British Jobs for British Workers?

The recent (and seemingly ongoing) wildcat strikes at British oil refineries (Lindsey, Teesside, Devon…), triggered by the awarding of a contract by the French company Total to the Italian company IREM (which has shipped in its own staff), has provoked a good deal of commentary, especially from British leftists, who are seemingly divided on whether or not to support the strikes, and whether or not they might be classified as ‘progressive’ or ‘reactionary’. The major sticking point for the left — and the reason the BNP and assorted other racists have been flocking to it like flies to shit — is the nationalist and xenophobic dimension of the strike, embodied in the slogan ‘British Jobs for British Workers’.

According to The Guardian (Workers reject plea to return during talks, Martin Wainwright, Wednesday, February 4. 2009):

In [Tuesday]’s biggest wildcat actions 530 contractors decide to prolong walkouts at Longannet power station in Fife and Cockenzie in East Lothian. Staff will stay away until the weekend from both plants, which are run by Scottish Power. Eighty workers also walked out at Exxon Mobil’s petrochemicals plant in Mossmorran, Fife. In Hartlepool, 250 staff left Heerema’s gas and oil engineering plant for a 24-hour strike. Langage power station near Plymouth saw 500 workers down tools, including a group of Poles.

One of the ironies of the situation is that British oil workers can and do find employment elsewhere in Europe. In fact: ‘At Irem HQ in Sicily, executive Giovanni Musso claimed it had agreed with unions to pay wages equal to British counterparts and agreed with rules governing tea breaks. Scarano added: “No one has mentioned that on a rig where we’re doing a job off Ravenna there are 150 British workers”.’ (The view from the barge: ‘We want to work with the British as brothers’, Tom Kington in Rome, The Guardian, February 3, 2009.)

As for the Trots*, here’s a sample of reactions…

1. Communist Party of Britain

‘BACK POWER WORKERS ACTION’ URGE BRITAIN’S COMMUNISTS
February 2, 2009

‘Workers taking action at Britain’s power stations are fighting for jobs, decent terms and conditions and trade unionism’, Carolyn Jones has declared today on behalf of the Communist Party of Britain.

2. International Committee of the Fourth International (ICFI)

Stalinists and Socialist Party defend “Britons first” refinery protest
Julie Hyland
February 3, 2009

The stance of the unions and the pseudo-left groups to the oil refinery protests must serve as a warning. Faced with a major economic crisis that threatens the survival of the capitalist profit system itself, their response is to adopt the noxious policy of economic nationalism and anti-migrant propaganda, while embracing the government and the employers as the allies of “British workers”…

NB. The ICFI is bankrolled by a union-free printing company, Grand River Printing & Imaging (GRPI), a multi-million dollar business in Michigan [and “premiere provider of commercial web offset printing services”].

3. Respect Renewal

Strikes, protest and the crisis in the construction industry
Jerry Hicks
January 30, 2009

…This is not about race or prejudice and we are actively challenging any attempt by the BNP to spread their poison. It is about the exploitation of labour, playing one worker off against another. It is about the employers trying to break nationally agreed arrangements and in doing so it is an attack on the union. Gordon Brown, who at the last Labour party conference said ‘British jobs for British workers’, has created a huge problem all of his own making. He can no longer simply sit on his hands waiting on the sidelines…

4. Socialist Party (Committee for a Workers’ International: CWI)

Update on the spreading strikes by construction engineers in the refinery and power industry
Report by phone from Alistair Tice (Yorkshire Socialist Party) on the mass picket at the Lindsey total refinery North Lincolnshire.
February 2, 2009

The strike committee accepted the main demands of Keith Gibson and John Mckewan to put to the mass meeting today. Keith is a Socialist Party member and on the strike committee and John is a Socialist Party supporter and victimised worker from the refinery. The strike committee added an extra demand, calling for John to be reinstated into his job.

The demands were:

    * 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.

5. Socialist Workers Party (iSt)

Blame the bosses not ‘foreign workers’
February 3, 2009

…fear and anger has exploded into unofficial strike action with thousands of workers in oil refineries and power plants walking out. They are right to want to fight this recession. But the central slogan of the current wave of strike action, “British jobs for British workers”, targets the wrong people and points in a dangerous direction. Any demand framed in terms of “putting British workers first” inevitably paints another set of workers – “foreign workers” – as the problem.

…far too many in the trade union leadership have gone meekly along with this treatment – or even, shamefully, encouraged the “British jobs for British workers” slogan. Anger over how working people have been treated has been mounting and is now threatening to explode. The current walkouts are a symptom of that. And they have shown that unofficial strike action is an effective way to fight…

6. Workers’ Power (League for the Fifth International)

Britain: no to the nationalist strikes
February 1, 2009

Around 3,000 construction workers at oil refineries around the country are taking wildcat, unofficial strike action. Another 900 workers at Sellafield nuclear power plant may join them on Monday 2 February. Normally Workers Power would energetically support strike action by workers – including unofficial strikes taken without the formal support of the union leaders. But this strike is different. We unreservedly oppose it. Why? Because the strikers target is not their employers but 100 Italian and Portuguese workers at the Lindsey oil refinery in North Killingholme, Lincolnshire…

About @ndy

I live in Melbourne, Australia. I like anarchy. I don't like nazis. I enjoy eating pizza and drinking beer. I barrack for the greatest football team on Earth: Collingwood Magpies. The 2020 premiership's a cakewalk for the good old Collingwood.
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21 Responses to British Jobs for British Workers?

  1. Paul Justo says:

    The SWP is not the iSt and the CPB are not ‘trots’. The ICC are in favour of the workers’ action.

  2. @ndy says:

    iSt = International Socialist Tendency, of which the SWP is boss.

    I understand that the CPB is not Trotskyist; neither is Respect. That’s why I write Trot* (I forgot to elaborate on this *).

    As for the ICC… I’m heartened to hear that the International Cricket Council is taking a stand on this issue.

    Oh wait…

    You meant the Internet Chess Club.

    Or possibly the Illawarra Catholic Club.

    Or…

    Strikes in oil refineries and power stations: The class struggle is for all workers!
    January 31, 2009

    The walk-outs and demonstrations by workers in oil refineries and power stations over the question of unemployment show the depth of anger in the working class faced with the tidal wave of redundancies brought about by the economic crisis.

    This wave of lay-offs and short-time working is not confined to Britain but is engulfing the globe. From the USA to China, from western Europe to Russia, no workers’ job is safe; and even when they have work, wages are being cut and working conditions worsened.

    But workers around the world are showing their unwillingness to accept these attacks: there are daily strikes and demonstrations in China; at the end of January 2.5 million workers in France struck in protest about unemployment; students and young workers in Italy, France, Germany and above all Greece have been out on the streets demonstrating their rage against a society which offers them no future. The anger of the workers in the refineries is not specific to Britain but part of an international response to the deepening economic disaster…

    Speaking of the ICC…

    Internal Fraction of ICC

    Who are we?

    Since 2001, a new and dramatical crisis is shaking up, indeed destroying, the ICC, one of the main organization of the international “proletarian political milieu”. It expresses :

    *
    through a liquidating policy, led by the new “leadership”, particularly (if not only), on the organizational level : refusal of any debate and quelling of the political divergences by personal denigration, lies, as well as increasing disciplinary sanctions against those who express them, up to their expulsion (a tumbrel of around ten expulsions have been decided in spring 2002. This has never happened in the ICC before and most of the excluded militants are « old » members and sometimes « founders » members who had important responsabilities). This orientation is similar, for its very essence, to the disastrous « bolshevization » suffered by the International Communist and the Communist Parties in the second half of the years 1920 ;

    *
    through the formation of our internal fraction, in October 2001, and the struggle it leads since then, in order to counter this liquidating orientation and to intend to stop the degenerating process in which is engaged this organization. The outcome of this process can’t be but to the pure and simple loss of the ICC for the working class.

    I go do ultra-left guide soon(ish).

  3. @ndy says:

    Labour rebels warn on boost to far-right
    Jean Eaglesham, Chief Political Correspondent
    Financial Times
    February 4, 2009

    Gordon Brown last night faced a growing Labour revolt over his handling of the wildcat strikes, which MPs warned could fuel far-right groups such as the British National party.

    The protests have touched a nerve in the labour movement. The strikers’ appropriation of Mr Brown’s slogan of “British jobs for British workers” has been hailed by the BNP as a victory for its brand of nationalism.

    Union leaders sought to distance the walkouts from the far right yesterday, saying the construction workers were shunning BNP support. “The unofficial action taking place across the UK is not about race or immigration,” said Derek Simpson, joint leader of Unite. “It’s about class. It’s about employers who exploit workers regardless of their nationality.”

    But Labour MPs warned that ministers’ apparent dismissal of fears about jobs going to overseas workers risked exacerbating a wider failure to address concerns of the white working class…

  4. @ndy says:

    Socialist Party ~ versus ~ Social Equality Party/ICFI

    Socialist Party offers yet another apologia for “Britons first” refinery dispute
    Robert Stevens
    February 4, 2009

    Unofficial strike action by hundreds of contractors at oil refineries, power stations and nuclear plants in the UK continued Tuesday, the seventh day of the strike.

    The World Socialist Web Site is opposed to the strike, which can have only a reactionary impact and outcome. The trade union bureaucracy at the national, regional and local level has waged the dispute based on the nationalist slogan, “British jobs for British workers,” and it centres on a protest against the awarding of a contract to the Italian company IREM that employs its own workforce…

  5. @ndy says:

    SWP opposition to strike/s

    Left divided by Lindsey strike
    Ian Dunt
    politics.co.uk
    February 3, 2009

    Far left groups are finding themselves divided over the wildcat strike at Lindsey refinery, with some uncomfortable with the workers’ emphasis on foreign workers and others viewing it as a basic trade union rights issue.

    Strikers are angry at the use of foreign workers by subcontractor IREM, and they have now been joined by workers from across the country.

    A spokesman from the Socialist Workers party (SWP), which opposes the strike, told politics.co.uk: “We wouldn’t tell people to cross picket. But we oppose targeting Italian groups, because they’re not responsible for job losses.

    “Immigrants are not to blame for huge amount of jobs that are being shed at the moment.”

  6. Asher says:

    Oi @ndy – you seem to have missed out on something important – the GOOD analysis! 😛

    Check http://libcom.org/library/tea-break-exploitation-oil and also the thread on the LibCom forums which is well worth reading, at http://libcom.org/forums/news/oil-workers-walk-out-29012009

  7. Asher says:

    Actually, the three most recent posts in that thread are good examples of the improving politics and positive elements in these wildcats:

    “I noticed on the news last night that Immingham (I think) workers had put up a written banner saying ‘Italian workers join our strike for trade union rights, jobs and conditions’ (or words to that effect), in English and Italian. It seems to me that there has been a lot of discussion among the workers about the ‘British jobs’ slogan, judging from things like that and what’s being said on the forums.”

    The Guardian is saying that LOR workers were carrying “workers of the world unite” placards too. So it does seem that very real debates are happening and that the views of the strikers are developing in line with events (hostility to BNP opportunism, Polish workers joining the strike, etc).”

    “ACAS deal from unions/management rejected by mass meeting at Lindsey (BBC):

    ‘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.’

    The dispute, at least at Lindsey, does seem to have moved away from the ‘British jobs…’ line pushed by the unions/media early on and towards internationalism.”

  8. @ndy says:

    Cheers.

    I made a few refs to the disco on libcom in a previous post on Davos 2009 : Capitalism in Crisis.

    More responses:

    Revolutionary Communist Party of Britain (Marxist-Leninist)

    The Oil Refinery Workers and the Economic Crisis

    …The way forward is for the workers to organise themselves as an effective political force to stay the hand of the monopolies and their ability to dictate, irrespective of the requirements of the national economy and the human beings who live and produce the wealth here. In opposition, a human-centred society is what the working class and people are striving to attain.

    Defend the Rights of All!
    Defend the Dignity of Labour!
    No to the Chauvinism of the Ruling Elite!
    Whose Economy? Our Economy!

    Socialist Resistance

    Britain: For international solidarity between workers
    February 2, 2009

    …The slogan “British jobs for British workers” which has been dominant in every one of the protests, both verbally and visually, is the wrong way to conduct the dispute. It is a dangerous and xenophobic road to go down. No wonder the [neo-Nazi British National Party] BNP is trying to muscle in with other dangerous right-wing elements. According to reports in the Independent (Saturday, January 31) the Italian workers involved have faced direct intimidation. A hostile demonstration from the Lindsey refinery assembled outside their living accommodation in Grimsby dock to tell them to “go back to Italy”. This kind of action has a dangerous logic of its own….

    Finally, the Anarchist Federation:

    The Racialisation of the Power Station Strikes
    February 3, 2009

    Scottish Unite official Bobby Buirds’ comments that the current strike are “not against foreign workers, it’s against foreign companies discriminating against British labour” confirms that the strike is against bosses, not fellow (foreign) workers. The foreign workers are just doing what any of us would do if we were desperate for work, but the media have turned this into some “foreigners go home” trip again. Foreign workers regularly suffer appalling living and working conditions, along with low wages and little in the way of representation. Given that the contract was awarded to the lowest-bidding tender, it is likely that these are the same conditions being faced by the Italian workers on Humberside.

    If this had been any other strike against bosses, say for pay or safety issues, there would have been no national media coverage, save for the union bulletins and the socialist papers. However, this strike, despite the assurances of the unions, allows the media to latch on to an imaginary wave of xenophobia and whip up the country into a frenzy. Sky News and newspapers such the Daily Mail, the Sun, Daily Telegraph, Daily Express and the Times have all jumped at this opportunity, despite being the first media outlets to criticise any strike action amongst workers. By polarising the debate into ‘native’ versus ‘foreign’ workers, these capitalist newspapers are shifting the argument from a workers versus bosses position to workers versus workers. This tactic of dividing the working class is not new, and is exactly the kind of behaviour we should be expecting from the ruling class in the midst of a financial crisis where the potential for unified working class organisation is at it’s most potent.

    This strike has been racialised beyond belief. Don’t fall into the trap of attacking foreign workers, unite against the bosses you have nothing in common with.

  9. @ndy says:

    PS. The blogosphere has gone absolutely apeshit over “British Jobs for British Workers”. I’ll try and link to some of the disco later.

  10. @ndy says:

    Far right tries to hijack dispute
    Norfolk Unity
    February 1, 2009

    Thoughts on the Lindsey strike
    Splintered Sunrise
    February 3, 2009

    Socialist Appeal

    Wildcat strikes sweep Britain
    February 3, 2009

    Ex-Revolutionary Communist Party

    Wild claims and wildcat strikes
    Mick Hume
    Spiked
    February 4, 2009

    The walkouts over foreign workers are neither evidence of a wave of xenophobia nor a re-emergence of trade union militancy…

    These disputes certainly illustrate the old Marxist argument about the limits of trade union consciousness, the way that spontaneous outbursts of working-class anger can be diverted and dissipated without a wider political outlook. More than that they show that, while working-class people are suffering in this recession, and many are quietly angry, they lack a political voice of their own more than ever before. Why else would they borrow a slogan from somebody like Brown?

    BRITISH WORKERS IN EUROPE DECIDE NOT TO GO ON STRIKE

    BRITONS working in continental Europe have decided they will probably not strike in sympathy with their fellow countrymen.

    British builders in Spain, Portugal, France and Italy said they would be forced to support EU employment directives as long as it meant they could work wherever they wanted to without having to pay tax.

    Bill McKay, a bricklayer from Lincolnshire, said: “I firmly believe in British jobs for British workers. But I’m also a passionate supporter of something called Spanish jobs for British workers.

    “In the past five years I’ve had Portuguese jobs, Italian jobs and even a couple of French jobs. None of the locals seemed to object. Then again I only know the foreign words for ‘beer’ and ‘prostitute’.”

    The temporary employment of some Italians by a French oil company has led to a national outcry with many newspapers saying it must have something to do with the millions of Afghan scroungers clogging Britain’s country roads in their state-funded Aston Martins.

    Meanwhile prime minister Gordon Brown insisted his pledge of ‘British jobs for British workers’ had been misinterpreted, adding: “Essentially, what I was saying was that workers in Britain would be, err, working in a very British sense, resulting in well, you know, things, and that sort of stuff.”

    Business secretary Lord Mandelson has also reached out to the protesters saying he needs some people to serve canapés at a drinks party he is having next weekend.

    He added: “Five pounds an hour, a fifteen minute break and you will of course be completely naked apart from a long, white apron and a bow tie.”

    Workers of the World Unite for a White South Africa!

    Arise, ye workers from your slumber,
    Arise, ye prisoners of want.
    For reason in revolt now thunders,
    and at last ends the age of cant!
    Away with all your superstitions,
    Servile masses, arise, arise!
    We’ll change henceforth the old tradition,
    And spurn the dust to win the prize!
    So comrades, come rally,
    And the last fight let us face.
    The Internationale,
    Unites the human race.
    So comrades, come rally,
    And the last fight let us face.
    The Internationale,
    Unites the human race.

    No more deluded by reaction,
    On tyrants only we’ll make war!
    The soldiers too will take strike action,
    They’ll break ranks and fight no more!
    And if those cannibals keep trying,
    To sacrifice us to their pride,
    They soon shall hear the bullets flying,
    We’ll shoot the generals on our own side.
    So comrades, come rally,
    And the last fight let us face.
    The Internationale,
    Unites the human race.
    So comrades, come rally,
    And the last fight let us face.
    The Internationale,
    Unites the human race.

    No saviour from on high delivers,
    No faith have we in prince or peer.
    Our own right hand the chains must shiver,
    Chains of hatred, greed and fear.
    E’er the thieves will out with their booty,
    And to all give a happier lot.
    Each at his forge must do their duty,
    And we’ll strike the iron while it’s hot.
    So comrades, come rally,
    And the last fight let us face.
    The Internationale,
    Unites the human race.
    So comrades, come rally,
    And the last fight let us face.
    The Internationale,
    Unites the human race.

  11. Lumpen says:

    There’s nearly always an element of parochialism in these kinds of strikes – like the inverse of NIMBYism. It’s isn’t necessarily evidence of mass racism or nationalism. It does seem like a hijacking of the sentiment amongst workers that they, in bleak times, wish to cash in on the promises of nation-state systems and have their part of Britain. I think it’s dawning on many of them that it’s a promise that isn’t meant to be delivered – it seems like a futile desire for control – as though they really believe that the jobs are really ‘British’.

    While the BNP might make some initial inroads (a bit like the Bolsheviks when they adopted any slogan they thought would be popular), I suspect that it will become all-too-apparent in short time that the BNP’s promises are even more outlandish than that of Gordon and co. Anarchists should give the strikers critical but total support – there’s far more to be gained from the practice of wildcatting and self-management than there is in trying to teach workers lessons on the correct analysis in the middle of a strike. In other words, it’s okay to give them shit for it, but get your priorities right.

    There is always the possibility that the emphasis on the slogan and this element of the action is actually a concerted attempt to isolate the strikers from more civil elements in society. If I was a PR strategist for the enemy, I’d do as much as I can to associate the strike with the BNP.

  12. Paul Justo says:

    Thanks for all the info — your blog was the first place I read of this dispute.

  13. Paul Justo says:

    It’s all about the nomenclature.

    iSt is *always* the Sparts. Easily identified by small i, big S, small t.

    i.e. – international Spartacist tendency.

    http://www.acronymfinder.com/International-Spartacist-Tendency-(former-name-of-the-International-Communist-League)-(iSt).html

    The IST (Capitals-Trotskyist) is the SWP.

    i.e. — International Socialist Tendency.

    You’re lucky I keep an eye on you!

  14. Denise says:

    Don’t forget, before anybody heads off down the SWP road, that the “British” workers striking included migrant European labour, and members of the established ethnic minorites.

    It was about giving a contract to a company that bought in its own labour despite the availability of the same skills locally. The strikers did invite the Italian contract workers to join them.

    This was and is about jobs, not race and immigration.

  15. dj says:

    Just read a completely clueless piece in Crikey about this issue. Regardless of any ideological underpinnings, your blog post shat from a great height all over it.

  16. @ndy says:

    dj,

    I’d be interested in reading it…

    The strike at Lindsey has ended, and a settlement negotiated. It appears that “102 new jobs for British workers” will be created — by IREM? — and that no jobs will be lost.

    I think?

    UK oil workers vote to end strike
    Al Jazeera
    February 5, 2009

    Workers at an oil refinery in the east of England have voted to end a week-long strike over the hiring of foreign labour for a building project. Hundreds of workers said they would return to work on Monday, after accepting a deal that would see 50 per cent of the jobs on the disputed contract go to British workers. Tony Ryan, a local representative of Unite, Britain’s largest union, said on Thursday: “We’ve agreed to go back to work on Monday because we’ve reached our objective. “We didn’t want British labour to be excluded and now they are not going to be.”

    British Workers Go Back to British Work (w/- BONUS! British Babes)

    Also…

    ¡Que se vayan todos! – that’s the global backlash talking
    Naomi Klein
    The Guardian
    February 6, 2009

    Watching the crowds in Iceland banging pots and pans until their government fell reminded me of a chant popular in anti-capitalist circles in 2002: “You are Enron. We are Argentina.”

    Its message was simple enough. You – politicians and CEOs huddled at some trade summit – are like the reckless scamming execs at Enron (of course, we didn’t know the half of it). We – the rabble outside – are like the people of Argentina, who, in the midst of an economic crisis eerily similar to our own, took to the street banging pots and pans. They shouted, “¡Que se vayan todos!” (“All of them must go!”) – and forced out a procession of four presidents in less than three weeks. What made Argentina’s 2001-02 uprising unique was that it wasn’t directed at a particular political party or even at corruption in the abstract. The target was the dominant economic model: this was the first national revolt against contemporary deregulated capitalism.

    It has taken a while, but from Iceland to Latvia, South Korea to Greece, the rest of the world is finally having its ¡Que se vayan todos! moment.

    The stoic Icelandic matriarchs beating their pots flat even as their kids ransack the fridge for projectiles (eggs, sure, but yoghurt?) echo the tactics made famous in Buenos Aires. So does the collective rage at elites who trashed a once thriving country and thought they could get away with it. As Gudrun Jonsdottir, a 36-year-old Icelandic office worker, put it: “I’ve just had enough of this whole thing. I don’t trust the government, I don’t trust the banks, I don’t trust the political parties and I don’t trust the IMF. We had a good country, and they ruined it.”

    Another echo: in Reykjavik, the protesters clearly won’t be bought off by a mere change of face at the top (even if the new PM is a lesbian). They want aid for people, not just banks; criminal investigations into the debacle; and deep electoral reform.

    Similar demands can be heard in Latvia, whose economy has contracted more sharply than any country in the EU, and where the government is teetering. For weeks the capital has been rocked by protests, including a full-blown, cobblestone-hurling riot on 13 January. As in Iceland, Latvians are appalled by their leaders’ refusal to take any responsibility for the mess. Asked by Bloomberg TV what caused the crisis, Latvia’s finance minister shrugged: “Nothing special.”

    But Latvia’s troubles are indeed special: the very policies that allowed the “Baltic tiger” to grow at a rate of 12% in 2006 are also causing it to contract violently by a projected 10% this year: money, freed of all barriers, flows out as quickly as it flows in, with plenty being diverted to political pockets. (It is no coincidence that many of today’s basket cases are yesterday’s “miracles”: Ireland, Estonia, Iceland, Latvia).

    In Latvia, much of the popular rage has focused on government austerity measures – mass layoffs, reduced social services and slashed public sector salaries – all to qualify for an IMF emergency loan (no, nothing has changed). In Greece, December’s riots followed a police shooting of a 15-year-old. But what’s kept them going, with farmers taking the lead from students, is widespread rage at the government’s crisis response: banks got a $36bn bailout while workers got their pensions cut and farmers received next to nothing.

    Despite the inconvenience caused by tractors blocking roads, 78% of Greeks say that the farmers’ demands are reasonable. Similarly, in France the recent general strike – triggered in part by the plans of President Sarkozy to reduce dramatically the number of teachers – inspired the support of 70% of the population.

    Perhaps the sturdiest thread connecting this global backlash is a rejection of the logic of “extraordinary politics” – the phrase coined by the Polish politician Leszek Balcerowicz to describe how, in a crisis, politicians can ignore legislative rules and rush through unpopular “reforms”. That trick is getting tired, as South Korea’s government recently discovered. In December, the ruling party tried to use the crisis to ram through a highly controversial free trade agreement with the US. Taking closed-door politics to new extremes, legislators locked themselves in the chamber so they could vote in private, barricading the door with desks, chairs and couches.

    Opposition politicians were having none of it: using sledgehammers and an electric saw, they broke in and staged a 12-day sit-in of parliament. The vote was delayed, allowing for more debate – a victory for a new kind of “extraordinary politics”.

    The pattern is clear: governments that respond to a crisis created by free-market ideology with an acceleration of that same discredited agenda will not survive to tell the tale. As Italy’s students have taken to shouting in the streets: “We won’t pay for your crisis!”

  17. Whitemore says:

    “One of the ironies of the situation is that British oil workers can and do find employment elsewhere in Europe.”

    Andy, do you care for the white workers, or are they trash in your eyes?

  18. Grant says:

    You might find the response at Principia Dialectica interesting too.
    Grant

  19. @ndy says:

    OK, I looked but there’s not much there…

    http://www.principiadialectica.co.uk

    Kevin Rudd has his $42 billion stimulus package. Barack Obama has his TANF. Gordon Brown is dithering about a global “depression”. But in the last month, beneath the bluster, the fiscal is beginning to give way to the visceral. Away from federal parliaments, the huddled masses are rebelling against the failed neoliberal experiment in a manner completely foreign to ‘small l’ liberals wedded to the Washminster tradition.

    This week in Britain, a wildcat strike at the Lindsey oil refinery split the Left as workers walked off the job to protest the presence of Italian contractors brought in by a labour hire company. But the strikers, ignoring their union leadership, wickedly appropriated Brown’s racist ‘British Jobs for British Workers’ slogan, prompting a media storm as BNP operatives (and possibly Ken Loach) scrambled up the M1 to co-opt the dissent.

    The negotiated settlement won’t last long with the unrest already spreading to other worksites, including the Sellafield nuclear power plant. Unions are hoping the white hot anger might be channeled into something like this classic peaceful protest scene from The Simpsons but this seems unlikely.

    When an economic depression last hit Europe in 1929, rival authoritarianisms emerged that set the tone for the rest of the century. But now, with a truly global crisis on the cards, it’s increasingly social democracy that’s being rejected — not by organised fascism, but by tear-away nationalists and xenophobes on the one hand and a rag tag bunch of anarchists on the other.

    Indeed, the recent spate of activism elsewhere in Europe seems to be shorn of 20th century orthodoxy, with a substantial unhinged presence emerging to fill the void. In Italy, the organised Left is paralysed, with odious groups like the Blac Bloc increasingly flexing their muscle. Greece and Latvia are in turmoil and Iceland is on the verge of revolution. In the US, the most buoyant radicals are aligned either with the puerile but compelling 4chan.org (think the “Anonymous” campaign against Scientology) or the 9/11 Truthers who given half a chance would happily take up arms against the Pentagon.

    This week, as Julia Gillard descended on Davos, the global Left got together at the World Social Forum in Brazil to plot its response to the crisis. As always, the delegation was hopelessly divided, with populists like Lula of Brazil and Morales of Bolivia bashing heads with Zapatista-influenced nomads and unreconstructed Stalinists. The central split was again between rigid ideologues loyal to outdated doctrines (communism) and new social movements trying to track an ethical path to autonomy and democracy. But surprisingly, despite the bickering, there was a sliver of unity that may point to a future orientated around a Green New Deal with a Tobin Tax as its centerpiece.

    Back home, some of Rudd’s Monthly rhetoric about “extreme capitalism” dovetails nicely with arguments progressive elements of the WSF have been making for years. But even with the mainstream media transfixed by Ken Henry and Barnaby Joyce’s droning exchanges, a coherent response from the local labour movement to the crisis has been almost entirely absent.

    Perhaps this week’s most unedifying spectacle was that of trade union leaders marching hand-in-glove with the business lobby over the merits of Rudd’s package. But both missed the point — as the unlikely duo of Laura Tingle and Alan Kohler argued, the government already achieved its objective by simply announcing the policy. The illusion of action has lasted all week, leaving Peter Costello and Malcolm Turnbull to carp pointlessly from the sidelines.

    The local Left haven’t stayed totally silent, with the usual relics using the meltdown to push offensive agendas. One such group are the Trotskyists of Socialist Alternative who’ve spent the last decade colonising valuable political space on Australian university campuses. As always, SA has been busy affixing posters to bollards wondering what Marx would do, were he not turning in his grave at the group’s antics. Crikey wholeheartedly backs their recent infiltration by ASIO in the interests of political diversity.

    The Trots have one thing going for them in that they often are the only group motivated to organise and attend protests. But that’s because the vast majority of those to the left of the Greens are brainwashed dupes, transfixed by fantasies of state confrontation and completely detached from political and economic reality.

    In 1968, in the wake of the Paris uprisings, French theorist Alain Touraine pegged the student movement as the successor to the working class as the main agent of social change. This may still be true. But groups like SA, who attempt to use sweaty undergraduates as vanguards to a general strike, have perverted that legacy and destroyed any chance of truly progressive movement emerging any time soon.

    As this week’s events in Europe demonstrate, the angry response by those bearing the brunt of the global depression is only beginning to emerge. When the local crunch comes and the stimulus package inevitably follows the Reserve Bank into impotence, there will be no shortage of demagogues promising salvation. But for the moment there’s no chance of the local Left abandoning either its cynicism, or its hunger for out-of-the-box media stunts spruiked by an unaccountable political elite.

  20. Pingback: Like Sarkozy, I seem to see the River Seine foaming with much blood. | slackbastard

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