Last week’s Unite Executive saw brief reports on the Lindsey Oil Refinery strike, and the support strikes that were unfolding as we met. Since the Executive, I’ve had the opportunity to talk to people who’ve visited the picket line, to read websites run by strikers, and to look at the media coverage in more detail.
It frightens me that so many socialists and trade unionists are giving uncritical support to this dispute. The slogan at the heart of the strikes is ‘British jobs for British workers’. Since when has this been a progressive demand? The BNP is organising around the dispute – and isn’t being chased away as filth like this should be. And since when has the Tory press given such positive and detailed coverage to illegal strike action? The Daily Mail and the Sun are no friends of trade unionists.
There’s a problem here that can’t be ducked.
Yes, construction workers are being treated like dirt. Yes, Europe is about maximising profits for the bosses and screwing workers – across the whole of Europe, not just in the UK. Yes, sub-contracting is being used to undermine trade union organisation and erode national agreements. Does any of this mean that Italian workers are the enemy? Of course not.
There are principled class demands to be put in this dispute – defence of the NAECI agreement, unionised labour at every site, an end to sub-contracting, the rate for the job for every worker irrespective of their country of origin. These are the issues we should be organising around.
It’s simply wrong to make concessions to racism. Trade unionism and socialism must be about internationalism. ‘British jobs for British workers’ is not a demand that socialists can support.