The walkouts at Lindsey Oil Refinery have set a number of precedents – both good and bad.
For example, a converted barge is being brought into Kent where a new gas-fired plant is being built at the E.ON power station on the Isle of Grain.
Workers say the majority of jobs are being given to Polish, Lithuanian and Portuguese workers, who they say will be housed on the boat.
There are set to be protests outside the site on Wednesday of this week.
French engineering firm Alstom, which has been at the centre of the row, is the lead contractor on the Kent power station, which involves 15 subcontractors including Polish companies Remak and ZRE.
After Lindsey, the focus is Staythorpe power station, just up the river Trent from Cottam which, in turn, is just up the Trent from Lindsey. Here Alstom has subcontracted groups of Spanish and Polish workers – on the same hourly rate no matter how long they work – undercutting the national agreement.
An unofficial group of currently unemployed construction workers are trying to get jobs on the same site.
Some of the skilled workers – welders, pipe fitters and scaffolders – have been on unofficial strike since coming out in support of Lindsey last week.
The group of currently unemployed construction workers are supporting the action.
One worker protesting at Staythorpe told Socialist Worker, “I’m bitter. I’m on the outside of the gate looking for work.
“Everyone says they share our concerns but that doesn’t get me a job does it?
“Building is all about subcontractors looking for ways to cut corners. They bring in foreign workers to undercut the agreements and to drive pay down.
The argument is not about foreign workers, it is about the conditions on the sites.”
Another construction worker told Socialist Worker, “I’ve nothing against them personally but it’s sad that the big firms are not supporting locals.”
Some of workers are uneasy about the “British jobs for British workers” slogans written on the union jack flags.
On catching sight of Socialist Worker’s headline, Blame the Bosses Not Foreign Workers, one blurted out, “That’s what we’ve been saying all along!”
Jim a steel erector said, “The unions did this before and wasted our militancy with all that British interest crap. There are two interests – us and them – and I mean the bosses. I’m not fighting for the union jack, I’m Irish for a start. I’m fighting for our jobs.”
But putting these arguments is not made any easier by the union turning the dispute into one about the precise number of British workers to be hired on a job.
The debate in the construction industry is not about whether there is a need to fight. It is on what the focus of that fight should be.