Tuesday, 3 February 2009

Anyone For Workers Control For British Industry?

The wildcat strikes which are hitting oil refineries, power plants and construction projects over the recruitment and importation of foreign workers at worse rates and conditions than British ones, look set to continue.

When Gordon Brown came out with the phrase 'British Jobs For British Workers' in his speech to the 2007 Labour Party Conference (the one, looking back, when he should have called a General Election) I remember thinking it a stupid phrase for him to use. Quite simply, if you are letting all and sundry from abroad buy up the British economy without much fuss and making a virtue of the British economy's 'openess'to foreign investment, how are you going to guarantee 'British Jobs For British Workers'? Especially when you have a Prime Minister and Government who are all for 'globalisation', the European Union and the 'flexible labour market'? If workers here had some control over and/or say in how the enterprises they work for, it would mean something worthwhile. However, there's no chance of that with GB running (or fronting)the show.

There have been well-expressed fears that GB's phrase, picked up by the strikers, has fascist or racist overtones. 'BJ4BW' is a phrase that the National Front used during their 'Strasserite' turn in the 1980s and has been adopted by the BNP under the leadership of Nick Griffin, the David Cameron of 'British Nationalism' (ie both are public school/Oxbridge-educated types with scurillous/libellous rumours about their private lives attached to them, who have made it their task to 'modernise' and 'sanitise' the erstwhile 'Nasty' political party they head by issuing policies and statements more traditional members see as moves to 'the left'). BNP members have taken a break from cheering on Israel's bombing Gaza to pieces to turn up at demonstrations, picketlines and meetings (sometimes they even arrive on time!) but have been told to go forth and multiply by the strikers. This is good. If NG was to take office, I can imagine the strikers having a truncheon (at the very least) around their heads pdq. Just like Hitler and Mussolini (and Haider and Fini more recently) a BNP Government, or one with BNP participation, would quickly find an accomodation with global corporations and the EU. Those BNPers who actually believe in 'BJ4BW' would soon find themselves victims of a very British 'Night of the Long Knives.'

Fortunately the strikers have moved onto using the phrase 'equal access' (Hat-tip: Charlie Marx). In any case I found myself supporting this strike pretty much from the start, which is quite unlike me. I put my hands up and admit: I'm not a willy-nilly supporter of strikes and industrial action. My Dad was involved in the Winter 1970-1 postal strike and my family suffered badly during that (I think my parents won a Xmas hamper that year from somewhere, which was gratefully received!), so I think there is something deep in my psyche which reacts against those (particularly people who are not directly involved in the industrial dispute) who cheer on industrial action at a drop of a hat. My formative years in the 1980s saw industrial action either badly beaten or achieving mere Pyrrhic victories for the workers. I see unions at pretty good at negotiating decent pay and conditions for their members, but if an employer wants to close a workplace or factory, there is not a lot they can do. The 1984-5 Miners' Strike demonstrated that to me. I think the Upper Clyde Shipyards 'work-in' occupation of 1971-2 is still the best model for combatting closure, especially as it helps explode the fiction that people striking for their jobs are lazy good-for-nothings. There is also an ultra-leftist gene in me, nourished by reading Rosa Luxemburg years ago, which regards trade unions, in the final analysis, as a way of mediating conflicts over control in the economy. Trade unions working to improving pay and conditions are 'a good thing' but they rarely challenge the way society is going and how it is run. Hence, even when unions win, they merely replicate the labours of Sisyphus, condemned to push a stone up the same hill every day.

However, I have to say these wildcat strikes are a good thing well worth supporting as they ask serious questions about where our economy and society are going. Who controls and runs Britain? In whose interests? Are people going to continue putting up with the corporations, the banks and their political and media lackies ordering them about? In 'the good times' (the phrase 'The Golden Age That Never Was' comes to mind!) these questions were merely rhetorical. Now they are very real.

Good stuff on the strikes can be found at:

Independent Working Class Association;

Rebellion Sucks! (who points out the role the EU plays in this: 'Socialist Superstate?' Pull the other one, Guv!);

Nation of Duncan who has just posted that Polish workers have joined the strikes in Devon! I wonder if the BNP will be going off to try and recruit them?!

A Very Public Sociologist;

Splintered Sunrise (the Best Leftie Blogger in the British Isles!);&

Jon Cruddas (the Labour Party's last hope, though I disagree with him on ID Cards).

The Socialist Party, of which both Nation of Duncan and A Very Public Sociologist are members of, have actual members involved in the dispute and seem to have helped push the strike into an anti-capitalist, rather than an anti-foreigner, direction. If the 'good guys' of the British Left ie the SP, IWCA, Jon Cruddas, the SSP etc get wider support for their stance, then all to the good.

Finally, I think the moment Peter Mandelson basically told the strikers to get on their bikes a la Norman Tebbit and go to Europe to find jobs is when the Labour Party kissed goodbye to winning the next General Election. That doesn't mean, of course, Mandy and his fellow Blairites won't get jobs in a Cameron-led de facto 'National Government' after the next election. (After all, Lord M will still have a job post-election, even if most of the current batch of Labour MPs don't).The best comment on Mandelson's bon mot was in Monday's Guardian:

Now that Mandelson has urged British workers to get on their bikes and look for work in Europe, it seems the transformation of New Labour into Old Tory is complete. Sadly, many British workers are not blessed with the flexible mortgage arrangements, government job creation schemes and gold-plated EU bikes so extravagantly showered upon Mandelson over the years. Let them eat cake, perhaps?
Chris Webster
Abergavenny, Gwent

For someone who is supposed to be a political genius and PR-whizz kid, Mandelson's not very good, is he?

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