Oil industry strikes are spreading across Scotland and northern England as British refinery workers protest over use of “foreign workers” to the exclusion of locals.
Angry workers at Lindsey and Conoco Phillips refineries in North Lincolnshire are striking over a new contract awarded to an Italian contractor who is only using Italians.
The big question is this: will the dispute continue to nail the employers for their profit-driven pursuit of cheap labour? Or will it tip over into an “Us” versus “Them” race diversion as being pushed by various right-wing forces and media?
A Very Public Sociologist points out in his latest post:
Drafting in migrant labour from overseas is a tried and tested method of undermining the pay and conditions of workers. Turning on the workers who come in to take advantage of employment opportunities opening up plays directly into the bosses' hands - it obscures the fact it is they who are attacking and driving down wages, and therefore the responsibility lies with them.
Another worker at Grangemouth says they were not objecting to foreign workers being used. He explained: "The objection is foreign companies clearly stating they will not start British workers on the job. We have no problems working with foreigners of any kind - we have Poles working here recently with us."
Which is a lot more enlightened than some on the left. One Socialist Workers Party and Stop the War Coalition leading light, John Rees, told me in a meeting that racism against the Chinese was of no consequence to them because “the axis of racism is black and white”, and that “it’s British workers who count, not Chinese.” They've never retracted these statements so, as far as I know, they still stand.
I'm reminded of the crap the Chinese had to go through when they were shipped into the US to build the railroads in the 1860s, and right into the 20th Century. The Labour movement at the time defined it as a matter of race, not class, and it weakened everyone. The Wobblies were far more enlightened and sought to bring the Chinese into the fold to take their place in the class alongside all the other workers. Even in Britain the unions attacked them, leading to nasty riots in places like Cardiff.
So let’s see how the left deal with this and if those striking workers like the guy from Grangemouth can turn this protest into something wonderful that helps all of us in the long run. All power to him.
STOP PRESS: Important point made by Eddie at the oil strike thread on Socialist Unity website. "I just spoke to a national GMB official and he was saying that a number of agencies involved in the sector are point blank refusing to hire UK workers in a deliberate attempt to smash union organisation and drive down wages."