Socialist Worker


Issue No. 2138

What was reality of the ‘British jobs’ strikes?

I believe Socialist Worker’s approach to the Lindsey Refinery dispute misses the point entirely (» Blame the bosses not ‘foreign workers’, 7 February).

You have based your entire analysis around one slogan which you say is “central” to the dispute – “British jobs for British workers”. The risk of this is that you label all those involved as racists or BNP members.

The truth is more complicated. The BNP has been rejected by pickets, as has their politics. None of the workers are saying that all “British jobs” should be available only to British people.

Those involved in the dispute recognise that foreign workers will continue to work in Britain, but say that they should not be used by the bosses as a means to undermine pay, conditions and agreements.

The pickets have also demanded proof that the Italian workers have the same pay and conditions as British workers, and that they should be unionised.

We should be supporting these strikes and arguing that they be spread with a demand that all workers should receive the same pay and conditions, and union rights, regardless of their nationality.

Andrew Burnyeat, Brighton

I really hope that Gordon Brown is forced to resign. His slogan, “British jobs for British workers” could lead to deaths on our streets.

I don’t think I ever heard such an irresponsible comment from a person with the fates of so many in his hands – I am appalled, disgusted and getting pretty frightened.

I’m afraid for my Czech friends, for my Indian friends, for my Pakistani friends, for my West Indian friends and for anybody with a bit of an accent. This is a sad day!

Trish, by email

As far as I understand it this strike is not directed at foreign workers – it is directed against the subcontractors who have taken advantage of neoliberal European Union laws to employ the cheapest labour possible.

I have yet to hear anyone in the Unite union attack the Italian and Portuguese workers.

Bill O’Connor, St Neots, Cambridgeshire

“British jobs for British workers”, the slogan from the 2007 Labour Party conference, became the rallying cry of the pickets at the Lindsey Oil Refinery.

Bewildered Italian and Portuguese workers were told that they should “go back to their own country” and the fascist British National Party (BNP) took the opportunity to raise its profile.

The construction industry has been severely shaken by the economic crisis.

This, combined with the fact that the industry has been subject to extensive deregulation and deunionisation, has resulted in dwindling wages and job insecurity for workers across the world.

In competing for business, contractors across Europe have sought to undercut each other. In order to deliver more “competitive” tenders contractors have slashed the wages of workers and have steadily eroded working conditions.

The government and the bosses may be taking this opportunity to breathe a collective sigh of relief as British workers turn their attention away from the reckless economic mismanagement that has precipitated the recession.

By directing their inevitable frustration and resentment towards fellow workers, the British strikers are dividing and conquering themselves with an “us versus us” approach to the situation.

While workers are being pitted against each other in this way, less pressure is being exerted on those at the top.

Louise Selisny, Manchester

Thank you so much for your principled coverage of the dispute. It was such a relief to read a socialist paper that didn’t fall uncritically behind the “British jobs for British workers” slogan, but put the emphasis on employers for trying to drive down wages.

The truth is that the bosses will use any way to try and divide our class, knowing a fractured opposition is easier to defeat. If we respond by accepting their attempts to divide us – whether it is by race, gender, religion or nationality – we weaken our ability to fight back.

“United we stand, divided we fall” is not meant to be a motto from the past, it is a simple statement of current fact.

Of course, I realise the anger generated by the effects of the “race to the bottom” and applaud the attempts to create an organised response to it. However, using this slogan runs the real risk of directing this anger not at the real enemy, the bosses, but at the victims of the system.

I have no doubt the organisers have no wish to sow division in our class – indeed their aim is unity. But that slogan makes real unity harder to achieve, not easier.

Richard Allday, Region 1 committee member Unite (T&G), Harwich

Academy attacks

I am a teacher in Hull. The school I work at was extremely united – until it was turned into an academy last year. It is now a very unpleasant and extremely stressful place to work.

As with the Carlisle academy (» Students turn up heat on academies, 31 January) management have put in a restructuring process that has meant four assistant heads had to apply for new positions.

They were unsuccessful and will be made redundant in April.

Every single head of department has had to reapply for their own jobs. These people have also had their redundancy notices.

Last week we had a year 11 parents’ evening. We were working from 7.30am till 6pm – or in some cases 7.30pm – with no food provided.

This never happened when it was “just” a school.

The pressure is getting unbearable as we have to stay for extra meetings and are having many more observations on our lessons.

Everyone in the academy is looking for a new job.

The unions have been instrumental in getting revised redundancy payments as the first offer was the lowest possible.

However we are still going to lose valuable and highly thought of members of staff.

This has real implications – already overworked teachers are going to bear the brunt of teaching extra pupils.

This also means that not only will class sizes increase, which we were told would not happen, but inevitably the students will suffer.

Name withheld, Hull, East Yorkshire

Back these workers

Management at Ferihgey airport in Budapest, Hungary, provoked a dispute in the run up to Christmas.

This was a clear attempt to break the unions.

The bosses brought in Greek strikebreakers who, with little or no training, replaced the striking Hungarian workers.

The airport had been sold to German firm Hochtief two years ago.

The strike was suspended then resumed on 19 January with some 300 workers out on indefinite strike. The airport is kept operational by the Greek workers who have ignored the strike call.

The strikers have issued an urgent appeal for funds.

A delegation of airport workers and officials from the Unite union will be flying out this month to take thousands of pounds in donations from aviation branches around the country.

This is an important official dispute whose outcome could determine pattern of industrial relations in the coming year.

For all donations and messages of support please contact Colin Terry, Unite trade union delegate, on 07811 923 047.

Steve Guy, Brighton

Protest for Kurdish rights

It is ten years since the CIA helped the Turkish military intelligence to capture the Kurdish leader Abdullah Ocalan in Kenya.

In those years the Turkish state has ignored repeated ceasefires by the Kurdish fighters of the PKK and pursued a purely military policy in relation to the Kurdish question.

It has also continued to label the PKK as a “terrorist” organisation despite the PKK having popular support among Kurdish people in Turkey.

Please support the Kurdish struggle for freedom and join the demonstration called to mark the tenth anniversary of Ocalan’s imprisonment.

Demonstrate at 1pm on Sunday 15 February, starting from Seven Sisters tube station in north London.

Mark Campbell, Haringey, north London

Snowmen face job insecurity

Here’s a bit of light relief in these dark days.

I was walking past the Haywards Heath job centre on Tuesday – the day after mid-Sussex had been blanketed white – and saw that a piece of cardboard had been fixed to the railings reading, ”Snowmen wanted, temporary position.”

Colin Frost-Herbert, Haywards Heath

Musical Gaza solidarity

Pauline Wheat-Bowen’s call to raise funds for Gaza (» Letters, 7 February) reflects the urgent need for practical, political initiatives.

We have organised an evening of solidarity – I’d Rather Be Dancing – next Sunday, 15 February at The Cross Keys in Kings Cross.

It is also celebration of the recent student occupations for Gaza, and students from some occupations will speak.

All proceeds go to Stop the War and Medical Aid for Palestinians.

The music is from Low Key and Yaaba Funk, accompanied by percussionist Renu Hossain.

Messages of support will be projected all evening, so email them to

Phil Vellender, London

Police play by different rules

In the past 12 months, 45,582 drivers in West Yorkshire have forked out £1.95 million in speeding fines.

But not all drivers are treated the same.

Under the Freedom of Information Act it has been discovered that no fewer than 437 police vehicles in West Yorkshire have been caught breaking the speed limit over the past two years.

Only 29 of those drivers ended up paying a £60 fine. Some 390 officers claimed exemption by saying they were on “urgent police duties”.

John Appleyard, West Yorkshire

Snow strike suspension

A school in Swindon suspended 50 students last week after they went on strike because their school stayed open through the snow.

The Year 10 and 11 pupils at Nova Hreod School in Swindon refused to come in from the playing field after morning break on Wednesday.

The “ringleaders” now face long-term exclusion.

This is a totally over-the-top decision. The government and the media continually harp on about how children no longer have the opportunity to be “children”.

Last week’s storm was a perfect chance for this to happen. Instead of trudging through the elements to get to school, the Swindon students could have been playing in the snow, like hundreds of thousands of their peers.

The students’ frustration at this state of affairs took the form of a strike. They should be defended from the school management’s policies.

Simone Murray, Carlisle

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Article information

Tue 10 Feb 2009, 18:24 GMT
Issue No. 2138
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