hundreds of polish workers join wildcat strikes

600 workers, including hundreds of Polish workers, have walked out from Langage Power Station near Plymouth in solidarity with the wildcat actions sweeping across Britain.

When five hundred site staff had failed to arrive by 10am, the small minority of other foreign labourers (themselves also mostly Polish) who had been bussed in were sent home by management, deciding it was unsafe for them to work by themselves.

Jerry Pickford, regional officer for Unite South West,  said workers had walked out in “general sympathy with what’s happening in the construction industry… all the Polish workers have walked out as well, because this is not an issue against foreign workers.

“This is an issue against foreign employers using foreign workers to stop British workers getting jobs. Once they do that they will try and undermine the terms and conditions of employment in this country.”

It would be illegal for the union to support the strike or even hold a ballot, but workers are taking action off their own backs. Today strike action also spread to the Sellafield nuclear plant, while 400 contractors at Scottish Power’s Longannet power station in Fife (along with 80 workers at an ExxonMobil plant there) and 130 at the Cockenzie Power Station extended their action until Friday.

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21 thoughts on “hundreds of polish workers join wildcat strikes

  1. I think the Unite spokespearson summed up the strike nicely there.

    “This is an issue against foreign employers using foreign workers to stop British workers getting jobs. Once they do that they will try and undermine the terms and conditions of employment in this country.”

    So rather than a progressive strike to unionise workers brought in by foreign companies to make sure the terms and conditions are the same, we see a reactionary strike against foreign workers on some basis that in future they might not get the same terms and conditions.

    And you are supporting this, and didn’t even think to make a comment on this quote. Shameful.

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  2. But surely we are opposed to the displacement of the existing workforce and the organisation that already exists, no matter where the ‘new’ workers come from?

    The use of temporary workers – and bars on the existing workforce – disrupts attempts at organisation and surely paves the way for broader attacks on conditions. It is not as simple as to say “unionise everyone”, when the already-unionised workers may be carved out.

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  3. UNITE full-time officials can say what they like to the Press at the end of the day it is an unnofficial strike organised by the workers themselves – is there voice that matters. The Polish workers can hardly be accused of British nationalism can they.

    Sean are you saying so-called ‘social dumping’ is a good thing? This is what the most right-wing unions in Europe are arguing at present, especially some of them in the former Eastern Bloc countries, and its not out of interests of the workers. It is out of endorsement of the who neo-liberal framework of labour laws in the EU.

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  4. David,

    This is fantastic news, I’ll cross-post it to my blog as well, linking back here of course.

    Sean,

    I think you’re repeating yourself… I’m sure I’ve seen that exact same comment from you elsewhere.

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  5. Sean, The quote which actually disproves Workers Power. The strike in Plymouth is a sympathy strike with workers at LOR who are striking against the breaking of agreements and an attempt to undermine conditions. The Unite spokesperson actually says that it is not against foreign workers but about the threat of the race to the bottom which the bosses will no doubt want to speed up and spread across the industry. Pretty shameful that Workers Power are not backing working class people defending their jobs.

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  6. Chris, you don’t understand, no actual facts about the dispute or quotes from the workers involved can disprove the analysis of Workers Power.

    This is a racist, reactionary strike by fascist-Nazi BNP members supported by shameful, Kautskyite, fake-leftist traitors.

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  7. I note you claim that hundreds of Polish workers have joined the strike but the quote you reproduce states clearly that the small group of foreign workers inclduing Poles were sent home. In other words your claim is false.

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  8. No, it’s referring to two different groups of workers. It seems that a majority of the existing workers are Poles but there is another group of more temporary staff who were bussed in.

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  9. Mike the report says:

    Jerry Pickford, regional officer for Unite South West, said workers had walked out in “general sympathy with what’s happening in the construction industry… all the Polish workers have walked out as well, because this is not an issue against foreign workers.

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  10. Well comrades, the strike is approaching a successful conclusion from your point of view. The company offer is to ‘ring-fence’ half the jobs for British workers, the unions (GMB and Unite) are holding out for more. A Unite official on Radio 4 was quoted as expressing his expectation that this same issue was ‘bubbling over’ in other sites, so we can expect the local, native, ‘indigenous’ (what a glorious BNP term, now the property of the TU movement and the ‘left’) workers will now be fairly treated in future, just as they can expect more ‘fairness’ in council housing, car parking spaces and everywhere else. And we will closely monitor this ‘fairness’ with a rigorous test for ‘Britishness’ say a ‘cricket test, or an allegiance to the Queen test or even a skin colour test. And we can expect white Polish workers to quickly realise what side their bread is buttered and support us because at least their children will pass for British if they change their names.

    And you are arguing for ‘fairness’ for them, as a British nationality not as workers regardless of their place of birth, expoited by capitalism.

    Shame on you for being so blinded by chauvinism not to see you are cutting your own throats, but they will cut yours first, you hasten to add. Pastor Niedermayer where are you?

    Gerry Downing

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  11. Gerry, it’s Pastor Niemöller.

    Where’s your information on the ring fencing claim from? Give us a link or something.

    I would agree that this is certainly not the right solution. That will set workers against each other for the long term. What’s needed is to wholly disregard nationality in hiring, and at least a substantial proportion of hiring centred at the site of work.

    No one is saying this strike is unproblematic. No one is saying it doesn’t contain nationalist currents – e.g. it seems clear that some of the European workers have had abuse shouted at them But it’s not solely nationalist, it has other currents.

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  12. The Italian trade unions are not sympathetic to the antics of this anti-trade union company, something sectarians socialists here are pointedly ignoring. Not to mention the motivation and nature of an employer who discriminates blatantly by insisting on employing only workers of the nationality it chooses.

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  13. This from UKLN, from Sandy McBurney, dunno the source but you will find something similar on BBC I’m sure.

    So the problem the Socialist Party sponsored strike committee has now is that not enough Italians will be sent packing! Jesus you people are fuckin naive. What’s wrong with striking for an open recruitment policy for all jobs, and undermining the contractors that way?

    No time to chase this pish up today so more tomorrow maybe.

    Foreign labour row deal rejected
    Lindsey Oil Refinery protest
    Workers say the action is not racist, but about discrimination against
    Britons

    Workers battling against the use of foreign labour at North
    Lincolnshire’s Lindsey Oil Refinery have refused to accept a deal
    proposed in Acas talks.

    The suggested solution came after talks between unions and the
    refinery owner.

    There were reports that about half of the disputed 200 jobs would be
    offered to British workers, but workers have been told it would be
    less than 25%.

    Workers are angry a sub-contractor is using only non-British labour,
    and similar protests spread around the UK.

    Proof demanded

    Speaking from the Lindsey site, the BBC’s Danny Savage said: “As
    things stand this protest continues, this dispute is not over.”

    At a mass meeting on site on Wednesday, protesters were told that
    about 60 of the 200 jobs would be made available to British workers –
    40 skilled and 20 unskilled.

    They believed the figure was too low, and have also demanded proof
    that the foreign workers being brought in are on the same pay and
    terms and conditions as their British counterparts.

    Total has consistently claimed this is the case, but local workers do
    not believe it, added the BBC correspondent.

    Negotiations will continue on Wednesday, he said.

    Unemployed workers and contractors in oil refineries, power stations
    and nuclear plants have been taking part in protests since last week.

    FROM THE TODAY PROGRAMME

    More from Today programme

    Union activists have said the issue has been simmering in the industry
    for years, with British workers being excluded from applying for some
    jobs.

    On Wednesday morning protesters again gathered at the Lindsey site, a
    week after the walkouts began.

    The current row is centred on the North Lincolnshire plant, in North
    Killingholme, which is owned by French company Total.

    A contract for work to expand the refinery was sub-contracted by
    Total’s main contractor – engineering firm Jacobs – to an Italian
    company, IREM, which decided to use its own foreign workforce.

    Total insists it is not discriminating against British workers and
    that the decision to award the contract was fair.

    But the protests spread and in the last week thousands of workers at
    more than 20 sites in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland
    have taken part in sympathy walkouts and protests.

    Talks involving the unions, Total, and its contractors began on Monday
    in Scunthorpe, then moved to a hotel near Grimsby.

    ONE WEEK OF SUPPORT PROTESTS
    Maps show locations affected
    1-5: Stanlow oil refinery [1]; Longannet Power Station [2]; Drax Power
    Station [3]; Coryton Refinery [4]; Langage Power Station [5]
    6-10: Marchwood Power Station [6]; Fawley Refinery [7]; Torness Power
    Station [8]; Mossmorran chemical plant [9]; Aberthaw power station [10]
    11-15: South Hook gas terminal [11]; ICI chemical refinery [12]; Corus
    steel plant [13]; Fiddler’s Ferry Power Station [14]; AES Kilroot
    Power Station [15]
    16-22: Cockenzie Power Station [16]; Sellafield nuclear site [17];
    Heysham nuclear power station [18]; Staythorpe power station [19];
    Didcot Power Station [20] Grangemouth oil refinery [21]; St Fergus gas
    plant [22]

    Union sources had told the BBC that the deal appeared to offer 50% of
    the disputed jobs to British workers.

    Derek Simpson, joint general secretary of Unite, told BBC Breakfast
    the dispute needed to be settled, but there was still a “wider
    problem” to address.

    “Even if this dispute is settled [there is] still a major problem
    about how these foreign companies, who win contracts and come complete
    with a workforce, are going to create other difficulties.

    “We need to build in some sort of concept that the jobs that are
    created by these contracts are open to everyone – to foreign and to UK
    workers.”

    He said there were several other similar disputes “bubbling under” at
    other places.

    “It will occur again, and I’m sure it will occur in other countries as
    well unless there’s a realisation that you can’t just use the freedom
    of labour to the exclusion of indigenous labour.”

    During Tuesday’s demonstration outside the Lindsey plant strike
    committee member Phil Whitehurst said they were convinced of their case.

    “People have said it’s racist. It’s not. We’re not part of the BNP.
    I’ve shunned the BNP away from here,” he said.

    “It’s about British workers getting access to a British construction
    site.”

    The CBI has backed the company at the centre of the dispute, while
    Business Secretary Lord Mandelson has said the country should focus on
    the economics of the recession, not on “the politics of xenophobia”.

    But Labour backbencher Jon Cruddas criticised the language being used
    by the government and said people should focus on the need for
    employers to respect local employment agreements as well as national
    pay deals.

    “Unfortunately, over the last day or two, we have heard a lot of talk
    about xenophobia,” he said.

    “I am afraid that does not respect some of the issues that are at work
    here and that sort of language builds up the problem rather than
    acknowledges the nature of the problem.”

    Labour MP John Mann has put down a Commons early day motion
    “deploring” the use of foreign workers at the Lindsey refinery and
    praising unions for “exposing this exploitation and the absence of
    equal opportunities to apply for all jobs”.

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  14. Unions will recommend workers at Lindsey Oil Refinery in Lincolnshire go back to work, after an improved offer on use of foreign labour was proposed.

    Workers had earlier rejected a deal brokered by Acas on Tuesday, which said 60 out of 198 disputed jobs would be made available to British workers.

    The BBC understands those jobs would be new, and no foreign workers would lose their post as a result of the dispute.

    UK workers had vowed to keep protesting until they achieved “victory”.

    At a second mass meeting at the Lindsey site on Wednesday, union shop stewards heard an offer had been reached that the union seemed to be “satisfied with”, said BBC correspondent Danny Savage.

    The final number of jobs on offer for British workers is expected to be about 100.

    The full details, plus a recommendation from the unions to return to work, would be confirmed at another mass meeting on Thursday morning, he said.

    A deal that had put foreign workers out of a job “would have led to a huge row about protectionism,” said our correspondent.

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  15. The strike is now coming to a conclusion. The British labour movement will emerge from it a great deal worse that when it began. The negotiations are centred around which nationality gets which jobs, with even more reactionary demands emerging from the SP that jobs should be ‘local’. The strike began about BJ4BW, some gave whole hearted support and pretended the posters, union jacks and pickets comments were just ‘media lies’ (Galloway et al), others came to the schizophrenic conclusion that the strike might be on reactionary demands, but ‘really’, dialectically, in a contradictory way it was about a fight to advance the rights of all workers and since it might become that it was ok – a sort of ‘if your aunt had balls’ argument.
    Now the moment of truth is upon us, turn your head away and pretend not to see but the Eyties’ are to be turfed out, our British, or better still our ‘local’ lads will get first call on 101 out of 198 jobs, is it? And presumably these locals will have to pass some test of ‘localism’ or ‘Britishness’ set by the local union committee. And now we can move on to ensuring ‘fairness’ in every other site and in council house allocations as the Sun and News of the World have advocated for so long.
    I worked in the buildings for 20 years, I have know many English Tory brick layers, I know what reactionary craft unionism is and this is what you are seeing here. The founding of the Labour party was a result of the great blows struck by the New Unionism inspired by the Match girls and the London Dockers against the elitist, privileged empire loyalism in these unions. They would troop across Westminster Bridge a century ago in bowler hats to go to work in the building sites, the same reactionary aristocracy of labour represented by the Ulster unionists, which many of us believed was its last redoubt.
    The marginalisation (but not elimination) of this reactionary tradition allowed the Labour party to be founded as a bourgeois workers party (in Lenin’s famous characterisation) and this was a great world-historic advance for workers everywhere. The re-emergence of the ascendancy of craft unionism will destroy the Labour party as a workers organisation of any kind unless it is fought, and its influence halted and reversed. The defeat has not yet been inflicted on the working class but unless we fight these reactionary labour lieutenants of capital in our ranks now the future will be bleak. And that would be a world-historic defeat and a reversion to the 1870s, but in far worse circumstances.
    Barber applauded Brown’s British jobs for British workers speech, did anyone notice which other TU leaders did so too? We can hope that some trade unions will refuse support to these strikes, but their silence to date speaks volumes. In any case Unite and the GMB have adopted this line, they have allied with reactionary labour aristocratic unionist consciousness against the ‘lower orders’. And that is not just targeting Johnny Foreigner, it will target the unskilled and the unemployed and, ultimately it will rebound on its ‘socialist’ supporters too – apparently the German Social Democratic leaders were pleading with Hitler to be allowed to serve his cause as they were being led to the concentration camps. The BNP are correct to see fertile recruiting ground opening up for them.
    So yes, Patrick, Janine and Chris and Stuart, you did get it profoundly wrong and when the moment of truth arrives, when the deal based on the nationality or the locality of the workers is accepted, you will have to turn your heads away and pretend not to see.

    Gerry Downing

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  16. Those lunatic Italians of the Italian CGIL are a little more apprehensive than you, comrade Duncan, but then it did happen there and it can never happen here; this is Britain:

    Nicola Nicolosi

    Head of CGIL Segretariato Europa
    Corso Italia 25 – 00198 Roma
    tel. +39 06 8476328
    fax +39 06 8476321
    http://www.cgil.it/segretariatoeuropa

    Rome, 2 February – “What’s going on in Lincolnshire is one of the ugliest pages in the history of the trade union movement in these globalised times: English workers against Italian workers.” That’s the view of the heads of the European office of FIOM-CGIL (CGIL engineering section), Sabrina Petrucci, and of CGIL’s European secretary, Nicola Nicolosi, commenting on the strikes by English workers against the contract given to the Sicilian firm Irem to build a plant in a north England refinery.

    “The current economic crisis,” say the two officials, “caused by a capitalist system devoted to financial speculation, lacking rules, and centred on debt, is producing one of the worst social evils: the poor against the poor, workers against workers.” Furthermore, while the economic crisis has led to the loss of thousands of jobs, for Nicolosi and Petrucci, “the solutions put forward at Davos are exactly the same as those which created the crisis. Even in Europe, unemployment is growing and fear is becoming a social phenomenon. There are cases of racial intolerance in Italy too: odious, unacceptable, to be condemned and fought with maximum energy.”

    But the two union leaders also say that we should understand the ill-feeling underlying the events at Lindsey Oil. “We have a duty,” they say “to understand the workers’ unhappiness. The consequences of European judgements on the labour market, on the right to free movement of goods and people, are multiplying, opening the door to social dumping.” In this regard they cite the recent Viking Line and Laval judgements from the European Court “on the pre-eminence of employers’ rights over those of trade unions sanctioned by national contracts and laws, which have aroused justified concern from trade unions, lawyers and workers. In these cases ‘salary dumping’ becomes an opportunity for the firms to cut labour costs and creates unfair competition.”

    In the case of the Lindsay refinery, in Lincolnshire, Nicolosi and Petrucci add, “the protest is taking on connotations that the nationalist right-wing is turning against the “foreigner”. The English workers claim that this contracted work should use the local labour force, already hit by the loss of 500 jobs in December alone. If it’s true that the contract includes a clause excluding local labour, we say that’s wrong and a source of discrimination. The firm, on these questions, has enormous responsibilities. What’s more, we want to make the point that this is a non-unionised firm. Which says a lot about its approach to industrial relations.”

    But, at the same time, “the effects of the crisis in globalisation must not slacken the ties of international solidarity between workers, condemning all those events which could lead to xenophobic and racist forms,” say the two union leaders and, furthermore, argue that “European law should not allow social- and wage-dumping, as has happened in the Viking and Laval cases, and the parts of the ‘Distacco’ directive that can be abused to differentiate between workers from different countries must be modified.” And “that the CES campaign “equal work, equal pay”, against differentials in pay and conditions for the same work in the same country should be developed.

    To develop the spirit of a Social Europe we need solidarity, a value to which we can link aspirations and prospects for widespread well-being.” Nicolosi and Petrucci conclude, “the economic and financial crisis can’t be fought within national boundaries, even if these English workers are given a response within their national boundary: we need a European and global trade union initiative to support the unemployed and for new social and industrial policies and perspectives.”

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  17. Gerry is making a point about the left making too many concessions to the right. I think his was a rather kind way of putting it and Chris K is being petty about that. I’m sorry for calling people here ‘fucking naive’, I’ve been indignant as most on this issue.

    However, all this arrogant talk from the Commune of ‘litmus tests for the left’ is essentially provocation and yes that is dangerous at a time when we ought to be laying the foundations for more and more united front work to tackle the BNP. I think we can all agree that the BNP will have gained something from these strikes and will use the public mood surrounding them to their advantage.

    This is not to speak of all the united front work that needs to take place in terms of the organisation of workplace colonisation. Had the Brit left been as organised as our continental comrades on this count then our union bureaucrats are likely to have done far more to prevent the promotion of those slogans at the very least, as is the custom on the continent where there is a tradition of planting young lefts in skilled industry.

    The trouble for the left here has been that some organisations came out very early on with clear opposite positions on the strikes, and the rest of us took sides without knowing much about it, picking up the pieces as we went along. As a result much of the debate centred around the slogans and whether or not they brought out the mass of solidarity strikes.

    This was only part of the question. Gerry has highlighted the need for us all to discuss the implications of the ‘closed shop’. I think Luke Cooper of Workers Power has a useful approach below. In the context he lays out it shouldn’t be surprising that Polish workers employed by British contractors walked out. Their contractors were those in danger of being outcompeted by non-British contractors. Can anyone shed any new light on what appears to be a crucially valid point here?

    http://www.workerspower.com/index.php?id=47,1833,0,0,1,0

    Is the issue really sub-contracting?

    “Many people and organisations, including George Galloway MP, John Cruddas MP, Seamus Milne, the Guardian journalist, and the far left organisation Permanent Revolution have claimed that sub-contracting is the issue in dispute.

    Permanent Revolution, for example, write “Were Total to be the sole employer, and not sub-contracting the work out to IREM, those workers of theirs who lost their jobs when the contract was awarded to the Italian company would have had to be offered the jobs before anyone else.”

    Permanent Revolution would do well to check their facts. First off, Total actually sub-contracted to the Californian based engineering firm Jacobs who then sub-contracted the work on to IREM. That Total should have on-site construction and maintenance workers is clear, but to make a £100 million development they are likely to need specialist labour.

    While sub-contracting is an issue, the point is not that Total should employ the labour for this project directly. The problem of sub-contracting is found in the construction companies they call on for projects such as this. In construction sub-contracting is used from top to bottom to create a casualised workforce of supposedly self-employed labour. According to Socialist Worker as many as 40% of the 2.2 million building workers employed in Britain are defined as self-employed to deny them basic labour rights.

    Of course this is a factor behind the dispute. The Lindsey workers were employed for Shaws, the construction company, they were laid off with a 90-day redundancy notice in November. But this has nothing to do with whether IREM won a different contract at the Total plant. Opposing the job losses at Shaws means taking the fight to the Shaws bosses.

    The job losses should have been opposed and fought against back in November. Instead workers have affectively sided with the Shaws bosses in protest that the Jacobs contract was given to an Italian firm.

    It is plain then that the strike demands do not oppose the system of sub-contracting. They oppose the awarding of one contract to a foreign firm. The Unite union are now raising their central demand that British workers should be allowed to apply for the jobs at IREM. So instead of taking the fight to the enemy – the bosses at Shaws who made the lay-offs – they demand IREM breaks the agreement it has with its Italian workforce: where is the justice or internationalism in that?

    It may be that IREM workers are not employed on a casualised basis but are directly employed with greater employment rights. If so, then instead of arguing these Italian workers should be casualised – or worse still, they should lose their jobs to make way for British workers – we should argue all British and Italian workers should have permanent contracts. The point is to unite on an international basis as a class: not blame one section of workers – ‘foreign labour’ – for the unemployment of another section.

    There is actually a bourgeois protectionist argument in all of this; when pushed union leaders like Derek Simpson have revealed their real concern is the use of an Italian construction firm. The Morning Star too basically argue that the contracts should go to British firms, employing British workers. Genuine Marxists and internationalists reject this protectionist argument – we have done since Marx’s writings on free trade in the 19th century – because it involves striking a collaborationist pact with ‘our own’ ruling class. Our alternative is the international solidarity of labour against capital.”

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