Thoughts on the Lindsey strike


I’ve held off writing anything about the refinery strikes up until now, partly because there was good work being done elsewhere (Phil has been particularly good, and there’s lots of stuff as always at SU) and partly because I needed to get my own ideas clear on the dispute. Facts have become clearer, the situation has developed, so I’m just going to sketch out a few tentative thoughts.

To begin with, I had mixed feelings about the strike. Some of that, I’m sure, was just down to lack of information. But mainly it’s been this “British jobs for British workers” slogan that everybody has been so het up about. This derives of course from Gordon Brown’s speech at the 2007 Labour Party conference, at a time when the media were giving him lots of stick about his Scottishness (they still are) and as a result he could barely speak for five minutes without throwing in the word “British”. The adoption of a slogan that could have come straight out of the BNP playbook has certainly come back to haunt him now.

And this is the sort of thing that worried me. At a time when there’s been large-scale immigration over recent years, and now there’s a rapid rise in unemployment, you would expect to see all sorts of racist eruptions. Certainly, New Labour are well aware that racism can be a useful safety valve in a recession. It’s not that I was prepared to condemn the Lindsey strike out of hand as racist, but there was clearly a potential for it to develop in an ugly direction. It didn’t help that the media have been keen to flag up the migrant workers angle, or that an assortment of racist wingnuts (the BNP in particular) have sought to associate themselves with the strike to advance their agenda. At the very least, that potential was something to be wary of.

Now, while I’m sure that in a substantial workforce you can find someone with some backward ideas about immigration, there are two major causes behind this dispute. The underlying cause is insecurity in a time of economic crisis, and the fear that will breed in somewhere like Hull that wasn’t very prosperous in the first place. The proximate cause is undercutting. Even Labour minister Alan Johnson, who knows a thing or two about trade unionism, was quite good on this on Sunday’s Andrew Marr show.

You have to start with the European Single Market, which is supposed to guarantee free movement of labour as well as produce within the EU. This applies to Poles or Italians working in Britain, of course, but also the million or so Brits working in other EU countries. (Johnson raised the analogy of a British construction company winning a contract in Italy and not being allowed to use its skilled workforce. In those circumstances, one might assumed the Sun and the Mail would go apeshit.) So, whatever Gordon Brown might say in a flight of rhetoric or whatever Sammy Wilson might want, you can’t legislate a preference for British workers over EU citizens or non-EU workers who are legally part of the workforce.

And that’s what raises the danger of undercutting. There are regulations, notably the Posted Workers Directive, that are supposed to guard against this, but the ECJ judgements in the Viking and Laval cases have seriously weakened these. Finally the British government – or Alan Johnson at least – have figured out that something needs to be done to strengthen legal safeguards.

So, there were the grievances. But, as we know, there are right ways and wrong ways to go about tackling grievances. It’s a bit like those towns in Cornwall where eighty or ninety percent of the housing stock is taken up with holiday homes, and as a result the town is dead for nine months of the year. But how do you respond – do you try to lay out a campaigning strategy around social housing and sustainable communities, or do you try to blow up Jamie Oliver? Annoying as Jamie can be, the latter is plainly a wrong strategy.

And so it’s been pleasing to see that the Lindsey strike hasn’t radicalised to the right. In fact, as the workers have clarified their demands, you’ve seen good old trade unionist demands coming to the fore. And, best of all, the BNP getting short shrift with their interventions, which will surprise those on the left who imagine workers to be unable to resist the blandishments of the fash. This of course hasn’t happened spontaneously, but has had to be argued for. A great deal of credit must go to the Socialist Party, who have been lucky enough to have a presence on the ground, and who seem to have been doing exemplary work in preventing the strike sliding into what could have been dodgy territory. It just goes to show the good that the presence of a couple of socialists in one of these disputes can do.

Finally, and apropos of this, a bit of a word on the left. Some interesting alignments have sprung up, and a lot of this (unsurprisingly, with a left full of ideologues) has centred around whether a strike with the BJ4BW slogan so prominently displayed is supportable. Andy writes:

There have been attempts by both left and right to play the race card. Obviously the BNP have tried to intervene, but have actually been given short shrift by the strikers themselves. The AWL tried to organise a picket of Unite headquarters and invited migrant workers to attend it, trying to pit migrant workers against white workers for their own interests.

The strikers slogan obviously did strike a chord – it was catchy, and ironic against Gordon Brown; but could also be expropriated by racists. To a certain extent the reaction to the slogan was opportunist from right-wing populist newspapers who sought to misrepresent the dispute as being anti-foreigner, and to a certain extent there was a prurient frisson from middle class trendies who loved having their anti-working class prejudices confirmed by that interpretation. But in terms of the strikers themselves and the wider labour movement, the class aspect has become better understood as the dispute goes on. The Morning Star, and left MPs like Jon Cruddas have stood by the trade unionists, and fought their corner. And the Socialist Party have obviously played an absolutely brilliant role, that should be reflected in improved prestige for that organisation, and respect for its judgments.

I agree with a lot of this. It’s no surprise to see the AWL or Students Power declining to support an industrial action that isn’t “internationalist” enough. Maybe, in a Brechtian sense, it would be better if the vanguard abolished the working class and replaced it with a more advanced one. On the other hand, the SP has been very supportive of course, as have both left formations in Scotland. There is also, and not for the first time, some excellent commentary from Permanent Revolution (the sensible faction of Workers Power, not the crazy faction who kept the name), who are not a million miles from my own thinking.

Where I would depart slightly from Andy is in terms of his polemic against the SWP. I read the SWP statement on Saturday morning and thought “Hmm, this isn’t too bad. A bit abstract, but not bad.” I think the issue here was that the misgivings expressed by the SWP leadership were not too distant from my own early reservations, particularly when it came to the dangers inherent in the BJ4BW slogan. Now, obviously the SWP would have looked vindicated had the strike indeed radicalised in a Powellite direction, but what’s actually been happening makes their statement look a bit behind the curve. Not to mention that, whatever about all the care that evidently went into the statement, some of the SWP’s more enthusiastic supporters in blogland have been eager to bang on about the “racist strike” and to hell with nuance. I hear that the position is being revised and the agitational material now being produced is more positive. This is good.

Anyway, this is the most important thing going on in the industrial sphere about now. If we can’t turn this in a progressive direction, we really are in trouble.


  1. Duncan said,

    February 3, 2009 at 8:17 pm

    Students Power


    Good post this.

    It’s also worth nothing that a couple of hundred Polish workers on at least one site have now joined the wave of wildcat strikes making the argument this is a xenophobic nationalist strike even more implausible.

  2. February 4, 2009 at 12:19 am

    At its worst the slogan BJ4BW seems to me to be openly racist; at it’s most benign it could be said to be pretty similar to the “Keep Jobs in Michigan” rhetoric that we hear here all the time. The latter is also not without real problems as well. Like you when I first heard about this, and all of my doubts are not answered, I was pretty worried about where it might go. I still am. I guess the question to me is if the actual demands of the wildcat, not the slogan, are racist or reactionary. That doesn’t seem to be the case. Very glad there are some socialists making themselves heard from within the strikers. In any case this situation proves just how important political leadership in the union movement is, mostly in its negative. What has the reaction of the RMT and other left leaning/led unions said or done about the strike?

  3. Mark P said,

    February 4, 2009 at 2:26 am

    Consistency has never really been the SWP’s strong point. Compare their approach to this strike with their involvement in a dispute in Ballybrack in Dublin not very long ago. Some local trade unionists in a suburb of Dublin put a picket on a site where they claimed an employer was only hiring non-union and non-local labour.

    The SWP, to its credit, played quite a prominent role in supporting the men involved. However the approach they took on that occasion was rather different to the one they are taking now. In fact they distributed leaflets calling for denouncing a building firm for refusing to employ trade unionists and local workers and, amongst other things, arguing that: “On previous developments in the area, there were agreements with the local community that a certain proportion of the workforce on the site would be local labour.The same should happen here”

    The local branch of the People Before Profit Alliance according to its own report of one of its own meetings “voted unanimously to support their campaign for a proportion of local labour to be employed on the site”

    Richard Boyd Barrett pointed out that this was a fight against the greed of firms “who want to use bogus sub-contractors to undermine union rights and slash wages and conditions for workers. This isn’t just a fight for local employment this is a fight for jobs with decent pay and conditions for all”.

    It seems so long ago now…

  4. davie said,

    February 4, 2009 at 5:15 am

    Splintered, love your blog and accept the intelligent way you approach this issue, trying to arrive at a more nuanced approach.


    The trouble is that no amount of nuancing can remove the simple truth that this is a racist/nationalist strike directed against ‘foreigners’.

    As the facts emerge about the dispute this is becoming more and more clear.

    So for eg, there is no ‘discrimination’ against British workers. Anyone can apply for a job with IREM, 22 Brits are already employed by them in Grimsby, another 150 over in Italy. There are also 20 or so Portuguese employed at the Lindsey site.

    Nor is anything being undercut, union rates are being paid.

    So if the strike is not about discrimination – cos there ain’t none – or about undermining the union agreement – cos it aint, then what is it about ? Its not hard to figure out. One group of contractors, Shaw’s, are being laid off because their work is done, another group IREM, are about to start on another part of the construction site.

    The local contractors are understandably worried about what happens next workwise, and when they see a group of foreigners arriving to start work just as they go off to sign on the dole, what do they do ? Cry foul, why do foreigners get to work when we don’t, this is Britain after all, and in Britain we should have British jobs for British workers.

    In spite of everything the SP have tried to do, and fair play to them for a brave effort, the simple reality of the strike remains. The key demand is for nominating rights, and if they win that the IREM workers get sent home, and locals get their work instead.

    This is just nationalism, as in Brits first, foreigners second.

    Personally, I think supporters of the strike who are also on the Left are quite simply ON THE WRONG SIDE. The only principled position is to support the right to work – of IREM EMPLOYEES, Italian, British and Portuguese, in the face of nationalist bigotry.

  5. lenin said,

    February 4, 2009 at 7:41 am

    If I may say so, I think this is prematurely optimistic. It is true that the strike hasn’t degenerated into a Powellite mob, but it’s central demand still remains the replacement of some or all of the Italian workers by British workers. That was the basis on which the strike was called, and encouraged by the Unite leadership. That is the basis on which Simpson et al hope to settle the issue now that they are in negotiations. And if that is the result of the strike, what has really been gained? And surely it’s also right to ask why the union chose to focus on ‘foreign workers’, having done so little to resist previous job losses?

    Incidentally, the SP are right to try and win the workers to different ideas, and to chase away the BNP. They deserve credit for that. But that doesn’t mean it was right to pretend that the BJ4BW stuff was really just an ironic swipe at Brown. That’s a terrible evasion, and my worry is that unless this is decisively challenged, it can form the basis for future mobilisations. How do you argue against it then if you don’t challenge it now?

    And while I’m here, can I ask in a spirit of reading-you-ness that you remove that ‘tribute’ from myself from the top of your blog?

  6. John Palmer said,

    February 4, 2009 at 8:51 am

    It is truly stupid to claim that the strikers will only be satisfied with the sacking of the Italian/Portuguese workers. Time and again spokespersons for the strikers have denied this is their objective. In some areas they have also removed BNP agitators who have tried to infiltrate the strike and give it a political lead.
    At the heart of this dispute is 1/ the lack of legally binding pay and conditions agreements in Britain (as opposed to the Nordic states, France, Germany etc) 2/ the loophole in the European Union posted workers directive which allows individual countries the right to say that incoming firms need only honour minimum pay, health and safety regulations 3/ the right of firms to undercut others by exploiting lower social security taxation. The real scandal is that Nu Labour refused a proposal supported by other EU states to tighten the Directive to make these things impossible. Now the government is backtracking by saying that they have agreed to some “review” of the current regulations. There is already a majority in the European Parliament – as well as strong European trade union support – to push these changes through. The approach of the SWP, Permanent Revolution etc is disastrous and would play into the hands of the BNP etc.

  7. February 4, 2009 at 10:05 am

    […] workers” ablaufenden wilden Streiks im Energiesektor im UK sei auf den Blog-Beiträge von Splintered Sunrise und The Commune (zur starken Beteiligung polnischer ArbeiterInnen), den Forderungskatalog der […]

  8. splinteredsunrise said,

    February 4, 2009 at 10:14 am

    As Richard asks nicely, I am happy to oblige…

    Actually, I think that the SP has been tactically absolutely correct – and as the only left group on the ground couldn’t have done anything else – to get stuck in and try to turn things around. And they really have done very good work on this, and deserve all the credit that’s coming to them.

    On the other hand, somebody has to flag up the difficulties and dangers, and let that be the SWP or PR. I don’t believe that on the ground it would be possible to say, “Hold on, let’s go back to work until we have a better slogan”, but that it is a reactionary slogan was something that needed to be said. And that’s why I’m glad that as the demands have become more concrete, the populist slogan has become less central. Problematic as though it may still be.

  9. lenin said,

    February 4, 2009 at 11:31 am

    John Palmer – It is truly stupid to claim that the strikers will only be satisfied with the sacking of the Italian/Portuguese workers. Time and again spokespersons for the strikers have denied this is their objective.

    I take the point that there are different things being said by the strikers, and that there are urgent underlying issues (subcontractors undercutting local agreements etc) involved that have nothing to do with nationalism. However, the current negotiations are based on Derek Simpson’s three point plan, point one of which is to open up currently filled positions for British workers by dismissing ‘foreign workers’. I don’t think I’m being overly ungenerous in interpreting that. Whatever the differing views on the picket line, the union bureaucracy has taken a softly-softly nationalist line.

  10. Mike said,

    February 4, 2009 at 12:01 pm

    Contrary to the assertion in post #1 there is no evidence that hundreds of Polish workers have joined the protests in Plymouth or indeed anywhere else. What we know for fact is that some 35 ‘foreign’ workers including some Poles were sent home by management. After that all we have is an assertion by a union bureaucrat that Polish workers have walked out but with no proof to back this chaps assertion.

    The truth of the matter is that the SP (CWI) have supported what are a series of chauvinist protests demanding jobs for ‘British’ workers at the expense of our brothers from Italy and Portugal in the first instance. This ties in with the unbroken thread of their allegiance to Labourism as currently expressed through their front the CNWP.

    Yes the SWP statement could have talked more about the underlying fears of job losses by workers in this country – believe me as a worker in an office with many ‘foreign’ workers I’m well aware of the danger – but at least it took a principlled internationalist position. Which is more than can be said of those who would spread these chauvinist protests and effectively tail Labourism as an ideology and what a rotten ideology it is today!

  11. skidmarx said,

    February 4, 2009 at 12:05 pm

    I see the tribute is still there. Is it like the BJ4BW slogan, it just won’t go away?

  12. lenin said,

    February 4, 2009 at 12:23 pm

    “Speaking through a loudspeaker, Gibson said Unite had asked Acas for 50% of engineering construction workers on the project to be made up of UK staff.”


  13. Neil said,

    February 4, 2009 at 1:28 pm

    Aww don’t take down the quote. I say save Seymour from the SWP memory hole. After all he’ll have to huddle down their with some all time classics like:

    Pay the Poll tax
    Revolutionaries don’t stand in elections
    Welcoming British troops into Northern Ireland
    The 1930’s in slow motion.
    George Galloway: What a guy!

    A cruel fate indeed.

  14. Neil said,

    February 4, 2009 at 1:39 pm

    Back in the real world. As usual Seymour you are distorting what is actually going on.

    A mass meeting of workers was held today to discuss an offer:

    At the end of the ACAS negotiations last night the company were saying that UK workers could have 60 (40 skilled, 20 unskilled) of the 300 workers on the IREM contract. That would not mean laying off Italians (only 100 of whom are in Lindsey as yet) because all the Italian workers are a core workforce for IREM so will still be employed by them. In addition some other concessions have been promised. All of these relate to the specific issues at Lindsey rather than the EU laws, although obviously a victory (if it can be achieved) at Lindsey would set a new precedent.

    The offer of 60 workers was roundly rejected at the mass meeting and further actions are planned.

    So the strikers are NOT asking for Italian workers to be sacked over British workers, only for fair access to job oppertunities for anyone who is not already an employee of IREM. Hardly rule Britannia?

    The SWP finally showed up to Lindsey today and gave out a leaflet which starts out by attacking the BJfBW slogan. At the mass meeting not one word of nationalism or xenophobia was raised by the workers and Keith Gibson rounded it off with calling for “workers of the world unite!” which got a huge round of applause.

  15. lenin said,

    February 4, 2009 at 2:26 pm

    Neil, your argument is not made stronger by your being abusive and recounting various atrocity tales about the SWP. There is a legitimate disagreement between us, but the shrill denunciations are entirely unnecessary.

    At any rate, you’re not being entirely straight. First of all, those 300 jobs had actually already been filled: just because a number of the workers hadn’t already arrived doesn’t mean they weren’t contracted. Secondly, the strike’s goal as of this morning was to obtain quotas for the number of ‘foreign workers’ vs ‘British workers’: 50-50. Now, there are 1.5m British workers currently abroad in the EU, and if that logic is applied across the EU, then many of them will be coming home. This creates an ugly precedent.

    From what I am hearing, there is now a possibility of a deal that actually increases the number of jobs and thereby keeping all workers on board. That should have been the demand from the start.

  16. Neil said,

    February 4, 2009 at 3:20 pm

    Really Seymour, you must have had a very sheltered upbringing if you think 13 was abusive. I guess you probably had to lie down with an icepack on your head when Roobin invited me to engage in some exotic sex games with the rough end of a broomstick over at the Tomb?

    You don’t seem to have read what I have posted up either, if this is because you have been upset by my post then I apologise and will repeat.

    Even if the contract is withdrawn from IREM the Italian workers in question will still keep their jobs as they are directly employed by IREM. This should tell us something about the nature of this dispute. That is that IREM was used as a battering ram to undermine NAECI wage agreement negotiated by the unions in question. The reason the strike has spread so rapidly throughout the construction industry is not alone because of the BJfBW slogan as your crew has simplisticly argued but because this selfsame tactic has been used across the industry. Organised workers had to draw a line somewhere or it would have been the death of union organisation in the construction industry.

    What this dispute is about, and always has been is stopping the race to the bottom through the exploitation of migrant workers, the discrimination against organised workers and the use of neo-liberal EU directives and the British anti-trade union laws. If this strike wins it is a blow against all of these things. It will also directly challange the bosses uncontested right to hire and fire workers. THAT is the precendent that will be set.

    So the strike wasn’t built for on the ‘correct’ basis? Well I’ve got news for you Seymour no strike is built for on a correct basis and the consciousness of workers will always be mixed. In the period we are going into the question of the use of migrant labour to undermine union contracts is going to come up again and again. Socialists must grapple with how to deal with this. The SP has shown it can do the business and nullify the far right. The SWP’s ‘head-on’, paternalistic approach of lecturing to workers guarentees your organisations isolation in upcoming industrial battles.

    Personally I have no problem with that but if you want to see the SWP have a future in working class politics I recommend you get busy writing another internal bulletin marked ‘Industrial Perspectives’, pronto

  17. Garibaldy said,

    February 4, 2009 at 4:32 pm


    Fair enough taking down one tribute, but surely the other one deserves left up? It’s great.

    Are the Italian workers unionised does anybody know? I haven;t been following this that closely. If not, should that not have been the focus.

  18. splinteredsunrise said,

    February 4, 2009 at 4:51 pm

    Unionisation is crucial, I think. I slightly know some people locally in the Polish section of Unite/T&G, and they’ve done some great work along those lines.

    I couldn’t work out a way to take one tribute down without the other. Marko’s is deadly, of course, but I’d need to collect at least one more to go with it. A denunciation from Sean Matgamna would come in handy.

    And do go easy on Richard. He can’t help being from Ballymena.

  19. Mark P said,

    February 4, 2009 at 4:55 pm

    According CGIL, the largest Italian trade union federation, IREM is a notoriously anti-union employer. So no, they aren’t unionised.

    And yes, attempting to unionise them should be a priority. Socialists and trade union activists on the ground have been attempting to leaflet them with Italian language leaflets, but given the segregation imposed on them I wouldn’t necessarily expect particularly quick results from those attempts.

  20. Phil said,

    February 4, 2009 at 4:55 pm

    According to the CGIL, it’s a non-union firm.

  21. Garibaldy said,

    February 4, 2009 at 5:03 pm

    Cheers for the info. Seems to me that might well have been a useful thing to foreground, to help avoid accusations of racism. Protecting living standards looks better than British jobs for British workers.

  22. Neil said,

    February 4, 2009 at 5:18 pm

    18: Your not going to take it down? Hurrah!

    Mind you if Seymour was to explain how you’ve gone from being practically un-readable to readable I suppose I could just drop the matter. Still I welcome his sharp tactical turn, even if I don’t understand it.

    All power to the great bendy stick!

  23. Mick Hall said,

    February 4, 2009 at 5:31 pm

    “A great deal of credit must go to the Socialist Party, who have been lucky enough to have a presence on the ground, and who seem to have been doing exemplary work in preventing the strike sliding into what could have been dodgy territory.”

    Why are you smearing these workers, tell ell me when was this strike “sliding into dodgy territory” where is your evidence of this, you have none. Racist statements from the senior steward perhaps, or the members of the Findley strike committee, resolutions passed?

    No, you got this info from the impression first given about this dispute by the likes of the BBC and the capitalist press. Shame on you.

    That you went on to believe the SP powder puff that it was their members that saved the day tells me you have lost all confidence in the working classes. By the way the comrade from the SP was present throughout the strike, so if the strike was going into dodgy territory as you claim, he would have been as responsible for that as the next committee member.

    Fortunately this strike was never heading into racist or nationalist territory, it was just you and your ilk’s willingness to believe the worst of workers. Talk about putty in the capitalist media’s hands.

    Now the strike is almost over you pop up and offer your support, all be it in a critical way. I bet the Findley workers will be ever so grateful, or they may just tell a johnny come lately like you, to fuck off.

    We all make mistakes in our judgments, but when we do we should admit we were wrong, not try and load the guilt onto workers who are engaged in an important dispute which revolves around their right to work.

    Comradely regards

  24. Dunne and Crescendo said,

    February 4, 2009 at 6:03 pm

    Bit upset Mick, are you? Stick to the puff pieces about the provos then.

  25. Mick Hall said,

    February 4, 2009 at 6:41 pm


    Perhaps you would enlighten readers with a link to any ‘puff pieces’ I have ever written about the Provos?

    By the way, yes I am upset as any trade unionist should be when people who claim to be on the left, shit all over workers who are engaged in a strike in defence of their jobs/right to work. In my day that was called scabbing.

    But hey as you have nothing to say about this nor about my comments, why not tell lies about me instead.

  26. Dunne and Crescendo said,

    February 4, 2009 at 7:58 pm

    I actually confused you with someone else. So sorry about that. In my day scabbing was crossing a fellow workers picket line not being worried about a very problematic slogan ( I first heard it in 1980/81 when the NF organised several marches on the theme). But I think the SP were right about the strike.

  27. Mick Hall said,

    February 4, 2009 at 8:36 pm


    I know you did, no problem I’m the Blanket/Organized Rage Mick Hall, and to be fair to Michael, he is far from a Provo apologist these days.

    I agree the SP behaved honorably over this strike. The reason I used the word scabbing which I admit was a bit harsh, was because some comrades who should have known better, without knowing the full facts went off half cock, having wrongly drawn their conclusions after watching a couple of TV news segments; and by reading the odd press article. The slogan you mention was never officially endorsed by the Lindsey Strike committee.

    When a strike is taking place and one does not have the full facts, is not the time to condemn the workers who are out the gate. This strike, for political was always going to be settled once the walkout in support took place. Thus the time to express any doubts was when the workers returned to work. If comrades felt unable to support the strike they should have kept quiet until then.

    To do otherwise could have undermined the strike. That this did not happen was due to the fact that much of the UK left is totally discredited in the eyes of working class people. Recent events have not improved that situation for sure.

    This has not been the finest hour of a good few leftist. Still if the mass meeting votes tomorrow to return to work, which I believe they will. We need to take a long hard look at the reasons why the left got in such a kerfuffle over the Lindsey walkout.

    All the best

    Mick 😉

  28. Mick Hall said,

    February 4, 2009 at 8:45 pm


    I know you did, I’m the other Mick Hall, (Blanket/Organized Rage) although to fair to Michael who used to write for Daily Ireland, he is far from being a Provo apologist these days.


  29. Andy Newman said,

    February 4, 2009 at 9:11 pm

    Richard #15

    ” Now, there are 1.5m British workers currently abroad in the EU, and if that logic is applied across the EU, then many of them will be coming home. This creates an ugly precedent.”

    Sorry. this simply isn’t true.

    the unions – GMB and Unite – are demanding the enactement into UK law of Article 3(8) of the EU 1997 Posted Workers Directive, that is mainly concerned with protecting workers sent by their employer to work abroad; but also protects specifically and only the constructon industry from so-called “social dumping” employment of crews from lower wage economies.

    This was not implemented in the UK, and has in any event been superceded by the anti-union Viking and Laval court judgements.

    the unions want primary legislation to overturn these judgements, and therefore make the discriminatory practices at lindsey and Staythope illegal.

    So if there was any recipricosity of implementation it would:

    a) only affect construction workers
    b) benefit constructon workers of all the EU economies, as they would all be out of the race to the bottom.

  30. Andy Newman said,

    February 4, 2009 at 9:12 pm

    That inappropriate smiley is the bloody editor

    it is Article 3 (eight)

  31. Andy Newman said,

    February 4, 2009 at 9:22 pm

    Mick hall has a very good point.

    thee are in a sense two disputes.

    i) the one that actually happened.
    ii) the one that was reported in the press.

    I have yet to see evidence of any significant “racism” in the actual dispute, and the strike was led by experienced militants in the construction industry, witha nod and a wink from the FTOs.

    But the dispute as reported, and as lapped up by the anti-working class liberals, was a rerun of the fuel protests, led by white van man in a pogrom against johnny foreigner.

    That dispute as reported never actually happened in the real world, amnd you do no service to working class politics by treating the media construct as more importnat than the actual events that happened.

    This is all old hat though isn’t it. Every major industrial dispute has seen a fog of disinformation from government, bosses and the media. But in this case they tried to slur the workers as being racist, and some of the left didn’t have the basic class instinct to stand by the strikers.

  32. Andy Newman said,

    February 4, 2009 at 9:27 pm

    Rustbelt radicall;

    “What has the reaction of the RMT and other left leaning/led unions said or done about the strike?”

    In the context of the BJ4BW this strike we can consider Paul Kenny and Derek Simpson to be “left leaders”. Neither of them would have any truck with racism.

  33. Andy Newman said,

    February 4, 2009 at 9:30 pm

    davie #4

    “So for eg, there is no ‘discrimination’ against British workers. Anyone can apply for a job with IREM, 22 Brits are already employed by them in Grimsby, another 150 over in Italy. There are also 20 or so Portuguese employed at the Lindsey site.

    Nor is anything being undercut, union rates are being paid.”

    In the old days, socialists would have given a presumption of truth to the arguments from the workers and their unions, instead of repeating the employers’ spin as gospel truth.

  34. Mick Hall said,

    February 4, 2009 at 10:42 pm

    “This is all old hat though isn’t it. Every major industrial dispute has seen a fog of disinformation from government, bosses and the media. But in this case they tried to slur the workers as being racist, and some of the left didn’t have the basic class instinct to stand by the strikers.”


    Your post is spot on and your last paragraph is what has made me like a bear with a sore head of late 😉 If you add in the attempt by some comrades not to support the Palestinian in Gaza because they did not wish to be seen in certain company, I fear there is a pattern setting in here.

    Whereas in the past when workers were engaged in an industrial dispute or people were being oppressed, we on the left instinctively gave them our support. Today some comrades are demanding all the right boxes must be ticked before they give their support.

    Pray tell what good is that when someone is already engaged in a strike or feeling the oppressors boot on their neck. People struggle against injustice for a host of reasons; and they are not always able to articulate their reasons well. I say again, we must work alongside the working classes as they are, not as we might wish them to be.

    Best regards.

  35. Mike said,

    February 4, 2009 at 10:58 pm

    Post #13 “Pay the Poll tax
    Revolutionaries don’t stand in elections
    Welcoming British troops into Northern Ireland
    The 1930’s in slow motion.
    George Galloway: What a guy!”

    Other than the last two points the rest of this is the purest shite.

  36. Neil said,

    February 5, 2009 at 1:01 am

    “The non-payment campaign in Scotland does not exist. Not paying the poll tax is like getting on a bus and not paying your fare, all that will happen is that you will get thrown off”
    Tony Cliff at a Newcastle Polytechnic meeting of SWSS May 1989.

    One of my earliest memories as a callow young recruit to the SP in Ireland is being lectured to by a middle aged English woman from the SWP that the SP weren’t real revolutionaries because Joe Higgins wasn’t calling for the formation of workers councils in the Dáil. It wasn’t a very pleasant experience at the time but, oh Mike my friend, you’ve no idea how many times that wonderful memory has kept me warm at countless Respect and latterly Left list meetings! As for the revolutionary SWP councillor going over to the Tories compared to Joe Higgins humbling a Turkish multi national or Berttie Ahern, well never mind.

    “The breathing space provided by the presence of British troops is short but vital. Those who call for the immediate withdrawal of the troops before the men behind the barricades can defend themselves are inviting a pogrom which will hit first and hardest at socialists.” (Socialist Worker, No. 137, 11 September 1969).

  37. Neil said,

    February 5, 2009 at 1:07 am

    Sorry should have said, that delightful conversation with the English swimmer took place in 1997 just before the SWP ‘discovered’ that real revolutionaries really do stand in elections, although maybe their lordships on the mainland hadn’t gotten round to telling the micks that. Hey it was the 90’s, things happened in slow motion back then, dont cha know?

  38. Mark P said,

    February 5, 2009 at 2:33 am

    Neil: While I actually agree with you, you are getting a bit sidetracked here.

  39. Neil said,

    February 5, 2009 at 2:51 am

    Mark: Fair cop, guv. The defense rests in any case.

    Good night.

  40. davie said,

    February 5, 2009 at 1:42 pm

    Andy Newman said, ‘In the old days, socialists would have given a presumption of truth to the arguments from the workers and their unions, instead of repeating the employers’ spin as gospel truth’.

    Fair point, Andy, am happy to go with presumption. But presumption is only a starting point and while the whole truth is by no means out the evidence at this stage does point in a certain direction, and it is not your’s, the SP’s, or anyone else who wants to put a positive gloss on this very ugly dispute.

    The facts are important, but mostly because of the light they shed on the motivation behind this dispute. And the motivation is the essence of this strike, summed up perfectly in the slogan BJ4BW, which is why the slogan is everywhere, and why it is how everyone watching understands this action.

    The only people who deny this are those who are embarrassed by it, that is, those on the left who are supporting this strike because it is an example of workers on the move but who want to turn a blind eye as to why they are on the move.

    Surrounding this dispute are lots of serious issues. The economic crisis is on everybody’s mind, the opportunity for unscrupulous employers to use the EU rules on mobility of labour to undercut conditions in a race to the bottom, the compromising of health and safety, the undermining of union agreements and of unionisation itself.

    However… the reality is that none of these serious issues have anything to do with the motivation behind the current action at Lindsey. This is not a dispute directly triggered by the economic crisis, jobs are being created at the refinery not lost (the wider picture is not so rosy but onsite it is), there is no evidence of social dumping or undercutting (evidence may emerge but it hasn’t yet).

    What motivates the strike is simply that some British workers (Shaw’s employees) are finishing their contract and some Italians (well actually a multinational workforce) are about to start on the same site. So the Brits decide to cry foul and say ‘that’s not right, we’re in Britain here, we should have first call on the jobs going’, ‘we’re being discriminated against’.

    And you are happy to go along with that. Which is why you have to spend the whole next part of your energy differentiating yourself from the BNP, who for some weird reason seem to think this is their political terrain.

    Well, who is deluded, you or them ?

    Time to put this out to popular vote, I think, I don’t mean on this blog, just out there. How do people perceive this dispute, across the UK, Europe, worldwide ? We might all be stupid, but thaaaaat stupid ?

  41. prianikoff said,

    February 5, 2009 at 5:37 pm

    “The facts are important, but mostly because of the light they shed on the motivation behind this dispute.”

    ‘Motivation’ is not something that would stand up in a court of law.

  42. Mick Hall said,

    February 5, 2009 at 5:49 pm


    How else could these workers defend their future job prospects? You have lost the argument, the strike is over for now, the Italian workers are still working on site, although now they will be joining a trade union, and 102 new jobs have been created. What this means in the non ‘theoretical’ world of us workers 😉 is 102 families will have bread on the table for the coming months.

    Davie, as to putting this to a popular vote, that is just what these workers did when they voted to go out the gate. As to how workers in Europe view this strike, why not google the Italian trade unions for this industry and you will see they understood why these workers went on strike.

    I have to say I find it a bit strange that you have failed to check such things out before condemning these workers.

    Ah well, I’m off, thanks for putting up with me, bad tempered old git that I am, especially splintered sunrise who produces a fine blog.

  43. Gerry Downing said,

    February 5, 2009 at 11:00 pm

    The strike is now over. The British labour movement will emerge from it a great deal worse that when it began. The negotiations are centred around which nationality gets which jobs, with even more reactionary demands emerging from the SP that jobs should be ‘local’. The strike began about BJ4BW, some gave whole hearted support and pretended the posters, union jacks and pickets comments were just ‘media lies’ (Galloway et al), others came to the schizophrenic conclusion that the strike might be on reactionary demands, but ‘really’, dialectically, in a contradictory way it was about a fight to advance the rights of all workers and since it might become that it was ok – a sort of ‘if your aunt had balls’ argument.
    Now the moment of truth is upon us, turn your head away and pretend not to see but the ‘Eyeties’ are to be turfed out, our British, or better still our ‘local’ lads will get first call on 102 out of 195 jobs. And presumably these locals will have to pass some test of ‘localism’ or ‘Britishness’ set by the local union committee. And now we can move on to ensuring ‘fairness’ in every other site and in council house allocations as the Sun and News of the World have advocated for so long.
    I worked in the buildings for 20 years, I have know many English Tory bricklayers, I know what reactionary craft unionism is and this is what you are seeing here. The founding of the Labour party was a result of the great blows struck by the New Unionism inspired by the Bryant and Mays Match girls and the London Dockers (the majority Irish) against the elitist, privileged empire loyalism in these craft unions. They would troop across Westminster Bridge a century ago in bowler hats to go to work on the building sites, the same reactionary aristocracy of labour represented by the Ulster unionists, which many of us believed was its last redoubt.
    The marginalisation (but not elimination) of this reactionary tradition allowed the Labour party to be founded as a bourgeois workers party (in Lenin’s famous characterisation) and this was a great world-historic advance for workers everywhere. The re-emergence of the ascendancy of craft unionism will destroy the Labour party as a workers organisation of any kind unless it is fought, and its influence halted and reversed. The defeat has not yet been inflicted on the working class but unless we fight these reactionary labour lieutenants of capital in our ranks now the future will be bleak. And that would be a world-historic defeat and a reversion to the 1870s, but in far worse circumstances.
    Barber applauded Brown’s British jobs for British workers speech, did anyone notice which other TU leaders did so too? We can hope that some trade unions will refuse support to these strikes, but their silence to date speaks volumes. In any case Unite and the GMB have adopted this line, they have allied with reactionary labour aristocratic unionist consciousness against the ‘lower orders’. And that is not just targeting Johnny Foreigner, it will target the unskilled and the unemployed and, ultimately it will rebound on its ‘socialist’ supporters too – apparently the German Social Democratic leaders were pleading with Hitler to be allowed to serve his cause as they were being led to the concentration camps. The BNP are correct to see fertile recruiting ground opening up for them.
    So yes, many of you did get it profoundly wrong and now that the moment of truth has arrived, the deal based on the nationality or the locality of the workers is accepted (with much mutterings of ‘sellout’, not enough BJ4BWs, you will have to turn your heads away and pretend not to see.

    Gerry Downing

  44. Mike said,

    February 5, 2009 at 11:18 pm

    Neil old chum (post #36) the SWP made a major foul up with regard to the Poll Tax but in Scotland only and di not repeat that error in England and Wales.

    It has never been a position of the SWP that its members do not stand in elections whatever the opinions of individuals.

    Finally the quotation you reproduce from SW disproves your assertion that IS supported the British troops in Northern Ireland. On the contrary it expresses the viewpoint that it would be poor tactics to call for immediate withdrawal of british troops at a time when the B Specials stood poised to carry out a pogrom. A viewpoint that Peoples Democracy also held.

  45. baslamak said,

    February 5, 2009 at 11:20 pm

    Well, at least you will not be turning your head away, as it is stuck to far up your arse. You roam across centuries condemning all and sundry, but you have not one word about how to defend workers jobs in the here and now.

  46. Mark P said,

    February 5, 2009 at 11:25 pm

    Is Gerry Downing going to cut and paste the same insane diatribes to every blog on the internet? Comparisons to Social Democrats being sent to the concentration camps, good fucking grief!

  47. Mick Hall said,

    February 5, 2009 at 11:36 pm

    This is the best article I have read about this strike, it covers all the bases and makes a nonsense of not supporting these workers.

    Militant trade unionism an inspiration
    by Richie Venton & Eddie Truman

    On Wednesday 28th January 2009 workers for Shaw’s construction
    contractors at Lindsey Oil Refinery in North Lincolnshire were told by
    their shop stewards that the new contractor, IREM, an Italian company
    that a part of the contract on LOR’s HDS3 plant had been awarded to,
    was refusing to employ UK labour.

    IREM planned to house hundreds of Italian and Portuguese workers in
    accommodation barges in Grimsby harbour, bussing them to and from the
    plant every day. They were explicit in their policy of not hiring any
    UK workers as contractors.

    This was particularly offensive to local skilled workers against the
    background of Shaw’s having issued 90-day redundancy notices in
    mid-November, meaning that they would become redundant mid-February,
    whilst IREM was herding Italian workers like cattle on a boat
    (rumoured to be a prison ship), keeping them well away from
    trade-unionised UK workers.

    The entire LOR workforce, from all subcontracting companies, met and
    voted unanimously to take immediate strike action.
    The following day over a thousand construction workers from LOR,
    Conoco and Easington sites descended outside Lindsey Oil Refinery’s
    gate to picket and protest.
    Thus began one of the most remarkable episodes of industrial action in
    the UK since the uprising in the North Sea in the late 1990’s.

    Workers the length of the UK began a series of unofficial and
    therefore illegal actions from Grangemouth oil refinery and Longannet
    power station in Scotland, Sellafield and Heysham nuclear plants,
    Fiddlers Ferry in Widnes to the Drax power station in Yorkshire.

    In just 3 or 4 days the UK’s anti-trade union laws, some of the most
    oppressive in Europe, were swept aside by workers in key industrial
    facilities; power generation and oil refining.
    Workers ignored and defied anti-union laws on balloting procedures,
    solidarity strikes and mass picketing, exploding the myth –
    perpetrated by far too many union leaders for decades – that the
    anti-union laws invented by the Tories and retained by New Labour are

    The industrial action was not taking place in isolation. Across Europe
    workers have started to take action against the impact of the economic
    recession that threatens their jobs and wages and conditions.

    For the left the strikes brought complications in the form of the
    slogan ‘British Jobs For British Workers’ which although was never
    raised officially by the Lindsey workers became prominent from the
    beginning of the dispute.
    Socialists have absolutely no truck with such slogans which promote
    division and can and have been used by the far right to promote their
    racist poison.

    When Gordon Brown first used this phrase in November 2007 the SSP was
    unequivocal in condemning him for playing into the hands of the BNP
    and fuelling racism and xenophobia.

    When the strikers used this slogan initially there is no doubt that
    there was a large element of throwing the slogan back in Gordon
    Brown’s face. Here was a situation in which UK workers were
    specifically being excluded from UK jobs.
    But the slogan very quickly backfired; it was a gift to the BNP who
    had in fact been using it for a number of years and it allowed the
    media to deliberately and dishonestly portray the strike as overtly
    xenophobic and racist.

    An interview conducted by Paul Mason which was used on Newsnight
    showed a striker making the point that “we can’t work beside them,
    they are coming in full companies”, referring to the segregated
    accommodation of the new contractors.
    The BBC’s 10 o’clock news carried a story about the strike in which
    Government ministers accuse the strikers of xenophobia, the Newsnight
    clip is cut to the striker saying “we can’t work beside them”.

    But the strikers themselves agreed demands at their mass meetings
    which never gained the oxygen of media coverage, but which cut across
    entirely the vicious distortions of their portrayal in the press. They
    demanded union rights for all workers, including immigrant labour; for
    union facilities for the Italian workers to make them an integral part
    of the trade union movement here; and for the implementation of the
    national construction and engineering industry agreement on the rate
    for the job, hours of work, breaks and conditions for all working in
    the UK – including the Italians.

    Numerous first-hand accounts showed pickets giving short shrift to the
    unwelcome attentions of the fascist BNP – who after all sided with the
    Tories against the miners’ strike, and didn’t even think firefighters
    should have the right to strike.
    Strikers demonstrated a core internationalism and solidarity with
    fellow-workers that bodes well for the future of this movement.

    Union spokespersons repeatedly stated that this strike was not about
    race or nationality, not against Italian or Portugese workers, but
    against the Italian company that was excluding local, skilled workers
    from even getting an interview for jobs.
    Strikers rightly saw this as an attempt by EU companies to exploit EU
    directives and court rulings on `posted workers’ to undermine and
    break hard-won national agreements and trade union organization.

    Far from being instinctively against migrant workers from Italy or
    Portugal, many of the strikers are themselves `migrants’ – forced to
    uproot themselves to find work in other regions of the UK or even
    across the EU. So they will have felt particularly bitter towards
    Labour’s Lord Mandelson who in effect told them to “get on their
    bikes” and trek across Europe for work – because after all the EU
    regulations are for the workers’ benefit!!

    Seumas Milne in The Guardian called it exactly right when he described
    the strike as “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.”
    In the Glasgow Herald Professor Gregor Gall described the strike as
    essentially being about “the underlying issues of the race to the
    bottom under capitalism, the drive to neo-liberalism and the European
    Union’s deregulatory preference.”

    The specific European Union legislation and court rulings that were
    inevitably going to ignite labour disputes at some point is the EU
    Posted Workers Directive and the judgements by the European Court in
    cases including Viking, Laval and Ruffert.
    The judgements have had the effect of undermining union negotiated
    collective agreements which are not recognised as `universally
    applicable’ in the UK.

    For trade unionists this strike was waiting to happen and the response
    of workers across the UK has been inspirational.

    Linda Somerville, formerly a member of the Unite National Executive,
    says that there were three things that stood out;

    “Firstly that the strike took place in the first place” she says.
    “We have been told repeatedly that workers in the UK are no longer
    interested in militant trade union action. That clearly is not the case.

    “Secondly, the strength and depth of the secondary, solidarity, action
    was immense.
    “Workers in key industrial locations across the UK held mass meetings
    and took action.

    “Thirdly, the strikes were all against UK trade union law which is
    amongst the most oppressive in Europe. The legal tools were there for
    employers to launch a major assault on trade unions involved in the
    action but the sheer size of the strikes, protests and walk outs
    rendered the laws impotent.

    “Workers at Grangemouth refinery who were very quick to come out in
    support of the strike have been emboldened by recently winning their
    pension dispute with INEOS which saw them take strike action in April

    For socialists and trade unionists this dispute has been an important
    test, with many more to come.

    The SSP has repeatedly said that the economic recession and world wide
    crisis of capitalism will inevitably mean that workers will be pushed
    into struggle.
    But these struggles will be complex and contradictory with the enemies
    of the working class seeking to muddy the waters and cause confusion.

    For that reason it is vital that we take a sober and detailed analysis
    of the situation and in particular understand that in Europe it is the
    rabidly neo liberal and pro big business measures of the European
    Union that seeks to drive down wages and terms and conditions across
    the board that organized workers are now resisting.

    We need to see the essence of the issues, even when accidental slogans
    cloud the image. Instead of `British Jobs for British Workers’ the SSP
    from the outset of this strike wave supported the strikers in
    demanding the right to work, the right to an equal chance of being
    employed, and for defence of the wages, conditions and union rights
    won by hard struggle in this harsh, dangerous industry.

    The SSP from day one of this strike movement called on unions in the
    UK to urgently seek active links with unions in Italy, Portugal and
    the EU, to unite in action against attempts to divide and conquer,
    against the use of cheaper labour and worse conditions in the bosses’
    race to the bottom.

    We also need to raise demands such as trade union registers of
    unemployed workers in the industry as the pool for employment when
    jobs are on offer – at least a small step forward to the days when
    unions had elements of control over hiring and firing in a few of the
    better-organised industries, such as printing. That would help counter
    the conscious `race to the bottom’ of conditions by companies at home
    and abroad, by use of cheap, disorganized workers to undermine the
    rights won by unionised workforces.

    This dispute highlights the broader issue of ownership of the power
    and energy industry, where multi-nationals seize advantage of the
    de-regulated, cheap-labour EU market – championed by Blair and Brown –
    to maximize profits – and the SSP’s counter-proposal of public
    ownership and democratic control of the industry, where workers’
    elected representatives would have a direct impact to all aspects of
    employment, production and planning.

    The wave of tremendously courageous strike action seems, at time of
    writing, to have won a major climb-down from IREM, with UK workers to
    get 50 per cent of the jobs, but with no lay-offs for the Italian
    workers, and for all to get the nationally agreed wages, hours and

    This example of militant trade unionism, in defiance of the laws, will
    inspire others to similar defences of their jobs and right to work –
    starting with others in the same industry.
    The job of socialists and good trade unionists is to match the courage
    of these strikers and seek to influence the slogans and demands of
    their movement in a fashion that reduces confusion, limits the
    opportunities for the media and reactionaries to distort workers’
    aims, and to consolidate the powerful elements of workers’ unity and
    internationalism already on show in this current powerful movement.

  48. davie said,

    February 6, 2009 at 9:38 am


    Richie Venton’s piece is very well written and presents the case about as well as it can be.

    And I also am happy no one is being sent home and 102 extra families will have bread on their table.

    But where you and I disagree is in our perspective. You look at it purely from the point of view of the locals, the British workers who’ve been fighting for British jobs.

    The IREM workers don’t register on your radar. Why aren’t they entitled to work at LOR ? Or more specifically, why is it only OK for them to work at LOR once the British lads have been looked after ?

    There is a double standard here and that double standard has a name – nationalism, or more simply, Brits come first, and is expressed very well in the slogan BJ4BW, which sums up the essence of the whole action nicely.

    There are genuine issues surrounding the use of international contractors, I don’t deny that for a moment, but no one can seriously argue that this dispute was triggered by concerns over the NAECI being undermined, or union density at IREM. That is just not the way it happened, its not what its been about, even Richie Venton’s account bears that out.

    Pretty much everyone knows that, a lot of people don’t care, a lot of people wholeheartedly support the BJ4BW position, others are very nervous about it. The only people who deny that this is what the whole thing is about is that section of the British Left who want to dress this up as something positive and progressive.

    The CGIL statement on the other hand, puts it like this, ‘What’s going on in Lincolnshire is one of the ugliest pages in the history of the trade union movement in these globalised times: English workers against Italian workers.”

    They go on to criticise IREM for being non-union, which is fair enough, and soften their comments by setting it in the wider context, but you can hardly take the comment above as being consistent with your or Richie Venton’s assessment of the strike.

    What else could the Shaw’s contractors have done, you ask ? Fair question, they were in a pretty rough position once they’d been given their redundancy notices in November, I can sympathise with them. They did what they felt was right, what seemed the best way to go, they played the Brits first card, knowing that a lot of people would support them.

    I don’t really blame them, but I’m not a British nationalist so I don’t feel any obligation to support them either. My sympathies are equally with the IREM workers, I don’t accept their right to work is of any lower status just because they’re not ‘locals’, and most (not all) are not British.

  49. Gerry Downing said,

    February 6, 2009 at 10:46 am

    Of course Davie is right; find any international workers organisation (apart from the Malvinas or Gibraltar) who is not shocked and apprehensive of the future because of the BJ4BW purpose of the initial walk out, the conduct and outcome of this strike. And personal abuse of those who suggest there is a dynamic to these development which could lead to a very nasty conclusion in the long term merely shows the narrow chauvinistic outlook of the abuser. We got some jobs four our local lads, ‘food on the table for 102 families’ (as if Italians did not have families too, not quite as human, that quote implies). Those in the north of Ireland are very close to what craft unionism produced for the working class, but NI is a small place, Britain’s is a major working class on the world stage, the re-emergence of the ascendancy of craft unionism here would be very serious indeed. So less intemperate abuse and a little more serious, internationalist thinking would be in order here.

  50. Tim Von Bondie said,

    February 6, 2009 at 11:03 am

    I agree with the points made by Mick Hall and in the SSP article. However I think the BNP have polished up their act in regard to trade unionism to some extent and certainly their web response was professional. It is clearly an area socialists will have to be aware of.

  51. Duncan said,

    February 6, 2009 at 11:56 am

    So less intemperate abuse

    Above you compare those who supported the strike to the SPD leaders who backed Hitler! Mental.

  52. prianikoff said,

    February 6, 2009 at 11:58 am

    #48,49 You’ve got it the wrong way round and so has the CGIL.

    Not one single Italian or Portuguese worker lost their job as a result of this action.

    The workers on strike were reacting to a real and objective threat to their livelihoods, even if their ideas were initially confused.

    But your reaction is even more confused, because logically, you should have joined with a bunch of unionised workers and the employers in smashing what you designate as a racist picket line. An utterly disastrous policy.

    The Italian and Portuguese workers should have respected the picket lines and joined a union. The Italian unions should be doing something about organising them and ensuring that they don’t get involved in situations where they are played off against workers in Britain.

    That would be the best way to tackle the BJ4BW slogan and the BNP.

  53. prianikoff said,

    February 6, 2009 at 12:06 pm

    should read >

  54. prianikoff said,

    February 6, 2009 at 12:07 pm

    should read un-unionised

  55. Mick Hall said,

    February 6, 2009 at 12:38 pm


    You raise a number of points,

    Firstly no one has ever said Italian workers, or indeed any workers from overseas should not be employed on the site. That is a red herring sent out by the employers, government and their media stooges.

    There is a long tradition within the mechanical side of the construction industry that a percentage of local Labour be employed. If the contract were in Scotland for example, a percentage of Scottish lads would be employed, if it was in the South-east of England same there. The actual percentage was never set in stone nor put into the national agreement, it simply became custom and practice as these things often did.

    There were sound reasons for this beyond giving the locals a fair crack of the whip due to their lives being disrupted by a large construction site on their door step. Not least that the senior stewards were more often than not local men, they had the contacts with other local trade unionists etc , etc. This employment practice originally played a role in lessening the employers practice of blacklisting former shop stewards in the industry, by bringing in Labour from elsewhere over the heads of the locals. Construction industry unions also kept a list locally of their unemployed members.

    What those on the left who say local labour should not have a priority are saying it is the employer who has the sole right to employ who they wish. Well, for me that is a no, no. If this practice could be extended to a national list of unemployed people could be kept by the trade unions great, an EU wide list, even better.

    When people talk about the ascendancy of the craft unions they are displaying their ignorance of both the memberships of unions like Unite and the history of the mechanical side of the construction industry. Instead of real experience they appear to me to have drawn their information from selective reading. The attitude they take would place themselves on the wrong side in historical struggles that enforced the closed shop and made certain issues of TU custom and practice the order of the day.

    I am glad in your second from last paragraph you understand the predicament the senior shop stewards found themselves in. They new they could not let EREM ship in all their workforce from Italy and to stop it, it would take industrial action and the threat of it spreading across the industry. They also new that these days it is difficult to get men out the gate, especially as many of them would be facing the dole in the next few weeks and wanted to bank some cash to see them and their families through a period of unemployment.

    So they used their heads and whatever came to hand, and in truth made a dam good job of a difficult situation. They made clear from the beginning that this was not about stopping Italian workers being employed on the site but creating a level playing field for all when it came to being employed.

    Gerry demand that we take a civil tone when we are discussing this dispute, fair enough, but I would ask that people find out the true facts instead of relying on the capitalist media for their info, instead of being willing to scapegoat working class people who are engaged in a justifiable strike.

    To suggest this one strike signals the re-emergence of the ‘ascendancy of craft unionism’ and to make a comparison with the north of Irelands Orange State is with respect infantile. When the AUEW went out the gate in the 1970s in opposition to the industrial relations act, was that the reemergence of craft unionism, of course not, and that was not a small strike in one tiny section of the construction industry. Where there are similarities between that dispute and the recent one is that in both big issues were involved that could impact on workers detrimentally.

    It both it was trade unions acting in defense of their Union and their jobs, which is just what the Findley refinery workers were doing. Tell me if one looks at the latter despute in the cold light of day, what did they do that was so wrong?

    All the best.

  56. Gerry Downing said,

    February 6, 2009 at 3:33 pm

    I do not think and did “compare those who supported the strike to the SPD leaders who backed Hitler!”, I was pointing out the dynamic of a situation loke this of it was allowed to develop in the long term.

    There will be a debate on all this tomorrow at the National Shop Steward’s Network Steering Committee. I will obviously be arguing my point there. here is a tast of what some of it will be like. And not the details of what the CGIL think:

    Rome, 2 February – “What’s going on in Lincolnshire is one of the ugliest pages in the history of the trade union movement in these globalised times: English workers against Italian workers.”

    Re: NSSN steering committee 7 February 2009
    Friday, 6 February, 2009 11:15 AM
    This sender is DomainKeys verified
    “A Z”
    View contact details
    “Binette, George”
    yes an excllent idea george i would support this -Andy
    On Fri, Feb 6, 2009 at 10:06 AM, Binette, George wrote:
    Dear All –
    Please see below from an official of the CGIL in Rome. This email was evidently written late on Tuesday or early Wednesday before the deal was struck to end the walk-out at the Lindsey Oil Refinery (LOR). Below the email is an article translated from Italian at the beginning of the week and including a quote from Nicolosi.
    There is clearly a considerable divergence of views among NSSN supporters about the recent wave of wildcat strikes and I don’t have time at present to contribute to what is clearly a critically important debate, but I am sure that there is consensus that the whole range of issues raised by this and similar disputes are crucial for the European trade union movement and working class as a whole.
    I would therefore encourage comrades who are able to make tomorrow’s steering committee to discuss the possibility of the NSSN acting to facilitate a visit by representatives of the CGIL and perhaps COBAS to Britain to meet with key activists in the construction and engineering industries.
    Obviously, the CGIL is a union confederation and though it is well to the left of the TUC on paper it may not ultimately be possible to bypass the TUC. Still, I think it is worth giving it a go.
    Fraternally, George.
    Dear comrade,
    it’s with deep concern that we are following your situation, that is involving workers from our country.
    The Italian General Confederation of Labour would be glad to meet you and the workers, to make them understand that any nationalist approach has to be avoided. Please give us all the necessary information about date and venue.
    Fraternally yours,
    Nicola Nicolosi
    Head of CGIL Segretariato Europa

    Nicola Nicolosi
    Head of CGIL Segretariato Europa
    Corso Italia 25 – 00198 Roma
    tel. +39 06 8476328
    fax +39 06 8476321

    Rome, 2 February – “What’s going on in Lincolnshire is one of the ugliest pages in the history of the trade union movement in these globalised times: English workers against Italian workers.” That’s the view of the heads of the European office of FIOM-CGIL (CGIL engineering section), Sabrina Petrucci, and of CGIL’s European secretary, Nicola Nicolosi, commenting on the strikes by English workers against the contract given to the Sicilian firm Irem to build a plant in a north England refinery.
    “The current economic crisis,” say the two officials, “caused by a capitalist system devoted to financial speculation, lacking rules, and centred on debt, is producing one of the worst social evils: the poor against the poor, workers against workers.” Furthermore, while the economic crisis has led to the loss of thousands of jobs, for Nicolosi and Petrucci, “the solutions put forward at Davos are exactly the same as those which created the crisis. Even in Europe, unemployment is growing and fear is becoming a social phenomenon. There are cases of racial intolerance in Italy too: odious, unacceptable, to be condemned and fought with maximum energy.”
    But the two union leaders also say that we should understand the ill-feeling underlying the events at Lindsey Oil. “We have a duty,” they say “to understand the workers’ unhappiness. The consequences of European judgements on the labour market, on the right to free movement of goods and people, are multiplying, opening the door to social dumping.” In this regard they cite the recent Viking Line and Laval judgements from the European Court “on the pre-eminence of employers’ rights over those of trade unions sanctioned by national contracts and laws, which have aroused justified concern from trade unions, lawyers and workers. In these cases ‘salary dumping’ becomes an opportunity for the firms to cut labour costs and creates unfair competition.”
    In the case of the Lindsay refinery, in Lincolnshire, Nicolosi and Petrucci add, “the protest is taking on connotations that the nationalist right-wing is turning against the “foreigner”. The English workers claim that this contracted work should use the local labour force, already hit by the loss of 500 jobs in December alone. If it’s true that the contract includes a clause excluding local labour, we say that’s wrong and a source of discrimination. The firm, on these questions, has enormous responsibilities. What’s more, we want to make the point that this is a non-unionised firm. Which says a lot about its approach to industrial relations.”
    But, at the same time, “the effects of the crisis in globalisation must not slacken the ties of international solidarity between workers, condemning all those events which could lead to xenophobic and racist forms,” say the two union leaders and, furthermore, argue that “European law should not allow social- and wage-dumping, as has happened in the Viking and Laval cases, and the parts of the ‘Distacco’ directive that can be abused to differentiate between workers from different countries must be modified.” And “that the CES campaign “equal work, equal pay”, against differentials in pay and conditions for the same work in the same country should be developed.
    To develop the spirit of a Social Europe we need solidarity, a value to which we can link aspirations and prospects for widespread well-being.” Nicolosi and Petrucci conclude, “the economic and financial crisis can’t be fought within national boundaries, even if these English workers are given a response within their national boundary: we need a European and global trade union initiative to support the unemployed and for new social and industrial policies and perspectives.”

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