Leading trade union educator Jack Haslam comments on the present nationalist strike wave. This comment has been taken from our comments box, but we hope to persuade Jack to become a regular contributor. We publish it here as an article because it’s good stuff that addresses the present serious situation:
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 unions, or 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 and Lavalle decisons (see IER briefing, link below) 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.