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A 'Racist' Strike? | 31.01.2009 19:24 | Anti-racism | Migration | Workers' Movements

Hundreds walk out of their workplace. On the second day the strike spreads, pulling up to a thousand workers out on secondary action across sites in Northern England and Scotland - much of it illegal under the anti-trade union laws Labour has, to its eternal shame, left on the statute books. In short, an outbreak of the very 'spontaneous' actions of our class that would normally excite the left in this country.

Except there appears, at first glance, a racist fly in the militant soup. According to the BBC, on Wednesday the Lindsey oil refinery in Lincolnshire awarded a portion of a £300 million construction project to an Italian firm, which, according to reports, will be using Italian and Portuguese workers.

At a time of rising unemployment, you can understand why the local union, Unite, and many of the workers are angry about this development. Quoted on the BBC, Unite's Bernard McAuley says "there are men here whose fathers and uncles... built this refinery from scratch. It's outrageous." But, somewhat surprisingly, it is left to the Daily Star(!) to show this dispute is about class, not race. An anonymous scaffolder tells the soaraway Star “we need to make a stand now. This is not a racist protest. I’m happy to work hand-in-hand with foreign workers, but we are not getting a look in. There are guys at this site who had been banking on that work and then it gets handed to an Italian firm. It’s about fairness.” No doubt some of these workers will have attitudes a lot less enlightened than the chap above. British bosses are past masters at using race, ethnicity and nationality to divide and conquer both at home and abroad in their former colonial possessions.

Drafting in migrant labour from overseas is a tried and tested method of undermining the pay and conditions of workers. Turning on the workers who come in to take advantage of employment opportunities opening up plays directly into the bosses' hands - it obscures the fact it is they who are attacking and driving down wages, and therefore the responsibility lies with them.

Unsurprisingly, the mainstream of the labour movement has a less then spotless record when it comes to this. For example, while in the North West the T&G arm of Unite have done some good work amongst Polish workers, trade unions as a whole have done little to combat knee-jerk xenophobia of this type. When the bosses divide our class along the lines of race and nation, we are weaker. Instead of capitulating to the anti-immigrant sentiment fanned by the gutter press, unions must demand legislation that prevents employers from taking on workers at below the basic rates of its workforce. Unfortunately, as this appears to be beyond the political imagination of many a trade union leader, it falls to the small and scattered forces of the left to make this case at the refinery gates.

It's very simple, at least in our minds.

If you see the foreign workers as the appropriate target for your anger, you are at best nationalist and misguided. At worst you might be racist, but without knowing people in person how are we to judge?

If you see the exploitative bosses as the appropriate target for your anger, then get the fuck on with opposing them and organising workers to campaign for better pay and conditions, and don't talk about the 'problem of foreign workers'. The foreign workers are not the problem.

As for the people striking, we imagine they hold a wide range of different views. Labelling the strike itself as racist is absurd and insulting.

When the strikers campaign against the bosses, they should be encouraged and helped, when they campaign against foreign workers they should be engaged with and challenged, and with any luck pulled into a debate about who is really fucking them over.

Is this really so difficult for everyone? Fuck us.

The fact is, there is nothing the government can do. The Italians have a legal right to work in the UK as members of the EU.It is globalisation. we don't like it, but that is how shit is.

The truth and we are not afraid multi cultural societies only work well in good economic times. The shit is hitting the fan, and when people lose their jobs, and see foreigners working, when they are not, their reactions are not very pc. We don't think a bunch of lefties appearing on the picket lines will help. Being told how they are getting it wrong, by a 20 year old middle class SWP member, would not go down well.
Telling them their racists, is likely to get you a smack in the mouth.(and good on them if they do)

The far left are useless, they have not got a clue about the working classes. People care more about their jobs than events in Gaza. In fact we would go as far to say, most workers could not give a flying shit what is happening in Gaza. The far left meanwhile still carry on in their own little world. They should stick to protesting about Israel, or Iraq, and stay away from the real world.

There is no doubt the far right are highjacking this action, it is a Bourgios Anarchist wet dream come true, and the left we know what scum the Middle Class are, here is a very real direct consequence of their internationalism, read action-against-classism it comes as no suprise to us here at underclass rising, now move along there is nothing to see, of course we hope the march on Tuesday ends up in a riot and that The working class confront the real enemy of our class The Middle Class, now would'nt that be a grand thing to see happen. The Lackeys of the state (The Police) and who they are employed to protect The Middle Class get a good kicking from an angry working class, this is where we need to turn our anger and not on to fellow workers, no matter the fact of whome they are they are workers living under The Ocupation of The Middle Class and until we make them history we shall never be free living in unity.
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Global 2 Local

31.01.2009 21:15

This is not a racist issue and racist rhetoric should be challenged and informed on the picket lines and in posts, but sensibly and reasonably. This is a workers rights' issue, pure and simple.

UnderClassRising should be applauded for their analysis so far, but in my personal opinion would be better placed by refraining from the cross-linking to issues such as Gaza and the heartfelt glee at the thought of their debate-opponents here being punched on the picketlines. Please UCR, everyone here wants to punch the spotty, superior SWP student but there is no need to admit that publically.

These strikes are complicated by the fact that the incoming workers are EU citizens who have a right to work in the UK, and yet from an EU countries (Italy/Portugal) without a minimum wage. It must be noted that UK citizens are also free to travel to other EU countries to work, and we have more emigres than immigrants so far. 10% of the British population live or work abroad.

This is not one of the increasingly common cases of workers being flown in to the UK from non-EU countries just to save money, while getting paid non-EU rates.

So I think there are two different issues for UK employment:
EU workers in the UK and regional disparities in employment law and wages;
Non EU workers in the UK and the global disparities in employment law and human rights.

I don't have a good view of British unions in general, I do not believe they will bring significant societal change because they are programmed to aim for short term improvements in their members employment rights over the general good both to their members wider society. The basic role for any British member of a union is to improve the lot of their members, not to 'save the world'. The same could be said of Italian unions, but Italy doesn't have the same laws as us, most notably Italy doesn't have a national minumal wage.
In this regard I would like to differentiate myself from UnderClassRising or any other group, as I do care both about workers rights and issues such as Gaza. I think disparate issues such as these are intractably linked by anyone who can marry their global and local opinions on 'political subjects'.

Personally I have worked abroad in the EU and in different countries I have found that easy or impossible. In my experience it is easy to work in Germany and the Netherlands and Belgium but impossible to work in France or Italy. My last British employment ended with me being replaced by six degree-educated Indian workers subsconded to a UK contract, whose combined wage bill was less than my salary (they were employed with significant benefits to their standard Bangalore employment. Even Indian workers cannot compete against the wage bills in China which is partially why the Indian workers are focussing on language based jobs such as telemarketing.

I personally am not qualified to recommend a solution to these conumdrums. I assume the only decent solution is to demand global equality of rights, including employment rights, and sanctions against states and corporations who lag behind. I know the 'No Borders' movement is motivated by high ideals but I request that they act pragmatically while they act idealistically.

Here is some info worth reading:

National minimum wage (adult rate), 2004, in national currency (gross)
Belgium Monthly EUR 1,210
Bulgaria Hourly BGN 0.71 (EUR 0.36)
Monthly BGN 120 (EUR 61.43)
Czech Republic Hourly CZK 39.60 (EUR 1.24)
Monthly CZK 6,700 (EUR 210.09)
Estonia Hourly EEK 14.60 (EUR 0.93)
Monthly EEK 2,480 (EUR 158.50)
France Hourly EUR 7.61**
Monthly EUR 1,286.09**
Greece Daily EUR 25.01
Monthly EUR 559.98
Hungary Hourly HUF 305.00 (EUR 1.21)
Daily HUF 2,440 (EUR 9.70)
Weekly HUF 12,000 (EUR 47.68)
Monthly HUF 53,000 (EUR 210.60)
Ireland Hourly EUR 7.00
Latvia Hourly LVL 0.474 (EUR 0.71)
Monthly LVL 80 (EUR 120.26)
Lithuania Hourly LTL 2.95 (EUR 0.85)
Monthly LTL 500 (EUR 144.81)
Malta Weekly MTL 53.88 (EUR 125.89)
Netherlands Monthly EUR 1,264.80
Poland Monthly PLN 860 (EUR 189.98)
Romania Hourly ROL 16,342.44 (EUR 0.40)
Monthly ROL 2,800,000 (EUR 69.12)
Slovakia Hourly SKK 37.40 (EUR 0.93)
Monthly SKK 6,500 (EUR 162.41)
Slovenia Monthly SIT 117,500 (EUR 491.45)
Spain Daily EUR 16.36
Monthly EUR 490.80
UK Hourly GBP 4.85 (EUR 7.14)

* Conversions into EUR, where necessary ** Rate applies only to workers on 39-hour week.

The second, smaller group of countries that do not have a statutory minimum wage comprises Austria, Germany, Italy and the Scandinavian countries. A common feature of this group of countries is the high coverage rate of collectively agreed minimum wages, generally laid down in sectoral agreements. The percentage of employees covered by these collectively agreed minimum wages ranges from approximately 70% in Germany and Norway to almost 100% in Austria and Italy (though excluding 'irregular' workers, who make up a relatively large share of the Italian labour market)

In Italy, collectively agreed minimum pay levels negotiated by trade unions apply to all workers. They represent the compulsory minimum even for employees of firms that do not belong to employers’ associations.

Coverage rates of collectively agreed minimum wages
Italy (2004)
Whole economy 100 (85 including irregular workers)
Textiles/clothing 100 (84 including irregular workers)
Retail 100 (80 including irregular workers)
Hotels/restaurants 100 (79 including irregular workers)
Hairdressing 100 (76 including irregular workers)

Collectively agreed minimum wages in low-paid sectors in countries without a statutory minimum wage, as % of the gross average wage (whole economy)
Textiles/clothing 57
Retail 60
Hotels/restaurants 59
Hairdressing 52

Adjustment and enforcement of collectively agreed minimum wages
Frequency of adjustments - Every two years.
Criteria for adjustments - Expected inflation rate.
Supervising institution - Labour tribunal.
Fines in case of non-compliance - Yes. Additionally, the employer has to refund the arrears.

In Italy, employers call for a regional differentiation of collectively agreed minimum wages between North and South, but trade unions reject this proposal.

"The study found 5.5 million expat Britons - a number that rises to six million if those who live or work part of the year abroad are included. Taken together, they represent approximately 10% of British citizens."

Lothian Anarchists

Democratic Anarcho Communism

01.02.2009 00:45

It's interesting that some of the unions are now going into economic protectionist mode on a national basis, because of job losses. This at a time when we do need countries to work together to solve some aspects of the crises. And similarly unions are supporting airport expansion for the same reason. So there is still a profound but in my opinion bridgeable rift within the left, between what might be called the old school (but i don't mean chronological age) reactionary leftist nationalist people and the global/no borders (anarcho communists)? Some of us are calling this concept Local Sovereignty, and we are working on the theory necessary to put this forward to the unions and other bodies - for a movement that is a federated system of sovereign human communities existing in a paradigm beyond the present, flawed individualist consumerist one.

What we are talking about, with this concept of Local Sovereignty and in constrast to teh reactionary 'Brit jobs for Brits' is a view that turns the local community into a kind of 'protective' or shall we say protected entity. Even a public corporation if you will: commercial corporations are a testimony to the enormous power latent in human communities working together to a common end. But they are a corruption of the idea of community because they are (usually) hierarchical, their motive is soley profit making (they hire and fire on that basis, the financial viability of each individual being the sole arbiter of whether they can stay or go, with no regard for the inhumanity of that position) and they are not grounded in relationship with the earth, the local geography we ordinary folk share - instead they fly al around the world, wherever capitalism is cheapest to run and they insist we continue to live their way, as consumers in a big market place of things to buy - and that we work at jobs we don't necessarily want to do or take the dole and pretent to look for work when really there is so much work to be done in the areas we inhabit - to mend social relations, end racism, velvetly seize power, challenge corrupt corporate (commerical and state ) institutions that won't let us do what must be done and make new corporate institutions where they are needed. The phrase 'political economy' is instructive.

Time for a big change, but can we make the unions see (and join up across europe / elsewhere) that it is a new form of local, community focused economy, a different way of culture/living and direct participation in political power that is what we want and need, and nurture a protectionism and enhancement of that and not a dangerously (potentially racist) nationalist protectionism?

The local community assembly as a public corporation would allow for people to be employed to do whatever creative thing they actually *want* to do as opposed to what they are forced to do by the welfare system and /or neo-liberal capitalist job market. This would require a complete overhaul of our tax and welfare systems (public funded welfare is distributed by national rules but we are talking about local budgets to employ people in the community) not to mention turning the whole constitution upside down.

I do think people need to be under some kind of social obligation to do *something*, but this need not be coercive as once we are free of the spell of aforesaid neo-liberal job market / stalinist welfare dependency work freely chosen is great: indeed it is what every person likes doing. we just need to redefine work to include everything positive (for 'soul, soil and society' to quote satish kumar on the beautiful, good and true) that humans do. this might include for instance posting on this forum..

interestingly the idea of city as a public corporation has great historical resonances, as the first self governing european cities were created through the granting of a charter by the king. of course the burghers nicked all the power and kept the workers and peasants down, as that was the rise of the bourgeisie but this time can be very different! a neighbourhood built on non-hierarchical human scale lines can embrace horizontality and avoid an institutional class taking over through large, untransparent structures


to the lads and lasses at underclassrising

01.02.2009 12:10

like the cut of your jib but -

"When the strikers campaign against the bosses, they should be encouraged and helped, when they campaign against foreign workers they should be engaged with and challenged, and with any luck pulled into a debate about who is really fucking them over".

"Being told how they are getting it wrong, by a 20 year old middle class SWP member, would not go down well".

surely the first quote is telling them how they are getting it wrong in a nice way, the second telling them where they are going wrong.... you get the picture?

Plus Bourgeois Anarchist? The kids who hunker down on fields outside heathrow, or the internet cheerleaders of the 'the class struggle' who went to the same public schools?

A Passmore Sister

Strike not racist?

01.02.2009 12:17

We are in a major economic crisis that the union movement and the Left failed to predict. Unfortunately, our elite did and have been telling us that this crisis will lead to racial strife. As has been said, this is the way out for our elite. Indeed, I'd be very surprised if this so-called spontaneous and curious strike was not planned by the same elite.

In France, there was a massive strike and people collectively blamed the elite for the crisis. In the UK, we are blaming foreigners. How racist is that?


Corporations and unions and me

01.02.2009 12:33

When I grew up to me the word corporation solely meant the local town council. It ran the tranport, the power utilities, the water and virtually everything else.
Even at that time though the word corporation was a legal conceit for a public body, virtually an advertising term designed to make the locality appear more modern and profitable in the light of the massively rich private corporations of the elite and the shamelessly ruthless publically-traded corporations. By the time I grew up the term seemed archaic, Victorian, the opposite again. In reality The Corporation was just a council, although with vastly more influence than current government councils. It was a form of top down political control in a diminishing empire. In Edinburgh, the corporation founded the art school, in Glasgow the 'progressives' (actually reactionary unaffiliated Tories) banned free speech in public commons. In retrospect they made awful, damaging decisions that have had to be reversed, for all the good that they did.

Hopefully to most people here the word corporation conjurs up the image of Blackwater, bloody mercenaries with impunity for that is how corporations started, through slavery and massacre. "The grandest society of merchants in the universe" were those such as the British East India Company' who could profit the regional elite most by imperial conquest overseas. This abuse was self-portrayed as beneficent when it was really just bestial, so even today British history books talk of 'Clive of India' when they really mean 'Clive of Shropshire'.

Avacado -"Even a public corporation if you will: commercial corporations are a testimony to the enormous power latent in human communities working together to a common end. But they are a corruption of the idea of community because they are (usually) hierarchical, their motive is soley profit making"

Their power lies solely in the fact that they are imaginary entities whose abuse for profit remains unpunishable. It is the difference between looking at the pyramids as one of mankinds greatest acheivements in traversing the ages, as proof we were not brainless at the time. Or seeing them as the constructs of slavery, subservience and superstion. If you walk around the lasting remains of corporate-friendly Nazi Germany you should get that duality too. Human productivity is not an end in itself.

Corporations "have neither a soul to lose nor a body to kick", but their employees and shareholders do. There is a proud history of anarchist assasinations of immoral CEOs that should be reestablished.

In some ways unions are mirrors of corporations and so share many of the same faults. They may spout about solidarity but they don't deliver. Everything they do is motivated primarily for their own members interests, and that goes for even the most radical major union today in the UK bar none. Apologies to the IWW but you just aren't a major union unfortunately. The union members who are backing these strikes are motivated overwhelming with the welfare of their members over wider issues that less obviously affect their members. Corporate exploitation breeds precarity, which breaks solidarity, but this is enabled by state laws from short-term corrupt politicians.

When I was a child I spent time with relatives on picket lines talking with the adults. When I started my apprenticeship though I was told on the first day if I asked about joining a union again then my apprenticeship was over. The best we could do in that job was to turn down perks, like refusing shares, refusing private health insurance' although we could be bought off with training and courses as education increased our chances of personal independence. The older workers, the educated ones, had more power, they could all just resign together which would have crippled the company. They let the management know this at least once and so had some positive influence on the way apprentices were treated, like an union would have worked but without the acknowledgement. What you would view as friendly discussion between neighbour and neighbour in the street should always be treated as a battle in a corporate environment.

The first time I joined a union was at a later job at a council where it was permitted, almost mandatory though I would've signed up anyway. It cost little and delivered little but I got to see lots of people who are in government just now, back when they still seemed like harmless arses. I can recall several clear opportunities to murder people who went on to commit war crimes, but I never saw those crimes coming because I was focussed on the crimes that were happening then. At some point you do after to after the system rather than just the stooges.

The turning point for me in expecting any hope from unions was when a close family friend, a Leninist unionist, was chosen as a civil servant to negotiate for Thatchers government against the nurses unions. He was still invited to my sisters wedding since we liked his wife, but he went on to defend the executions in Tiannamen Square as 'necessary to protect the revolution'. At that point even his wife left even for good.

My only work-activism nowadays is among the unemployed, and it about the most fun and rewarding so far, it is like having apprentices again. I am blacklisted now and so the only paid employment I get is cash in hand, and no talking with the workers in case of grasses. I could still work abroad and earn a decent salary, be positive elsewhere, but I don't think I will again, I wasn't any happier away from my family and the place I grew up. I don't work as much or as hard as I would have mostly because I have learned to be poor happily in a rich society, to consider myself rich without excess or competition. I claim basic state benefits because if you claim none then you get the tax people and serious crime squads after you, but I have no complaint about anyone who falsely claims inflated amounts.

Anyway, instead of rambling on here I'm going to pick up some dogs, some thermos and stove and jumpers and head down to my nearest picket line to ramble there.

(Oh, and while decrying every type of group activity I posted my first post under Lothian Anarchists. It is not right since this is just jack spraffin again).


Forgot this

01.02.2009 13:16

These Italian and Portugese workers will likely be employed under British contract rates but these are not equivalent rates. An unskilled British worker earns minimal wage at worst. Skilled foriegn workers undercut similarly skilled British workers by accepting a lower minimum wage. In the same way as UK workers undercut other nations workers as ex-pats. So the foriegn company is able to undercut a local company simply to inequality in employment law. In the UK workers have gained more rights by long term dispute. These rights should be defended and extended abroad by dispute, in solidarity with foriegn workers. I'd like to see a British union proposing an EU mimimal , or rather standardised, wage. As a first step towards a No Borders future.


SWP turning "antideutsch"? (THE MONTAGDEMOS)

01.02.2009 20:00

Interesting to read the different analysis: anarchists 4, Galloway 4, SWP ´gainst and Militant 4 the strike.

It reminds me of the debate inside the German left during the Gaza demos, when most of the German left decided not to take part because of the involvement of conservative Islamist groups, and also of the debate inside the radical left during the Montagsdemo movement.

Back in 2004 in Germany when the socialdemocratic government anounced a new neoliberal unemployment benefit law, "Hartz IV", a spontanous social movement arose: the Montagsdemos-Movement.

It took up the old 1989 Montagsdemo tradition which had toppled Stalinism in the East, because it was a movement largely confined to the East of Germany.

Since the left was weak in the East Nazis quickly tried to seize the movement.

The ruling class, ie the german media and the government tried to crush the movement first by police force, but as it drew on strength they tried to delegitimise the protest as being racist and undermined by nazis. Parts of the radical left followed on the same line. But in most cities whe succeded in driving the nayis out and putting a left stamp on the movement.

Crucially, the movement did not spread to West Germany and trade unions decided not to support the movement. So it collapsed.

It is very important for you to intervene in this strike movement!

Support it wholeheartedly, spread it, turn it into a internationalist direction, link it up with other struggles in Europe!!! WE won

There will be a day of action against US paying 4 THEIR crisis in Berlin and Frankfurt on the 28th of February...