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Why British jobs for British workers is not the solution to the crisis

This article is over 15 years, 3 months old
The Socialist Workers Party has issued a statement on the walkouts in construction. The full text follows.
Issue 2136

Thousands of workers at around 20 construction sites and refineries across Britain have walked out on unofficial strike. At the centre of the strikes is the claim that foreign workers are taking the jobs of British workers.

Economic crisis is threatening the jobs and living standards of every worker. Just last week giant multinationals announced 76,000 job losses across the US, Britain and Europe. The world is in the deepest crisis since the 1930s with spreading mass unemployment, pay cuts and poverty.

This government, which has so utterly failed working people, showers billions on the bankers to shore up the profit system. But workers are ordered to the dole queue. As a steel worker at Corus said last week, “If you’ve got a bowler hat you get billions, if you’re in a hard hat you get turned away”.

We need a fightback, with strikes and protests, and the unions have been scandalously slow to offer any sort of resistance to the jobs massacre.

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.

Instead of turning against workers from abroad, everyone should be organising in a united way to pressure the union leaders to fight. And if the union leaders won’t fight then workers will have to organise the resistance themselves.

Let’s demand an end to the system where foreign workers are housed separately from the British workforce. Let’s bring workers from abroad into the unions and link arms against the bosses and their system.

Workers across Europe are under attack. Out unions should learn from the general strikes in Greece and France that we need mass, militant action directed at the bosses and the government to win.

  • Fight all job cuts
  • No deals that cut wages or accept lay-offs
  • Smash privatisation and sub-contracting
  • Unity against the bosses, no to racism and the BNP.

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