Socialist Worker

United fight can break bosses’ divide and rule tactics

Issue No. 2158

The bosses and the media portray every construction strike as being about foreign workers. But this is simply not the case.

The divisive slogan “British jobs for British workers” has receded into the background at most construction sites.

But the bosses’ subcontracting system is designed to turn worker against worker, and this means that the argument over who is to blame continues.

One construction worker summed up the contradictory views of many.

“We just cannot stand by and see workers discarded like an oily cloth,” he said. “Workers will be decimated and unskilled employees from abroad will be brought in on the cheap, treated like scum and sent back after the job is done.”

The question for all workers is what you do about the attempts to divide and rule.

The potential power of unity in struggle points to the way forward. The recent construction strikes saw tremendous unity both across the sites and across the trades.

In a sign of what is possible if migrant workers are treated as allies, Polish workers at the Drax power station joined the walkouts.

Blaming migrant workers for taking jobs is divisive – but it is also ineffective, even in its own terms.

There are currently just 1,500 migrant workers on construction sites in Britain.

Targeting these workers could hardly begin to create jobs for the quarter of the 30,000-strong workforce involved in engineering construction who are currently unemployed.

Much more importantly, targeting migrant workers weakens the workers’ movement and lets the bosses off the hook.

The unity forged during the strike needs to be developed, with permanent structures of stewards and rank and file reps meeting regularly.

There should be a concerted effort to get migrant workers to elect union reps.

Lindsey is a great battle won, but the war continues.

The economic crisis is growing and some employers will still try to use it to drive down pay and conditions.

The push to blame migrant workers needs to be resisted.

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