Two conflicting perspectives at the heart of the wildcat strikes spreading across Britain threaten to turn this conflict into a xenophobic safety valve for corporate business interests as we face global economic meltdown. The Italian company is importing cheap labour from abroad to the exclusion of local workers, pitting worker against worker in a classic case of divide and rule.
Some want them sacked and replaced with Brits. But there's a sizeable proportion of the strikers who see the cause lying squarely with the companies who are bringing in the cheap labour and pushing down wages, and not the hard-working stiffs being shipped in.
While the press has focussed on the nationalist anti-"foreign" worker fervour and depicted this as being a chauvinist matter between rival workforces, Gordon Brown's words from 2007 pledging "British Jobs For British Workers" have come back to haunt him. Together with the companies, whose interests in this are obvious, the media and the ailing government might succeed in turning the inevitable outpouring of anger at the prospect of a massive Depression and collapse of the whole system, on to fellow workers rather than, for example, banks who go cap in hand for bailouts while awarding 20 billion dollars in bonuses (according to Barack Obama in his latest TV address).
What the media are foregrounding — British jobs for British workers
The Socialist Worker's measured statement warns against pandering to the reactionary section of the strike as "British Jobs For British Workers" becomes the key slogan and the new workers are called "wops" and other choice epithets by the strikers. It lists some reasonable demands:
Fight all job cuts
No deals that cut wages or accept lay-offs
Smash privatisation and sub-contracting
Unity against the bosses, no to racism and the BNP.
Organised Rage supports the Lindsey construction workers' right to have a say in who is employed in their local industry and criticizes the company's accommodation of the influx in "flop houses".
"... the Italian company involved in the Linconshire dispute intends to house its work-force on converted barges moored in Grimsby dock, which amounts to housing workers in what is a large flop-house. It will also has the added effect of depriving the local economy of any real benefit of these workers being in the UK."
I agree with Harpy Marx's take here.
And there's a lively debate at Socialist Unity here and here. Someone said on one of the threads that during one black vs white strike in the 1930s, the US communists achieved a win-win settlement with no sackings and with more jobs created to satisfy the workforce all round. That's an outcome I'd like to see.
Jon Cruddas Guardian article: "These strikes aren't about xenophobia". Discussion at SU.
Very clear item on the slogan versus the underlying cause from Charlie Pottins.
Europe-wide petition against social dumping.
European Court of Justice rulings in the cases of Laval, Viking and Ruffert have determined that:
* Unions cannot take action against companies employing imported workers at rates below those agreed with local workers
* workers’ rights to collective action are less important than market freedom of access for cheaper workers
* Union members are prevented from being able to take collective action to defend industry agreement
* Outlawing action aimed at ‘levelling up’ wage rates of imported workers.
The campaign website is promoting a Europe-wide petition for the following:
* An amendment to the posted workers directive to at least clearly spell out how mandatory standards can be guaranteed through collective agreement and also defended through collective action.
* An agreed temporary agency directive as quickly as possible.
* A social progress clause making it clear that the fundamental right to organise and the right to strike are in no way subordinate to the economic freedoms.