Readers in the UK may be aware that there’s a strike wave spreading around the country, starting at the Lindsey Oil Refinery, and spreading to many other sites in solidarity. The strikes often raise the slogan ‘British Jobs for British Workers’, taken from a Brown speech a while back.
I don’t have a huge amount to say, there are discussions here, here, here, here and here. The main thing is to support the strikes; there shouldn’t be any question of that. People trying to exert collective control over their work is quite possibly our only hope.
The other main thing is that while there clearly are nationalist and even racist views involved, the great majority of them seem to exist in the media, in the bosses, in politicians. While no-one can speak for every worker involved, the essence of the situation as it appears to me is that the employers tried to exploit differences in demands between workers from different countries, and the strikes are an attempt to resist this. It is immeasurably to the advantage of everyone who wants the strikes to lose that they be seen as racist – which is why, for example, Mandelson is describing them as ‘xenophobic‘.
The strikers are not trying to divide the working class according to nationality. Their employers and their government are.
This was borne out when Socialist Party activists involved in the strike successfully got the following demands passed at a mass meeting of strikers:
- 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.
Perhaps the most depressing thing is that, as far as I can see, the nationalist slogan “British Jobs for British Workers” is largely being pushed by the unions, especially the ironically-named ‘Unite’. Conversely, this involvement by comrades from the SP is a good example where one helping of practice is worth ten helpings of theory (and yes, I do think of political theory as a sort of dessert).
It’s also perhaps interesting that, rather than, as is perhaps more traditional, trying to use racism to divide workers from each other, the ruling class almost seems to be using anti-racism to divide them – by labelling those who object to their own trans-national manipulations as ‘racist’ in order to isolate them.
In short: support the strike.