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
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
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…