Saturday, January 31, 2009

Broon's Vague, Vacuous Speeches

Back in 2007 Gordon Brown harked on about "British jobs for British workers". That probably made every BNP blackshirt smile.

On a charitable interpretation Broon may have been saying that workers in Britain need education and training so they can compete for the jobs of the future. Only thing is, most people took it at face value. And at face value it reads like a BNP slogan.

Now that employers are laying off workers and construction sites have contracts with European companies there's a clamour to give those jobs to Broon's "British workers". This is now becoming a campaign, and recruiting, point for the BNP.

Now I read an SWP article, and stand back in amazement, I almost agree with it.
But these strikes are based around the wrong slogans and target the wrong people

It’s right to fight for jobs and against wage-cutting. It’s right to take on the poisonous system of sub-contracting that is used to make workers compete against each other.

It’s right to demand that everyone is paid the proper rate for the job and that there’s no undercutting of national agreements. And we need militant action, including unofficial action, to win these demands.

But these strikes are not doing that – whatever some of those involved believe.

The slogan accepted by many of the strikers is “British jobs for British workers”. That comes directly from Gordon Brown’s speech to the Labour Party conference in 2007. And it has been encouraged by many in the higher levels of the Unite union. Derek Simpson and others at the top of Unite have done nothing to encourage resistance to job losses, or a fightback against repossessions or against the anti-union laws. Instead they go along with a campaign that can divide workers.

But it lets the bosses off the hook and it threatens murderous division at a time when we need unity in action to fight back.

It’s not Italians or Poles or Portuguese workers who are to blame for the attacks on British workers’ conditions.

Construction workers have always been forced to move far from home for jobs, whether inside a country or between countries. How many British workers (or their fathers or brothers) have been forced to work abroad from Dubai to Dusseldorf?

When workers are divided it’s the bosses who gain. Total Oil, who manage the Immingham refinery, make £5 billion every three months! Jacobs, the main contractor which has then sub-contracted to an Italian firm, made £250 million in 2007.

These are the people workers should be hitting, not turning on one another.

Those who urge on these strikes are playing with fire. Once the argument is raised it can open the door to racism against individuals. Already in some supermarket warehouses the racists are calling for action against workers from abroad.

We all know what will happen if the idea spreads that it’s foreigners, or immigrants or black or Asian people who are to blame for the crisis. It will be a disaster for the whole working class, will encourage every racist and fascist and make it easier for the bosses to ram through pay and job cuts. Already the BNP are pumping out racist propaganda supporting the strikes.

Everyone should ask themselves why Tory papers like the Express and the Sun and Mail – which hate union power and urge on privatisation – are sympathetic to the strikes

Right wing ideas gain a hold among workers when they see their lives being torn apart and the unions offer no lead. No doubt some in Unite think it’s easier to get a fight around a slogan like “British jobs for British workers” which sets people apart than one that brings people together like “Workers should not pay for the bosses’ crisis”. That’s a doomed strategy.
Do people really stand back and wait for a lead from unions? But that's not the point. The point is to change the strategy of the strikes to an inclusive one of attacking the employers and the practices of sub-contracting and low-wages.


chrissie_allen said...

Hi there Cloud!
Yes siree, I, for one, did almost step back in utter amazement at first, knowing your views SWP-wise! That article though is really on the button I think.
I feel so angry and sad that this particular stupid slogan has been adopted, as it will only serve to whip up dangerous hysteria while at the same time giving succour to the sinister right.

Hard, bad times.

Rob said...

What she said, and I speak as a Unite lay representative (hence somewhat conflicted). In fairness to Derek Simpson et al, the high-heid-yins in Unite are working pretty hard (as far as I can tell) to get the recent European Court ruling overturned which would allow British firms to pay lower wages to immigrant workers than they they have agreed with unions to pay British workers, provided only that they pay the UK national minimum wage. Now that is a campaign not against foreign workers but against the tearing up (or circumventing) of agreed wage rates: a campaign for equal pay for equal work. Indeed, that one (if successful) will benefit the immigrants (who will get more money if employed) as much as the Brits (who will be less likely to lose their jobs). But the refinery strikes aren't about that, and like you I agree with the SWP that the slogan is dodgy.

In the finance sector we are concerned at the prospect of offshoring causing job losses in Britain. The criticism has been levelled that (once obvious elements such as exploitative working conditions in India or wherever have been addressed) our concerns are xenophobic. While I can see how one might arrive at that viewpoint (as an SWP member, perhaps) my personal take on it is that whatever policy one adopts regarding the resourcing of new work, to throw a British worker out of his existing job because you can undercut his pay offshore cannot be justified. (In the case of the refinery construction dispute we are, I believe, talking about new work.) Also, in general, the finance industry has historically justified offshoring as shipping out work for which we didn't have domestic capacity, and which was in general routine, boring stuff. The nature of the work has changed over the years, but the doctrine of offshoring as "augmentation" remains. And to be strictly fair, the finance work being put overseas is mostly not at the expense of existing UK jobs (though it reduces new opportunities for British applicants). In the finance sector Unite tolerates the shipping of work offshore, but not the shipping of British jobs offshore. But then, one of the strengths of Unite (indeed, it's hard to see how it could function otherwise given its size and diversity) is that each sector is in charge of its own policies as far as possible. So I doubt whether the finance sector of Unite would be campaigning in the way that the energy workers are, though I'd think we might be asking some tough questions of management. Easy for me to say though: in HBOS unions and management had one of Britain's most progressive and participative industrial relations arrangements, which we're trying to nurse through the Lloyds takeover.

I would guess I probably agree with the SWP more often than you, Neil, but not much. Strange bedfellows indeed!