whatever opportunist noises they make. As me and my Portuguese wife are both active in UK trade unions can we suggest caution when referring to exactly constitutes ‘British’. Our kids were born here and the whole family was involved in the dispute to save our local school….we are part of the community.During the Miner’s dispute my wife’s family put up striking miners whenever they needed…when I was in SOGAT 82 and Murdoch was ripping us apart, my wife organised collections amongst the Portuguese community in London and many joined us on the picket line at Wapping.
    As many are pointing out, the problems of the slogan thats been adopted will put barriers between different sections. The problem is not the Portuguese but sub-contracting…an end to this should be the slogan and a return to , dare I say it, Direct Works.

    7. [From Sellafield_bloke]
    There’s nowt working class about the *** [BNP] and if the strike had been about anything else where they couldnt stick their spin on it then they wouldn’t be supporting it. The strikes anti-racist. It’s the bosses being racist and fascist. If the *** turn up at our picket when we walk out then I know a few of us won’t be standing for it and will tell them to f**k off in no uncertain terms.


  11. Dear Luke, read what the words say not what you want them to say – “Whoever expects a ‘pure’ social revolution will never live to see it. Such a person pays lip-service to revolution without understanding what revolution is” …..”Inevitably, sections of the petty bourgeoisie and of the backward workers will participate in it – without such participation, mass struggle is impossible, without it no revolution is possible – and just as inevitably will they bring into the movement their prejudices, their reactionary fantasies, their weaknesses slid errors. ”

    Furthermore amongst the strikers there is extensive debates taking place with many disagreements over the slogans and nationalism. Debates and discussion which sectarians have not the slightest interest – because all that matters is the workers adhere to your dogma. If the whole force of the anti-union laws are deployed tomorrow with the full arsenal of the state and the wild-cat strikes are broken sectarians will see it not as a defeat of something with the inherent potential to become something more than it is at present.

    Instead of diverting to hypothetical riots and analysis with analogy completely out of context why dont you analyse what is actually happening before your eyes – real workers moving in the real world.


  12. Luke is mostly correct, I find the following statement by Dave Broder staggering:
    “the sentiment “British jobs for British workers” is indeed racist, but it is only as bad as the employer insisting on using no British workers at all (which is also illegal). We should fight both”

    No dave, ‘British Jobs for British Workers’ as a trades union, or workers slogan is much worse than employer discrimination. It’s ABC for socialists that the whole of capitalist organisation uses various forms of discrimination to divide and rule; we must totally reject any concession to this always, without question. Nationalist slogans in trades union movement spell the end of hope for socialism. No amount of ‘contextualisation’ can change that.

    Every fibre in your body must be telling you that it’s not just the slogans that are wrong but the whole motivation for the strikes and walkouts. You must know that ‘foreign’ contractors are likely to employ ‘foreign’ workers, I’ve worked all around europe as part of the british company I work for- it’s an idiotic inefficient feature of capitalism like so many others.

    The correct response is that taken by my union -cwu- in reponse to bringing in thousands of indian IT workers by subcontractors, to demand that they enjoy the same pay and conditions as british workers in addition to any conditions enjoyed by indian workers, to demand that they have the right to join our union and be represented collectively, to work with equivilent indian unions on joint collective bargaining and levelling up of all workers pay and conditions.

    Get a grip comrades, Galloway and the stalinite left have pinned their flags onto the coat-tails of nationalism; that in itself should be a signal that you are going down the wrong track


  13. The Trotskyite AWL and the Socialist Fight or least their leading comrades – have called a picket of the UNITE HQ demanding this “wave of nationalist protests stop”, this is bonkers – just when the wild cats are spreading to be picketing Woodley and Simpson and demanding they end! Not even calling for solidarity action to be spread accross the union is a complete disgrace. Our own comrades has noted the many views being discussed amongst the strikers forums.




  14. Luke asks,

    “Therefore don’t mention the – “unfortunate” – political goals of the riot. Just blame the system and get down and talk to the racist mob.”?

    Well, if you don’t find some way of talking to the racist mob in situations where a large number of workers have been drawn behind a racist programme, how do you defeat racism? After all, Marxists make distinctions about workers drawn into the support of racist and fascist organisations, and the hardcore of those organisations themselves. Or has sectarianism gone to the extent now that the vision of a “pure” working class leads to the conclusoin that “real” workers can’t be racist?

    I’d suggest that you read Trotsky’s views on how Marxists should proceed in fascist Italy, for instance. It was far from standing aloof from workers that had been drawn into the fascist web, it was preciely to take advantage of the inevitable contradictions between a fascist leadership and a working class base, as economic conflicts and other social problems arose, to intervene at that base with adequate working slogans, and thereby to begin to fragment and draw away the working class base.


  15. Chris: “The Trotskyite AWL and the Socialist Fight or least their leading comrades – have called a picket of the UNITE HQ demanding this “wave of nationalist protests stop”

    Where has the AWL made such a call?


  16. Martin – an AWL member has circulated the call by text/email.

    I think the BT comparison is different, partly because of the intense unemployment in areas/trades around the refineries. Not comparible to the people replaced with the Tech Mahindra contract (I assume that’s what you’re talking about). More importanty, none of those people had compulsory redundancies did they? And even if they did, it wouldn’t have been that hard at the time for them to find other work in the trade.

    I mean, for example, AWL supported the campaign against Burberry offshoring its factory work last year, or the year before. Objectively, you were arguing that it was OK for workers to campaign for them to have jobs rather than other people. Presumably the important distinction can’t be the physical location in which the work is done, that has no importance as a matter of principle. The important thing is how it effects people.

    Also, can people leave off with ‘trotskyite’, it’s a Stalinist insult. ‘Trotskyist’ is fine.

    I’ve said this on libcom as well, but shouldn’t there be some sort of effort to contact the relevant European workers? There’s a hundred already mored offshore in an ex prison ship, and hundreds more on the way. Contact through Italian/Portuguese left organisations maybe? Can any of our linguists help?


  17. Martin – also, the CWU was in a position with BT where it had the relationship where it could bargain in advance for equal conditions for non-British workers. Clearly that’s not the situation here – the company has kept the terms of its contract secret even once it has been agreed, it has not been prepared to discuss this with the union in advance. So what recourse is open to the workers?

    I know the company is claiming terms and conditions are the same. I’m sceptical – as are many people. And I think that the company saying that there will be ‘no direct redundancies’ is misleading, because the construction industry almost always employs on fixed term contracts, so no ‘direct redundancies’ doesn’t mean that de facto people aren’t being put out of a job.

    On a seperate note, isn’t it interesting that the union tops have chosen this moment to get behind mass wildcats…


  18. Good post from the bearfacts forum for anyone else struggling to understand the nature of the work involved…

    The U.K. has a skill base of engineering trades that typically migrate from contract to contract. Most of these contracts occur during the summer months when demand for electricity is low and power stations can afford to shut down a turbine/boiler, and also when the weather is better for outside working i.e. oil refineries etc. This work force may (will!) have to work the length and breadth of the country, often away from home for weeks on end. As can be deduced, the work is not long lived as most contracts last 6-10 weeks and pay-offs are common and expected! To work for 2 or 4 employers in a season is also not out of the ordinary! The benefits are that until recently, the wages were quite good, good enough that a person could just about stand a winter with no work if needed! A job like the one at Lindsey Oil is seen as a bonus because it’s relatively long (over a year’s duration), and also because it’s a ‘known’ job, by that, I mean it’s bread and butter work for the skilled engineering worker! Also, as there is a large mass of skilled trade’s men local to this area, it means one can sleep in his/her own bed at night hence ‘Local Work’!

    Now from what I understand of the situation is, that a well known engineering company were awarded the contract for this job and half way through the contract, a large part was taken away and given to this Italian firm who no-one has heard of before, No problem! However, this put the original contractor into an over-manned situation for the work left them, the only option they have is to implement redundancies in their work force (this will occur during mid February, after the statutory 30 days notice for 20-99 redundancies as required by law). Meanwhile, the Italian firm are approached by workers both already on site and expecting to be finished in February and also by local unemployed skilled tradesmen for prospective employment, only to be told that NO U.K workers will be employed by them for the duration of the contract!

    Now this is not an isolated case, we have the same scenario at Staythorpe power station and also at the new Isle of Grain power station in Kent and , I dare say one or two other sites that I’m un-aware of
    It’s not a case of taking a pay cut like you have, it’s a case of being totally blocked from doing your job because of cheaper, less skilled, less safe workforce! Despite what you might read in the press, there will be British lads/lasses put out of work because of this and it’s happening all over the U.K.

    It has nothing at all to do with race or creed; it’s about fat cat companies trying to out-smart the regulations and laws fought for by our fore fathers. The engineering council have a standard set of working regulations that have been in force for many years and have, on the whole worked!

    To do as you suggest and start a company up to try and compete is talking nonsense, the LOR contract alone is worth upwards of 200 million pounds!


  19. This is a real August 4 turning point for the British Labour movement. I am disappointed that the Commune has failed the test so abysmally. It is in line with the Libertarian Marxist, anarcho-syndicalist tradition that they see the socialist future as composed of workers as they are now, with their present level of consciousness and draw the conclusion that we must accommodate to that, however bad it is. The libcom anarchists take a similar line. No revolutionary hope for the future where the ‘muck of ages’ will be swept away – not for nothing does the International pledge to ‘change forthwith the old CONDITIONS’ a materialist appreciation of the source of consciousness. But to accommodate reaction like you are doing is inexcusable.
    I am exceedingly pleased that the AWL, the SWP and Workers Power have taken such clear positions against this chauvinist strike wave. Despite differences on other very serious matters we must now unite to fight this reaction; it is led by Gordon Brown, it is developed by the Unite leadership – Woodley, Simpson, Hicks, etc., they are defended by the Morning Star and the Socialist Party and Respect – has the ISG managed to find its voice behind Galloway’s arse yet? Or are they simply overpowered by the stench? Must you really rely on the reactionary Gregor Gall to speak for you on this matter?
    It will obviously now have repercussions on the NSSN and everywhere else. If I have criticisms of the AWL and SWP’s positions is that they are soft on the TU bureaucracy, who are funding Gordon Brown and whose capitulation to capitalism over the years has produced this situation. Now is the time to set ourselves the task of building a real principled internationalist rank-and-file movement in the TUs, independent of ALL TU bureaucracies. Let us now fight for that in the NSSN against all the British chauvinists and their apologists – and what really pathetic grovelling apologies we have heard! Poor old muddled Paul in an AWL post thinks their article does not ‘have any purchase on reality’. Hitler was a reality once. Perhaps it would have been a good idea to purchase him!


  20. But Gerry, doesn’t everyone basically agree:
    – the slogan, and the idea, “British Jobs for British Workers” is wrong.
    – but the strikes are a response to legitimate concerns

    Isn’t the issue really:
    – are the strikes’ demands essentially reactionary, as well as the slogans?
    – are the politics of the strike more complicated than are summed up on a placard?

    I think:
    – the demands are not purely reactionary. People are being made redundant, and they are campaigning against that. What would fulfillment of the strikers’ demands look like? The LOR workers who’ve been laid off – see the SP’s bulletin for a description of what happened – would be taken back on. That is not inherently reactionary.
    – there are contending currents of nationalism and class struggle within the protests. We need to support the later, and oppose the former, isn’t this absolutely standard?

    The SWP line – my emphasis:
    “It’s right to demand that everyone is paid the proper rate for the job and that there’s no undercutting of national agreements. And we need militant action, including unofficial action, to win these demands.

    But these strikes are not doing that – whatever some of those involved believe.

    What does this mean? That the workers themselves are incapable of understanding what they themselves are doing? They need the SWP – or similar – to understand it for them.

    The SWP and AWL articles aren’t clearly saying they oppose the strike anyway. I.e. that they want it to be defeated. They’re just sort of not supporting it. Do you say this Gerry – that you want the strike to be defeated?

    EDIT: Martin, I don’t like talking about what individual activists get up to online. Ask in AWL.


  21. Gerry gets it all wrong, it has nothing to do with Libertarian Marxism or Anarchism. No one beleives that working class will remain full of contradictions after the victory of socialism, not even the anarchists.

    There is a nationalist undercurrent in this strike. There was a nationalist undercurrent during the actions to save the Peugeot plant at Ryton a few years back. Some of you may remember the poster campaign the TGWU used, yet I am guessing you all supported that action.

    The problem is simple, the left are confused about what is happening, have no real implantation amongst the strikers (except SPEW) and have been led to the wrong conclusions because of a few placards. The working class has many different tendencies which are backward or reactionary. How best do you fight such tendencies? Is it through denouncing those who are defending their jobs, conditions and pay? Or is it through engaging with that movement and combatting nationalism within it. From what I have read, it seems that the BNP have not had a very good response from the strikers at all.

    What is more WP, SF, SWP and the AWL seem to be listening to what the Daily Mail is saying as opposed to what the strikers and their elected strike committee are saying. It is not about ‘British Jobs for British workers’ it is about a clear attempt to drive down conditions and pay in construction.

    Any idiots who protest outside Unite offices today should be seen as nothing more than cheerleaders for strike breaking.


  22. Is the Portuguese language statement from one of us? What does it say?

    Any idiots who protest outside Unite offices today should be seen as nothing more than cheerleaders for strike breaking.

    I hate this macho CPGB language. If anyone does go to that protest, I don’t agree wth them, but I know for a fact they’re not cheerleading strike breaking, and I don’t think they’re idiots. I think they’d be confused, but that’s different. Enough of this witch-hunting nonsense…


  23. If anyone ever wonders why what passes for communism and revolutionary socialism in this country has such little influence in society then reading some of the responses to these wild-cat strikes begins to explain why. Some of these statements are completely off the wall.

    How on planet Earth can support for the strike at the Lindsey oil refinery be compared realistically to the support of mass workers parties for their own rulers in the First World War and collapse of the international socialist movement as a result. How can this strike in Lincoln be compared to a world wide war which led to the loss of millions of human lives. It is not a turning point of the same magnitude or even comparable context.

    As for the views of the workers being “much worse than employer discrimination” that is to compare the oppressed to the oppressor as if they are equals. The bigoted and confused ideas amongst an element of a social class of wage slaves are fundamentally different from the chauvinist and nationalist ideology of the ruling class. One is the prejudice of the oppressed, confused and wrong as they may be – the other is the ideology of the oppressor which is a necessity for their social control. To understand the differences is not to agree with the prejudices or accept them as permissible, but understanding this context is absolutely necessary in order to change the situation.

    This dismissive attitude of sectarian vanguardism could fit well with the poem by Bertolt Brecht – The Solution written after the East German workers strike was crushed by the Stalinist regime

    After the uprising of the 17th June
    The Secretary of the Writers Union
    Had leaflets distributed in the Stalinallee
    Stating that the people
    Had forfeited the confidence of the government
    And could win it back only
    By redoubled efforts. Would it not be easier
    In that case for the government
    To dissolve the people
    And elect another?


    Alistair Tice (Yorkshire Socialist Party) on the mass picket at the Lindsey total refinery North Lincolnshire.

    “The strike committee accepted the main demands of Keith Gibson and John Mckewan to put to the mass meeting today. Keith is a Socialist Party member and on the strike committee and John is a Socialist Party supporter and victimised worker from the
    refinery. The strike committee added an extra demand, calling for John to be reinstated into his job. The demands were
    No victimisation of workers taking solidarity action. All workers in UK to be covered by NAECI Agreement. Union controlled registering of unemployed and locally skilled union members, with nominating rights as work becomes available. Government and employer investment in proper training /
    apprenticeships for new generation of construction workers – fight for
    a future for young people. All Immigrant labour to be unionised. Trade Union assistance for immigrant workers – including
    interpreters – and access to Trade Union advice – to promote active
    integrated Trade Union Members.Build links with construction trade unions on the continent.

    The mass meeting overwhelmingly voted for the demands put to them by the strike committee. Prior to the meeting some BNP members in the car park were chased off.


  25. Communard,

    It is not macho language to say that those who go to picket Unite offices against the strikers are cheerleaders for strike breaking. What else do these pickets want? It is not witch hunting, If some on the left want to put themselves on the same side as Mandelson and Brown then they should expect to be ridiculed.

    Good to see the decisions made by the strikers will totally undermine those left critics of the strike. http://hammer-and-sickle.blogspot.com/2009/02/clarity-over-strike-wave-time-for-some.html


  26. … actually that report is concerning on one level. Does that mean that the SP activists did not propose that the slogan ‘British jobs for British workers’ was abandoned? Their bulletin says it should be, but it sounds like that was not part of the vote… so have they fudged it?

    Are they practically arguing this question?


  27. It looks as if, as predicted as possible on this site, the ideas of the strikers are developing in the course of the struggle itself. I expect we will see both sets of slogans being raised side by side, or one replacing the other in the course of events. What is positive is that it is devloping clearly in a progressive direction and even more important the SP comrades found symptathy from their fellow strikers who have been branded as almost incapable of change by sectarian vanguardists. I hope the sectarian snowmen down at UNITE HQ change their own slogans now to one of spread the strikes. Which what really should be being debated accross the movement just now.


  28. No, I do not want the strike to win. Winning will mean deporting the Italian workers and giving their jobs to British workers. And it is not a few placards, it is not isolated demands, this strike is for BJ4BW, that is its demand, it is on all the placards and it carries the Unite logo. These Labour leaders are the real criminals, by accepting this strike as legitimate you are defending Gordon Brown, Simpson and Hicks, wetc. That is what they want, it is wholly reactionary. Nazi supporters wanted jobs too and wanted rid of competors for them, why can you not see the direction this is going. Steike breaking? As if the ‘strike’ is sacrosanct’ and the reactionary thing it wants to achieve is just not important. If you thought as internationalists and considered how the Italian workers felt in the situation besides putting British workers first you might think again. Look at what Italian Socialists think of what is going on,

    Fw: Rage against Italian workers- BNP infiltrates. Monday, 2 February, 2009 2:05 PM
    “Franco Grisolia”
    View contact details
    “Campbell McGregor” , “downing gerry”

    —– Original Message —–
    From: PCL Abruzzo
    To: enquiries@swp.org.uk
    Sent: Monday, February 02, 2009 12:46 AM
    Subject: Rage against Italian workers- BNP infiltrates.

    Dear Comrades

    The latest news on the rage of British workers against what they believe are a menace to their jobs, the Italian workers, simply means that the crisis generated by a short-circuit in capitalism is starting to break up what is left of what us Communists are proud of: unity and class.
    Unfortunately, but inevitably, national-front-oriented Fascists may take the opportunity in intervening in the matter, and have infiltrate both men and ideas in this struggle, so as to make the “problem” look like one created by foreign workers, and not by the written rules of capitalism duly applied and by a big extent, already experimented by all workers around the world.
    Our hope is that the SWP may be physically present in the struggle to denounce what is becoming a falsified reality i.e. that by which Great Britain is being occupied by foreigners, and British workers are being forced out of jobs because of them.
    We should all remember that all migrant workers are accepted principally because they cost less, they have fewer rights, and are probably more inclined to work more hours, not having families with them. And when they cost the same, or have the same rights, their convenience in working in other countries is the exchange rate for foreign currency earned abroad.
    Sometimes however, they leave their countries simply because they are unemployed, even if specialized, so accepting jobs that are previously contracted by firms signing up using lower cost reasons, or buying jobs from previous contract winners, at lower conditions for all. But this is only accepting the rules of the system.
    Now the same system tolerates hate between workers, and is furthermore motivated by careless words said not more than 18 months ago by Mr Gordon Brown (“British jobs to the British”)
    Unfortunately in Italy that same policy and way of thinking is producing the same phenomena: racism and discrimination which often produce hate and fights between Italians and foreigners, workers and not.
    Our request is that to stay on guard from nationalistic instumentalization of the matter, and to stay well into the struggle against Fascism, which has a great opportunity to increase its followers in this delicate moment of world crisis.
    Remember that only a true socialist-oriented party can march alongside the workers worldwide. Traditional left wing reformist parties have always betrayed the working classes.

    Ottaviano Scipione
    PCL-Partito Comunista dei Lavoratori (Abruzzo) http://www.pclabruzzo.it info@pclabruzzo.it
    Communist Workers Party – Italy (Abruzzi Region)


  29. To reply briefly to some of Luke’s points earlier.

    1. An analogy. Suppose you were a doctor and had a close relative who was very ill. Their was a medical cure for their condition, but they chose instead to listen to a quack, and go for some snake oil solution. Would you say, “Well, sorry then I tried to tell you but you wouldn’t listen, so I will give you no sympathy and support until you see things my way.” Or would you continue to give them sympathy and support, and try to show them why the snake oil couldn’t work, and wasn’t working, and through your actions, convince them to take the necessary medical cure?

    2. On the basis of Luke’s argument he wouldn’t actually have been able to support the 1984 Miners Strike. The Government said that the pits had to close because they were uneconomic. They could buy coal cheaper from abroad. The NUM produced a lot of economic evidence to try to challenge this argument. At the time I wrote an article for Socialist Organiser, which I still have somewhere saying that the basis for socialists supporting the strike was not on the basis of this economic argument, which was ultimately reactionary. Socialists supported the strike as a political strike, on the basis that it was workers refusing to accept responsibility for he bosses crisis. Socialists had to say to the strikers it does not matter whether the economic argument stacks up or not, the strike is about keeping jobs whether they are economic or not. But, that was not the basis the strike was conducted by the NUM, those were not the basis of the argument that was put forward.

    In fact, if we were to accept that logic then the pits probably should have closed, because it WAS possible to import coal more cheaply. A Workers State might have had to make a similar decision, deciding to use the available labour-power more effectively. But, socialists DID support the strike even though the arguments raised for its being called were wrong. They did so for the reasons Marexists always have to stick with the workers in struggle, to gain their ear, and to win them to a correct programme in the course of the struggle.

    3. Luke’s argument is the reverse of the argument I have been having with Cluffy on my blog in relation to Israel and the Palestinians. See: Lessons of Gaza . Cluffy argues, and I think Luke would probably have a similar position. That because socialists have a duty to support the Palestinians as an oppressed people, they also have to support HAMAS as the main group in Gaza, supposedly fighting that oppression. But, of course that is not the case at all, anymore than socialists had to support the Kuomintang politically because they were the main organisation fighting Japanese Imperialism. It may be necessary to form tactical military alliances with such groups to achieve the defeat of a common enemy, but not at the expense of continuing to politically criticise them, and to point to the workers the extent to which they are their enemy. But, conversely just because HAMAS is a reactionary organisation that does not mean that we have to then deny support to the Palestinians. We support them, and try to win them to a proletarian position. The same is true here. We have a duty to support workers in struggle even if the demands they raise are necessarily confused and even reactionary, and in that process we try to win them to a socialist position.

    4. The reason these workers like workers in general are led to such positions, and even to supporting groups like the BNP is precisely because the Marxist movement in the last century has been very, very sectarian. Largely made up of petit-bourgeois elements, that movement has treated the working-class as though it were an icon, portrayed as a model of perfection and admired from afar. Meaningful contact is avoided, because it means that the reality shatters the illusion. When contact is forced on it, the true reality forces that petit-bourgeois to recoil in horror at the imperfection it beholds. So for decades whilst the Marxists have been contenting themselves with their daydreams of a second coming of 1917, the working class has got on with life blissfully unaware of its existence, tried to cope with the world around it best it can without any guidance that should have been provided to it. It has absorbed the ideas from those that would give such guidance, from reformist Labour politicians, and union bureaucrats, to assorted demagogues froma cross the political spectrum.

    Having created a Frankenstein monster through its inattentiveness to the real day to day needs of the workers, the Marxists now use the deficiencies of the monster it has created, as the excuse for yet further inattentiveness.

    Down the road of nationalism and racism lies disaster for the working class, down the road of further sectarianism towards that working class by the Marxists lies their consignment o the dustbin of history.


  30. Gerry, should remember the words of Lenin who said that we have to build socialism with the workers we have including all of the shit they have inherited from history, not the workers we want to see in the future. If Gerry has a time machine to bring back some of those workers from the future fine. UNtil then we have to deal with the ones we have, and you win them to socialism in the way Marx and lenin proposed supporting their struggles, however, confused the basis they engage in them, and by that support raise them up.

    As for his quotes from Italy, it appears that they too have been getting their information from the Daily Mail. On the BBC News tonight a BNP organiser was physically removed from coming anywhere near the strikers, and Chris Kane’s information seems to confirm that the strike is developing in a more progressive direction. The job of Marxists is to help it continue in that direction more swiftly. But, hey sectarian Marxists have stood aside from the real workingc lass for over a century because it wasn’t itself yet Marxist, so what else should workers expect from these petit-bourgeois, toy-town revolutionaries.


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