National Sections of the L5I:

Britain: no to the nationalist strikes

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Around 3,000 construction workers at oil refineries around Britain are taking wildcat, unofficial strike action. Another 900 workers at Sellafield nuclear power plant may join them on Monday 2 February.
Normally Workers Power would energetically support strike action by workers – including unofficial strikes taken without the formal support of the union leaders.
But this strike is different. We unreservedly oppose it.

Around 3,000 construction workers at oil refineries around the country are taking wildcat, unofficial strike action. Another 900 workers at Sellafield nuclear power plant may join them on Monday 2 February.

Normally Workers Power would energetically support strike action by workers – including unofficial strikes taken without the formal support of the union leaders.

But this strike is different. We unreservedly oppose it.

Why? Because the strikers target is not their employers but 100 Italian and Portuguese workers at the Lindsey oil refinery in North Killingholme, Lincolnshire.

The strikers' placards say “Put British Workers First” and “British Jobs for British workers.” Shop steward, Kenny Ward, summed up the movement's aim very clearly: “There are thousands in this country that are victims to this discrimination, this victimisation of the British worker.”

This is nothing other than a call for foreign and migrant workers to take second place in the queue to British citizens. It is a reactionary call that divides the working class. It falls hook, line and sinker for the myth - spread every day in the right wing tabloids – that it is foreign workers rather than capitalists of all countries that are causing unemployment and job insecurity across the UK.

The call for British citizens to get priority over foreigners does nothing to stop capitalist companies making the working class pay the price of the economic crisis. Worse, it weakens our class and our ability of building a united fightback against the recession.

If the employers were trying to introduce cheap, non-union labour to undercut workers wages then of course it would be right to stop them. The correct approach would be to talk to the foreign workers and persuade them to join the union and strike for full union rates, and to fight to impose a closed shop on the bosses.

But there is no evidence that this is the issue. On the contrary, it is reported that the employer Total has already agreed with the Unite union that the Italian and Portuguese workers will receive union rates of pay at the same level as the other workers.

This strike is an outburst of British nationalism, fulled by years of right wing press stories blaming migrants for unemployment. Despite their militancy, the strikes hit the wrong target and dangerously divide what should be a united working class response to the crisis.

The working class is international. Our unity depends on internationalism – unity between immigrant workers and those born or brought up in Britain. There are probably two million or so foreign workers here just as there are probably similar numbers of British workers in Europe and beyond. All face a global capitalist crisis that is throwing millions out of work. All should meet a welcome and class solidarity wherever they work. Workers in Britain need to follow the example of our brothers and sisters in France, Italy, Spain, and raise slogans against the capitalists not against each other: “It’s their crisis: we won’t pay for it.”

If workers' rebellion against the crisis in Britain is diverted down the road of British nationalism it will lead to disaster. Even the Morning Star is shamefully claiming that British workers have been denied “the right to seek employment in their own country”.

Others are simply trying to dodge the issue by denying the evidence of their own eyes and ears that this strike is for privileges for British citizens. George Galloway, Respect MP, claims the strike has been misreported and is really calling for “decent jobs, open for all to apply for”. The Socialist Party claims on its website that the main issue is not that "foreign" workers are being brought in by the employers, as reported in the media, but that there are thousands of unemployed construction workers. If only these were the objectives of the strike: but the real demand of the strikers is British jobs for British workers.

The task of socialists is face up squarely to the unhappy fact that this strike wave has reactionary goals and to oppose it without equivocation or hesitation.

For this reason, Workers Power calls on the strikers to drop all their demands that divide workers along national lines and to call off the reactionary strike. Instead we need to raise the call for jobs for the unemployed in every locality, every industry, and every country of residence. These demands need to be made on the employers and the government. We should insist that all workers are paid full trade union rates, and that all are union members.

The TUC and the big unions should not be expressing sympathy with nationalist slogans but getting off their backsides and launching a militant campaign to defend every job. They could start by calling a nationwide general strike and mass demonstration like the French unions did on Thursday 28 January.

A few simple clear slogans should be raised:

* Not a single job must go

* Jobs for all the unemployed

* No pay cuts

* No to subcontracting and outsourcing

* No to racism and nationalist divisions – for workers' unity

* The bosses and the bankers should pay for the crisis – not the workers.

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