UK unions must take French lessons

January 29, 2009 at 11:34 pm (capitalist crisis, Europe, Jim D, Racism, unions, workers)

Today saw two contrasting responses to the worldwide economic crisis: in Paris and Marseille the unions gave the lead and the anger was directed against the government and capitalism more generally…

France hit by national strike on 'Black Thursday'  
Arcellor Mittal’s employees demonstrate in Marseille, France Photo: EPA

…whereas  in England and Scotland, with no leadership from the unions or the UK  left,  workers have turned upon their own class in an incoherent outburst against “foreign labour” that will gladden the hearts of the BNP…

Scores of police monitoring the demonstration yesterday outside the refinery. Unions say the protest was joined by supporters from across the country

The yellow line: Scores of police monitoring the demonstration yesterday outside the refinery. Unions say the protest was joined by supporters from across the country

Police were out in force at the Lindsey Oil Refinery at North Killingholme, North Lincolnshire, which was picketed by angry staff. Another mass protest is expected today.

The foreign workers, who are being housed in barges at Grimsby docks, have been hired to build a plant producing low-sulphur diesel.

The tender for the project was won by Italian firm IREM, which angered locals by bringing in the Europeans.

Union officials say they have been hired as a ‘cheaper option’ and reject claims that they are ‘specialists’.

Under EU law the foreign workers are entitled to work and live here.

The protest began with a mass walkout on Wednesday. But the French-owned Total refinery insisted it managed to operate normally (Daily Mail)

Protesters are furious that 400 European workers are being brought in to work on a £300million construction project


  1. Paulie said,

    Not seen a paper for a few days. Got a link to this Lincoln business?


  2. voltairespriest said,

    If that’s you posting Mr Denham, then don’t forget your catefories…

  3. charliethechulo said,

    Makes the anti-Europe brigade look like a bunch of fucking idjeets, eh?

  4. maxdunbar said,

    Fantastic post.

  5. Duncan Money said,

    I don’t think you should dismiss this strike so readily, this dispute looks like it’s going to be huge and under the nationalist crap are genuine economic concerns about long-standing tactics of employers in cutting wages and condition by using cheap labour, whether that Labour is from abroad or this country.

    If we argue that people’s attitudes and opinions are altered through struggle then we should have confidence in our own arguments and intervene and support this dispute.

  6. Wally Wibbywellies said,

    “under the nationalist crap are genuine economic concerns about long-standing tactics of employers in cutting wages and condition by using cheap labour,”

    Agreed. Also, reading between the lines on this, it appears that one thing motivating the strikes is that the locals are not allowed to apply for these jobs. The people being brought in to do them are not newly hired ‘foriegn’ workers, but already employed permanent staff from abroad. This is a provocation that was almost guaranteed to produce a nationalist aspect to the response. It is a legitimate grievance if you are not even allowed to apply for a job and simply excluded in advance. This is classic divide and rule – socialists should argue against the nationalism, but demand the right of all workers to apply for such jobs – and full union rights etc. of course.

  7. Matt said,

    The official Unite statement is predictably pitiful: no opposition to nationalism or appeal to workers solidarity . No surprise either that Woodley and Simpson are now parrotting Brown’s “British jobs for British workers”.

  8. Jack Haslam said,

    I think we need to distinguish between the slogans used by the strikers and the underlying issues.

    The idea of ‘British jobs for British workers’ is a reactonary dead end. However the issue driving this sudden explosion of militancy is the use by the employers in the engineering construction industry of gangs of contractors sealed off and isolated from the main body of workers. The way one leading socialist militant in UNITE put this was that it shouldn’t be presented as an issue of british versus foreign labour, but of the rights of organised Labour.

    Set ups like the contractors in this case have more in common with an organisation like William Collison’s pre ww1 free labour association than they have with a ‘normal ‘capitalist concern that recognises trade unionsor in which workers can organise for recognition. You have a group of workers sealed off from the rest of the workforce and billoted in digs away from contact with workers in the local town.

    This kind of thing flows from the Viking lavalle decison see IER briefing here: And it was inevitable that a protest of this type would emerge sooner or later, given the way that contractor gangs have been used to attack jobs, pay and conditons across a number of industries in recent years.

    The way forward is for the labour movement to launch a serious fight for jobs across the economy as a whole. with occupations and work sharing on full pay etc.

    We need to point out that nationalism is a dead end, capitalism is international etc. However, we should not oppose the strikes as such, but see them as a spontaneous outburst that has taken the form it has and with the nationalist ideology it has because of the failings of the trade union leaders to prosecute a serious fight on a clear class basis.

    I don’t think this is a straightforwardly reactionary strike that should be opposed by socialists, rather we would want to see a more focussed and class based internationalist strategy. If you want to put forward a specific demand it would be for direct labour.

  9. Jack Haslam said,

  10. Jack Haslam said,


    looking beyond the immediate slogans used by the strikers shouldn’t mean ducking a head on argument against nationalist dross.

    This scene from Matewan provides a great example of how to make the socialist case against backwardness and prejudice.

  11. Jim Denham, said,

    Good stuff from Jack: I broadly agree with both your analysis and your proposals for the British trade unions.

  12. Camgirls said,

    i really like your blog! you got more blogs? want to trade links with me ?

  13. Jim Denham, said,

    Icklelenny “Seymour” has zigged when he should have zagged, and got himslf all muddled up:

  14. charliethechulo said,

    Seymour’s Central Committee dictated U-turn has disappointed at least one fan:

    “Very disappointed Richard, you were spot on initially.
    Eddie Truman | Homepage | 30 Jan, 22:26 | # ”
    PS: Is “Eddie Truman” really the ex-socialist, now apologist for clerical fascism, Bob Pitt?

  15. Richard Bayley said,

    Eddie Truman is a member of the SSP, and is (I think) the partner of Cat who blogs at Stroppyblog (apologies if mistaken…)

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