Saturday, January 31, 2009

British jobs for British workers?

The current wave of walkouts demonstrates not xenophobia but an understanding of the consequences for working people of an unregulated labour market during a recession. I'm not trying here to compete with detailed reporting of what is taking place. However I do think all trade union activists need to think through what needs to be done.

This is not really about British jobs for British workers, but there is a danger that this will be how the action will come to be seen, including by those taking it.

Gordon Brown's unhappy slogan "British jobs for British people" does increase the risk that the racist right will try to take some advantage of the walkouts. A better slogan would be "British jobs on British terms and conditions" or - which we really want - "all jobs on good terms and conditions."

The subcontracting of work globally which, underpinned by recent European legal judgments, has helped to trigger the walkouts is but one manifestation of the way in which capital reorganises itself to maximise profit and exploit labour. The workers at the Lindsey oil refinery and those supporting them elsewhere are facing a problem which is not at all unfamiliar to UNISON members.

Yesterday I was with a group of low paid social care workers recently transferred from one employer to another to do work which years ago would have been done by directly employed local authority employees on nationally agreed rates of pay. Their work isn't like a construction project where an entire new workforce can be brought in, but they perceive their new employer cutting their hours and treating them badly whilst bringing in staff from another agency to do their work.

In the defensive struggles to which this type of offensive action by employers' gives rise there is always a risk of a "them and us" mentality within the workforce, and the responsibility of the Union is to lead action away from that dead end and towards the placing of demands on the employers (and their Government).

Our problem isn't with agency workers undercutting rates of pay or with workers brought in from overseas, it is with employers seeking to undercut rates of pay and failing to honour proper terms and conditions. Ultimately it is our job to organise all these workers into a global union movement, but it is also our job to seek to use the collective strength of each group of workers to achieve some joint regulation of the employment relationship and to constrain the ability of management to act unilaterally.

The challenge to the trade union movement is to lead the anger that is being expressed around the country at present in an effective struggle to wring concessions from this anti working class Government. The left badly needs a focus for such campaigning and we can't wait much longer for the much anticipated "Peoples Charter".

Update - in the mean time can anyone shed any light on the bona fides of this website?

2 comments: said...

I agree with you sentiments Jon but it still worries that the political trajectory of this strike could go down a reactionary road.
Why has Unite seemingly condoned this slogan?

I agree with you about the slogans and also Unite could have made more about subcontracting out globally and exploitation.... international solidarity. It just seems so narrowly focused. And unions have been making inroad and links with migrant workers and times like this it is vital especially at a time of an economic crisis where the politics of divide and rule become ever apparent.

Anyway, I gave my own t'uppence halfpenny worth on my blog.


Anonymous said...

Brothers and sisters I agree with your comments but had all UK trade unions supported Leaf union in the EU courts and now before the EUC, with a civil rights issue, UK resident works would now have a just and binding contradts of employment. I was 18 when I joined a trade union and at 71 now still support, brian