don’t walk away from the oil refinery strikers!

by Steve Ryan

The wildcat strikes now spreading across Britain present a real challenge for the Left.

Firstly the strikes are wildcat, ignoring union bosses and to a degree the unions themselves . They are well organised and have spread very quickly.

They should not have come as a surprise. Tensions have been building for months around recession job cuts and attempts by employers to undercut terms and conditions, often through using foreign labour.

Many on the Left are arguing that we should not support the strikes. At face value this is understandable. The walkouts are being portrayed as nationalist, maybe racist. Certainly the slogans being used, whether ironic or not, are unfortunate. The BNP are undoubtedly  intervening.

However for the left to walk away from this would be wrong. At a Trades Council AGM in Wrexham, North Wales two weeks ago building workers warned that this was coming and that it was about foreign workers. Instead of just dismissing these views, interventions were made around the fact that this was a narrow view, that the real problem was employers undercutting terms and conditions to boost profits. That any workers from anywhere were welcome and should not be exploited. These arguments were accepted and formed the basis for a statement from the Trade Council.

The moral here is that a progressive agenda can be argued around the strikes. The strikes are NOT inherently reactionary, as say the London Dockers supporting Powell were in the 60s. Many of the workers interviewed have been at pains to emphasis this. They ARE based around a narrow understanding of the current recession and capitalism. They ARE the first wildcat strikes in years – and the first awakening of militant opposition to the recession. It IS also cause for reflection that the situation has developed in this way by the unions  who have done nothing to express workers’ anger over  jobs, pay etc – and this includes so called Left unions.

Surely then the Left should be intervening, pointing the blame where it belongs at the employers and capital. Also the craven approach by the unions which have not fought back but now put on the spot are disgracefully happy to allow the impression of a narrow chauvinist strike to emerge, which will contain it they hope. Links between workers – foreign and British – should be made, and that should include internationally to stop bosses seeking to undercut the workforce by importing labour whether from the UK or abroad. The strikes can be refocused and, surely, spread to other sectors. The strikes are a litmus test for the Left, let’s not be found wanting.

9 thoughts on “don’t walk away from the oil refinery strikers!

  1. On Monday morning a mass meeting of the Lindsey Total workers dropped the BJ4BW slogan and voted the following as there strike demands:

    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

    This massive positive step is largely down to the intervention of a few SP members. The rest of the left is dangerously behind on this. Although there are problems with these demands they are better then most strikes in Britain. We need to get the message out there that this is what the workers are saying.

    Also as far as I can see BNP involvement has been minimal. They were scared off by SP members according to blogs. The problm is all the other wildcat strikes that are being allowed to fester without the left intervening with decent demands.


  2. Paul Mason reported they had dropped it on newsnight last night. Since I have heard contradictory reports. Mike F and Chris M are visiting the Lindsey picket tomorrow morning we will post up what they find out on AWL website.


  3. I thought the following comment from another blog was very significant to this situation…

    “As the late Tony Cliff put it,

    You are on a picket line and someone makes a racist remark, you have 3 choices –

    1. Storm off because you won’t stand shoulder-to-shoulder with racists, this is sectarian leftism.
    2. Ignore it and carry on standing on the picket line. This is opportunism.
    3. Stand shoulder to shoulder with your fellow workers (because the emancipation of the workers is the act of the workers – Marx) while arguing tooth and nail against any nationalism or racism. This is socialism.”

    Anything else can only be construed as the left’s utter abandonment of the working class.


  4. This is not about a racist remark on a picket line. I have heard loads of those im my time and a sharp repuke usually does the trick. This is a strike against foreign workers. It is clear from the settlement negotiations that this has not changed in any way since the first walk out over the nationality of the workers en[mployed by the subcontracting firm. And now the mass meeting has apparently rejected the ‘rotten’ TU bureaucrats ‘compromise’ because it does not guaranteen enough Btitish jobs. NOBODY SHOULD RESPECT A PICKET LINE DIRECTED AGAINST FELLOW WORKERS, despite its form this is not a legitimate form of class struggle but a reactionary blow against trade union organisation – workers of the world unite, unity is strength? – no stab yopur fellow worker in the back to keep yourself in work – no wonder the BNP are dancing in the streets. They are organising a demo to tll the strikers they are right, who will tell them they are wrong – Kenneth Clarke?


  5. A deal has been reached which has half the jobs – the ones not already contracted for by IREM – going to “British workers”. Which I assume will de facto mean ones hired locally, since presumably it would be illegal for an EU worker who just happened to rock up to the site to be turned away on ground of nationality.

    The proposed deal gives British workers 102 jobs out of a total of 195 on the bulk of the new desulphurisation plant contract, including 67 skilled positions — welders, electricians and platers.

    It does not involve any Italian redundancies as only 100 posts have so far gone to the foreign workers based on a hostel barge moored in Grimsby docks. . . .

    “There’s nothing anti-foreign about this. What we’re against is the replacement of a free labour market by companies which float their entire workforce in on barges, contribute nothing to the local economy – not even using B&Bs – and won’t even consider taking British workers on as well.”

    Do you think this is a reactionary settlement Gerry? Are you positively for the right of companies to float entire workforces around as they please, or to lay off workers when they see fit?

    This episode has hardly been a brilliant moment for internationalism, but it could have been a hell of a lot worse. We all need to think about how to get better information quicker next time…


  6. This strike has been an important and positive turning point for the labour movement; independent working class action has defied the anti-union laws which have shackled workers for years, aided by the bureaucracy of the captive unions. We have seen self-organisation in a way unseen for years and wildcat action spreading in a manner unseen for years. This has been a major confidence booster to many trade unionists and we should ensure it is built upon and developed.

    Some habe utterly failed to see the context of this dispute in terms of the new anti-union laws at an EU level through the Viking and Laval cases of the European Court of Justice, which was a response to similar union actions in Finland and Sweden. What trades unions have failed to achieve in the courts against these anti-union laws the workers have achieved by their own direct action in this dispute.

    The employers legally could have sacked all these strikers, only recently they would have done so. The fact they failed is a significant landmark in favour of the working class.

    Furthermore in the midst of a recession we have seen workers successfully force the creation of new jobs. This a major achievement.

    Sectarian vanguardists on the left have utterly failed to appreciate these facts, the bosses did understand them as have the bureaucrats, they have been desperate to get the situation under control.

    The misconduct of sectarianism has been breathtaking during this dispute. I have been active in the movement for over 25 years and I have never seen anything like a demo being organised by ostensible Marxists (Poor Marx!) at a union HQ demanding a wild-cat strike to be stopped. Symptomatic of this sectism has been the inability to engage in honest political accounting, in this case the anti-strike demo organisers disowning the event after initiating it. But not out of proper class based politics but more embarrassment of what the rest of the left think. This is precisely the problem – communists should not be developing their views based on what others on the left think but the interests of our class. Some people call The Commune ‘workerists’ for this, but the views on this web site have been head and shoulders above others in terms of honest working class communist ideas.

    There is a real new feeling amongst many union activists on the back of this strike, I have not heard from them chauvinism or narrow nationalism but a genuine inspiration and feeling something new can be done. Communists should welcome and encourage a new mood – sectarianism has proven again it belongs to the past and they should be left to piss on each others llegs eft in their splendid isolation.


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