[Marxism] Challenging claim UK oil strikes are xenophobic (from 'Guardian')

Fred Feldman ffeldman at bellatlantic.net
Sat Jan 31 21:09:38 MST 2009

Our flexible friendsThe real theme of these strikes is not xenophobia but
outrage at UK and EU rules designed to keep labour cheap and weakComments
Seumas Milne guardian.co.uk, Friday 30 January 2009 17.29 GMT  larger |
smaller Article historyGordon Brown's promise of "British jobs for British
workers" certainly counts, along with an "end to boom and bust", as his most
cynical and asinine to date. Not only was he incapable of delivering on it
under European Union law, but the slogan was bound to be exploited by the
far right in the shape of the British National party – who coined it in the
first place.

Now it's been thrown back in his face by striking energy workers across the
country, protesting against local workers being undercut and excluded from a
£200m construction project at Total's Lindsey oil refinery in Lincolnshire
in favour of Italian and Portugese workers brought in by the Italian company
IREM. Sympathy walkouts have been staged across Britain, including at the
Aberthaw power station in Wales and the Grangemouth oil refinery in
Scotland, where last year workers won a famous victory against their private
equity owner Ineos by closing down the North Sea Forties field for two days
in protest at attempts to slash pension rights.

Of course, the BNP and its friends will try to exploit these rolling
stoppages, as they have been doing at the Staythorpe power station in
Newark, Nottinghamshire, where Alstom is refusing to hire locally and
relying on non-union Polish and Spanish contracted workers instead. But it
would be wrong – and play into the far right's hands – to portray this as a
xenophobic protest directed against foreign workers and immigration, instead
of what it actually is: a fight for jobs in the middle of a deepening
recession and a backlash against the deregulated, race-to-the-bottom
neoliberal model backed by Brown for more than a decade which produced it.

IREM claims it is paying the same rates as existing contractors on the
Lindsey refinery site and is only using its own workforce because they are
"specialised". Since the contract is secret, that can't be put to the test,
but is regarded as absurd in the area, where engineering construction skills
are high and plentiful. European workers are supposed to be shielded from
such social dumping by the EU's posted workers directive, but Britain's
version only offers limited protection. And the directive itself has been
undermined by the European Court of Justice's recent Viking and Laval
decisions – which effectively outlawed industrial action where unions are
trying to win equal pay for migrant workers and banned public bodies from
requiring foreign contractors to pay such workers local rates.

The reality is that EU directives and, even more so, British legislation
have encouraged employers to exploit deregulated labour markets to play off
one part of the workforce against another and drive down employment costs.
Now that jobs are at a premium, organised workers in Britain are no longer
prepared to put up with it and are ignoring anti-union laws to make their
voice heard. So long as their protests continue to target employers and the
government, rather than other workers, that will intensify the pressure on
Brown to stop tinkering, come up with what is now long overdue: a serious
programme of investment in public housing, infrastructure and transport to
replace the jobs now haemorrhaging across Britain.

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