Friday, 6 February 2009

The BNP and the myth of union betrayal

As I noted in my last article, the British National Party have been attempting to capitalise on the anger that sparked the walkout from the Total Oil Refinery in Lindsey and the country-wide wildcat strikes that followed in solidarity. Now, the party has issued the following statement accusing Unite: the Union of hypocrisy in how they have dealt with the strike;
The snakes running the Unite union have stabbed their members in the back once again by agreeing to recommend that workers at Lindsey Oil Refinery go back to work in exchange for 102 “jobs for Brits” - although those jobs were already reserved for British workers in terms of a plant refurbishment plan scheduled for the middle of this year.

The so-called “deal” to which the Labour Party-supporting union has agreed offers 102 jobs for British workers out of the paltry 200 which the unions originally demanded.

A source inside Lindsey Refinery has provided BNP News with details of a meeting held recently by management at the French owned refinery in which it was stated that the strike would “fizzle out by March” at the latest.

Thereafter, the BNP News source said, management was going to engage in a major refurbishment of the plant (apparently required for insurance purposes) and around 2500 new jobs were going to be created as a result.

Management had agreed to allocate around 700 of the 2000 jobs to British workers as a sop. All the other workers were to be foreigners brought in to undercut British workers.

The deal struck with Unite has now made even this gesture unnecessary, and management is reportedly ecstatic that the number of jobs for British workers can be cut down from the 700 they expected, to just 101.

In terms of the deal, no foreign workers will lose their posts as a result of the dispute at the oil refinery. The major refurbishment will entail employing at least 180 Polish electricians, according to management plans.

In addition, similar contracts will also be negotiated for the smaller proposed overhaul at the Conoco Philips refinery next June along with work to be undertaken at the Lindsey hydrochloric acid facility in September/October.

The recommendation to return to work in exchange for the 102 jobs will apparently be put to a mass workers’ meeting on Thursday.

It will be a tragedy if workers are taken in by this confidence trick deal worked out between the Unite union officials and management.

There is no reason at all why all the jobs could not have gone to British workers in the first place. The fact that the company has now agreed to employ some Brits shows that the issue was never a “skills shortage” at all, as they initially falsely claimed.

To be offered a humiliating 102 jobs - when there are thousands of positions open - is nothing but a massive insult.

Workers will hopefully see through this ruse and demand that the anti-British laws and governments, both Tory and Labour, which have created the situation where foreigners can take their jobs with impunity, be rejected once and for all.

British worker impoverishment is caused primarily by the “free movement” rules of the European Union, into which Tories and Labour have plunged this country.

This tragic situation has been compounded by the treason committed by the trade unions, who are actually in favour of globalisation and giving immigrant workers greater rights than native Brits.

The time has come for radical change. As Scottish Herald writer Ian MacWhirter wrote in his newspaper on February 2: “In the 1930s, the Jarrow Crusade marched on London to demand work; now in 2009 they will be marching to demand foreigners are sent home. The British National Party is finally in from the cold — inheritor of the great tradition of British industrial militancy.”

Although I am, in my own workplace, not only a member of Unite but also a shop steward, I am far from uncritical of the actions and policies of the higher echelons of the union. In particular, I take issue with their continued funding of the Labour Party despite its betrayal of the labour movement to neo-liberal dogma, and (as an anarchist) their belief that political parties and government can be anything but a hindrance in the struggle for workers' rights against the machinations of global capitalism. That said, the above statement by the BNP represents nothing more than a cynical lie aimed at hijacking the labour movement for their own nationalist and racist ends.

Their chief accusation is that Unite are "in favour of globalisation and giving immigrant workers greater rights than native Brits" is nothing more than a bald-faced lie. By the standards of the BNP, anyone who does not agree with their aim of kicking out all migrants and ethnic minorities in order to restore "the overwhelmingly white makeup of the British population," is a multiculturalist, a globalist, and a traitor - an absolutist stance typical of totalitarian movements. Likewise, the party's focus on the clause of "102 'jobs for Brits'" is an absurd strawman argument, claiming that this is all the union is asking for in exchange for a return to work, when this concession is just a small part of the wider redress Unite is seeking.

Below is the full text of Unite's statement on the Lindsey Oil Refinery dispute;

Unite joint general secretary, Derek Simpson said, "The workers involved in the unofficial dispute at the Lindsey Oil refinery will vote on a deal tomorrow morning to end the unofficial walkouts. Unite has assisted in attempting to broker a deal.

"We hope this deal will be accepted by the workers at the refinery.

"No Italian worker will lose their job as a result of this deal. Unite officials emphasised the importance of this throughout the negotiations.

Lindsey is part of a much wider problem that will not go away if the unofficial strikers go back to work.

"The government is beginning to grasp the fundamental issues. The problem is not workers from other European countries working in the UK, nor is it about foreign contractors winning contracts in the UK. The problem is that employers are excluding UK workers from even applying for work on these contracts.

"The flexible labour market is a one way street that only benefits the employers. We have seen the backlash as the recession bites. The government must act to level the playing field for UK workers.

"No European worker should be barred from applying for a British job and absolutely no British worker should be barred from applying for a British job."

Unite has proposed a three point plan for dealing he current problems taking place across construction sites in the UK.

1. Resolve the immediate problem that exists at Total's Lindsey oil refinery. Reach an agreement which gives fair consideration for UK labour to work on the contract.

2. Carry out an investigation into the practices of contractors and subcontactors in the engineering and construction industry. Follow by action from the government which will insist that companies applying for contracts on public infrastructure projects, sign up to Corporate Social Responsibility agreements which commit to fair access for UK Labour.

3. Overturn European legal precedents which allow employers to undercut wages and conditions. A European Court of Justice precedent gives employers a license for 'social dumping' and prevents unions form taking action to prevent the erosion of UK workers' pay and condition (see notes to editors).

The current proposals to be put to the workers at Lindsey will mean that 102 additional jobs will be created for UK workers.

Contrary to the BNP's insinuations of betrayal, Unite recognises that the "fundamental issue" is not "workers from other European countries working in the UK" but the fact that "the flexible labour market is a one way street that only benefits the employers" and that, as part of this, "employers are excluding UK workers from even applying for work on these contracts." Thus, whilst rejecting the far-right position by insisting that "no European worker should be barred from applying for a British job" it upholds its obligation to its members by insisting with equal vehemence that "absolutely no British worker should be barred from applying for a British job." It's three-point proposals expand upon this basic principle.

However, the problem that the unions face, of standing up to the obvious injustices highlighted by the walkouts without giving in to the jingoism of the far-right, is only half of the struggle the left faces over at least the coming year. The main parties, in particular the incumbent Labour government, have appeared incompetent, uncaring, and out of touch as the recession has worsened, and many people seeking an alternative are looking even farther right. With the European Parliamentary Elections coming up in June, this could well translate into considerable electoral success for the BNP. With Nick Griffin looking to become MEP for the North West, where I live, my awareness of the problem is particularly acute.

This is why the labour movement must present a solid front that stands up for workers without resorting to the xenophobia or jingoism that the BNP represents. In my last article, I spoke of a "battle on two fronts" that involved both "organising the working class for its own defence" and the need to "rise up and speak out against the moves by the nationalists of the far-right ... [to] draw racial division and resentment out of an issue rooted in class and economics." Fighting off such accusations against the trade union movement straddles both fronts. We cannot ignore the BNP's claims but must confront them head on, as the working class cannot organise effectively if even a few of our number distrust the motives of the organising bodies.