The construction industry has been at the heart of debates over “British jobs for British workers”. This slogan was raised during a series of unofficial strikes earlier this year over contractors who were using “foreign” or “non-local” labour.
Socialist Worker has always firmly insisted that this is a divisive slogan that feeds racism and pits workers against each other.
The battle in construction should be for every worker to have decent conditions and one rate for the job, no matter where they are from.
In the current dispute there are examples of how such a united position can strengthen workers.
Polish workers were among those who walked out in support of Lindsey at the Drax power station in North Yorkshire.
The prominence of the slogan “British jobs for British workers” has now receded at most construction sites. This is in part a reflection of arguments in the unions over the key issues and the way forward.
At Lindsey oil refinery on Monday morning there was one lone Union Jack and two handmade “British jobs for British workers” placards. These gathered more attention from the right-wing press than from anyone else.
But that doesn’t mean the issue has gone away.
The subcontracting system is designed to turn worker against worker. Some do come to believe that “foreign” workers are the problem.
John, one of the strikers, told Socialist Worker, “The bosses try to undercut us with foreign labour, the way they undercut us all the time.
“I want all lads on a site to be getting the rate for the job. But I won’t accept attacking skills levels by shipping people in.”
Others have a better position. Another worker said, “They want us to turn on the foreign lads, but it’s by sticking together that we will win.
“It is a British subcontractor that is hiring people, while a US subcontractor sacked me. What matters is that they are subcontractors.”
Some construction workers have turned against the “British jobs” slogan because it is associated with Gordon Brown and Unite union joint general secretary Derek Simpson.
The British National Party’s (BNP) use of the slogan has put others off. One worker put it plainly, “I hate the Nazis, and if they are using the slogan then I’m not.”
There is an ongoing political debate in construction and the wider workers’ movement about who is to blame and what workers’ demands should be.
This is one reason why building support for the strike is so important—it can help to fuel a feeling of solidarity, not division.