For international solidarity between workers: SR on the construction workers strikes

That protests have broken out in the construction industry is no surprise. The dispute with the Italian engineering contractor IREM at the Lindsey oil refinery at Immingham is the flashpoint. The industry was amongst the first to be hit by the crisis in the autumn of last year. Tens of thousands of construction workers have been thrown out of work. In recent years the industry has been deregulated, privatised and largely de-unionised. There has been cutthroat competition amongst construction employers for ever-lower wages in order to get and deliver contracts. No wonder resentment builds up.This resentment is not helped by the response to the economic crisis by Gordon Brown. He has been stuffing money down the throats of the bankers who triggered the problem in the first place whilst being prepared to see other industries go to the wall and workers thrown onto the dole.

And the EU employment framework makes the situation worse. Construction, and other contractors, have been taking full advantage of the free movement of capital which the EU provides, which was always intended to facilitate the more effective exploitation of the European working class. It has encouraged employers to compete by undercutting existing wage rates and working conditions. The way the Posted Workers Directive — which covers workers in the IREM situation — has been introduced compounds the problem.

Workers have an absolute right to take strike action against such practices. In fact from the point of view of trade union principles they have an obligation to oppose such practices. This should not, however, lead workers — such as those in the current action — to attack fellow workers who are dragged into the situation. This dispute should be with the employers and governments at both national and EU level.

The slogan “British jobs for British workers” which has been dominant in every one of the protests, both verbally and visually, is the wrong way to conduct the dispute. It is a dangerous and xenophobic road to go down. No wonder the BNP are trying to muscle in with other dangerous right-wing elements. According to reports in the Independent (Sat Jan 31) the Italian workers involved have faced direct intimidation. A hostile demonstration from the Lindsey refinery assembled outside their living accommodation in Grimsby dock to tell them to “go back to Italy”. This kind of action has a dangerous logic of its own.

In fact the demands of the strikers themselves imply that Italian workers at IREM should be sacked and replaced by British workers, and that jobs in Britain should be ring-fenced against workers from outside. This is seriously wrong — where would it leave British workers working under similar conditions in other European countries?

If wages are being undercut by IREM at the Lindsey refinery the strike is absolutely legitimate and should be fully supported both by solidarity action and by the unions. But the facts have to be clear and that is not the case yet. Maybe the Italian workers themselves or their unions could shed light on the matter of their rates of pay and working conditions? Has anyone asked them?

Wage rates and collective agreements, of course, should be defended against all comers, not just foreign employers. Undercutting from anywhere, including just down the road, is completely unacceptable. Collective agreements have to be defended at all times and the trade unions have a direct responsibility in this.

The way to defend construction workers, or any other section of workers, in today’s conditions has to be by strengthening trade union organisation and by working class solidarity — and that included international solidarity.

The trade unions should make it clear that workers from abroad are welcome in this country. They should link up with the unions where workers come and ensure that all agreements, and obligations, are carried out by the employers.

Some of the unions involved in this dispute have rightly been having recruiting drives to recruit workers from abroad. This is the best way to build a fight-back. Pitting one group of workers against the other only benefits the employers who are always ready to divide and rule.

  • Defend all jobs wages and working conditions
  • Equal access to available jobs
  • Strengthen trade union organisation
  • For unity against the employers and the government
  • Defend collective agreements
  • For international solidarity between workers
  • No to racism, xenophobia and the BNP.

Socialist Resistance statement (2.2.09)

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5 Comments on For international solidarity between workers: SR on the construction workers strikes

  1. Gerry Downing // 2nd February 2009 at 1:24 pm // Reply

    Very weak and does not attack Brown for the initial British jobs for British workers speech, does not attack the Unite and other TU bureaucracies, the Morning Star or the SP for supporting these strikes and has a little more than a left liberal opposition. But at least it is better than George and at least you do not attempt the gyrations of supporting the strike but not the aims, or try to pretend that the aims are really to fight the bosses, just that they are taking a ‘contradictory’ form, as the MS and SP do – 4 out of 10

  2. This is one of the rare examples of a statement by SR being taken up in the national press by a Tory commentator. Here is what Dominic Lawson has to say:

    “There is, in any case, a strongly internationalist streak within the Left, which stems directly from the writings of Karl Marx. Thus this week’s statement from Socialist Resistance, the newspaper produced by British supporters of the Fourth International, roundly criticises the British demonstrators calling for the Italian labourers to “Go back to Italy”. “The demands of the strikers themselves imply that Italian workers at IREM should be sacked and replaced by British workers and that jobs in Britain should be ring-fenced against workers from outside. This is seriously wrong – where would it leave British workers working under similar conditions in other European countries?””

    http://www.independent.co.uk/opinion/commentators/dominic-lawson/dominic-lawson-nationalism-has-its-roots-in-socialism-as-well-as-fascism-1543648.html

  3. Very nice new website comrades. Your statement on the dispute largely chimes with the Green Party trade union statement by the way.

  4. We’re very happy to be cited by Dominic Lawson, however there is little in his article that suggests that socialism has nationalist roots. Our internationalist standpoint, far from being exceptional on the left as he suggests, is shared by many trade unionists and socialists. Sadly the social-democratic leaders of the labour movement, such as Derek Simpson, Unite joint general secretary, want to channel this dispute into a choice between either jobs for British workers or foreign workers. Instead, the unions should campaign for jobs for all workers.

    Gerry is missing the point by giving out statement a mark out of ten. While socialist statements can criticise the poisonous nationalism that is implied by the demands for ‘British’ and ‘local’ jobs, the task is also to pose demands and actions that will take this struggle in a progressive direction.

  5. Alan Thornett // 4th February 2009 at 10:43 am // Reply

    Gerry. A point could have been made in the SR statement about Brown opportunist jingoism, and it would have been entirely valid. But in my opinion it was not Brown’s statement which put the slogan “British Jobs for British Workers” at the centre of the strike. It was the issue right from the start when, according to union officials, it was reported that IREM were not prepared to employ British workers. Brown’s statement simply gave an added twist to it by implicating new labour.

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