Oil refinery strikes

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no1
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Jan 30 2009 17:48

I wonder if the upcoming election of Unite / Amicus general secretary plays any role in this dispute.

Here's some additional information I found, from Jerry Hicks (candidate for the unite/amicus gen sec, who left the SWP after the schism in Respect):
http://www.socialistunity.com/?p=3495

Quote:
Earlier today Jerry Hicks released a statement reminding us that an emergency meeting of the national construction shop stewards forum took place in London as long ago as the 8th January. The meeting discussed the escalating crisis in construction following a series of protests in November and December of last year, over employment rights and also the proposed exclusion of UK workers by foreign companies on power stations and other major UK contracts.

The meeting was originally called for at Newark on the 3rd December following a series of protests at the gates of Staythope Power Station. At the meeting shop stewards voted overwhelmingly to organise a programme of demonstrations toward targeted construction projects within the UK power generation sector.

Shop stewards and trade union activists find it is hard enough as it is to get a job in the industry because of the black listing by the employers. It is a way of reducing their costs and attempting to break union organisation on the major projects.

Rank and file members are preparing for mass disruption on projects throughout the country that refuse to recognise union national agreements. There will be organised demonstrations strikes and mass disruption. We are preparing for a battle to defend our jobs. Jerry Hicks a candidate in the coming election for General Secretary in the UK’s biggest union Unite-Amicus is supporting the action. He was present at a recent protest at Staythorpe power station where he sustained a fractured leg, having been assaulted by the police.

He said “This should come as no surprise to anyone. The employers have deliberately and actively been looking for ways to exploit cheap labour while covering their eyes and ears to the growing rage of discontent and ignoring all the warning signs, it’s outrageous”, Mr Hicks went on to say, “To its shame the union leadership failed miserably to grasp the nettle months ago when the dispute was a crisis in the making. The union needs to confront the employers and organise a national campaign for industrial action.”

also this :

Quote:
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.”
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PartyBucket
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Jan 30 2009 17:50

There was a sympathetic wildcat at one of Northern Irelands main power stations earlier today, waiting for local news to find out more.

no1
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Jan 30 2009 18:09

Some of the people involved are discussing on this forum - good place to get a better understanding of the motivations behind:
http://www.bearfacts.co.uk/Forum/index.php?board=1.0

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Joseph Kay
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Jan 30 2009 18:11
Django wrote:
Joseph K. wrote:
i've subbed that slightly (to tone down the comment and emotive language - that would make for a good leaflet - in accordance with our style guide) and posted it to news here.

Yeah I was hoping it would get picked over by others before going up properly, I'm pretty ill today.

i've unpublished it for now, it's a bit commenty for news (but would be a good leaflet, like i say). i'm meeting a comrade for a pint later who does seasonal work at a refinery to get a bit of context, then will try and pull together a newsy article. hopefully not while drunk.

petey
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Jan 30 2009 18:20
oisleep wrote:
what, wildcat strikes, unoffical actions, spontanous action not endorsed or condoned by the union buracracy?

yeah, this is what i was wondering

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Devrim
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Jan 30 2009 18:29
oisleep wrote:
what, wildcat strikes, unoffical actions, spontanous action not endorsed or condoned by the union buracracy? this is the kind of stuff folk on here fantasise about all the time

Aside from the political points here, it is not unknown for unions to organise 'unofficial action'. I have seen it happen once in my work and many people actually thought they were walking out on strikes against the union when in fact they were being orchestrated by the union itself.

I am not saying that it is the case here but it can happen.

Devrim

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Demogorgon303
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Jan 30 2009 18:43
Quote:
what, wildcat strikes, unoffical actions, spontanous action not endorsed or condoned by the union buracracy? this is the kind of stuff folk on here fantasise about all the time

Seriously, is this some kind of joke? How on earth would I find something positive about the working class acting to defend bourgeois ideology, however "spontaeneous" it may be?

Quote:
someone already made the comment that it's interesting that it's 'british' workers (who are refused work because of their nationality) getting labelled racist (by so called lefties/anarchists) for standing up to a company who will only employ italian/portugese labour

Standing up to a company by opposing the employment of fellow workers is completely anti-working class! Workers have no country and striking on this basis (if this is the case) is, at best, demonstrating a massive weakness in an otherwise authentic class response and at worst giving the bourgeoisie the biggest gift I can imagine.

As others have already said, we would need to be extremely careful how we intervened in such a strike, but the idea there's anything positive in the nationalism apparently on display is utterly demented!

Edit: Like others, I'm not yet convinced that this nationalistic response is the real dynamic behind the strike. If it is it certainly demonstrates we have a long way to go.

capricorn
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Jan 30 2009 18:51

So much for those who think that unofficial wildcat strikes are better than union-organised ones. And so much too for those who think that workers are intrinsically revolutionary but are held back by the unions. With strikes it's the content not the form that counts

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oisleep
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Jan 30 2009 19:10
Django wrote:
You can see the signs the union produced on the video here:

http://uk.news.yahoo.com/4/20090130/tuk-hundreds-more-refinery-workers-walk-dba1618.html

look like a union produced sign? (bearing in mind the assertion that all the signs we see are union produced)

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oisleep
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Jan 30 2009 19:21
capricorn wrote:
So much for those who think that unofficial wildcat strikes are better than union-organised ones. And so much too for those who think that workers are intrinsically revolutionary but are held back by the unions. With strikes it's the content not the form that counts

yep that was one of the points i was making (which demo has either intentionally or mistakenly picked up wrongly)

it is amazing though how armchair idealists finger prod and tick off workers for responding to the very real material conditions that they face, some of those responses may manifest themselves in less than ideal ways initially but that's life, kicking them when their down isn't going to do much to find common cause with them - i thought everyone here believes that consciousness comes about through struggle, as a process - but some of the reactions to this strike seem to expect a fully fledged revolutionary 'progressive' consciousness to be present from the get go

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Jan 30 2009 19:26
oisleep wrote:
Demogorgon303 wrote:
Clearly this is the right kind of strike for the bourgeoisie.

what, wildcat strikes, unoffical actions, spontanous action not endorsed or condoned by the union buracracy? this is the kind of stuff folk on here fantasise about all the time

surely you can see that this strike, which is being presented by the media (I believe wrongly) as being a strike against foreigners getting work, is getting much more media coverage than most other strikes which cannot be presented in a similar, nationalist light.

Quote:
someone already made the comment that it's interesting that it's 'british' workers (who are refused work because of their nationality) getting labelled racist (by so called lefties/anarchists) for standing up to a company who will only employ italian/portugese labour

now I know you have some weird bee in your bonnet about anarchists etc, but who is labelling people "racist" here?

And is there any evidence to the statement that the company will "only" employ non-British labour?

Saying that people are refused work because of their "nationality" I think is flawed. Don't care about abstract concepts like nationality - British workers are expensive, because wages here an average are relatively high. It is not because of their nationality, but because of their cost (Polish or Pakistani workers resident up there for example wouldn't get those jobs either - again not because of their nationality but because they don't work for one of those Italian firms)

radicalgraffiti
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Jan 30 2009 19:37
ernie wrote:
Do any libcomers live in the area?

I'm probable one of the closest, i'm in lincoln, which isn't vary close, york is almost as close to it.

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Jan 30 2009 19:40

On the Channel 4 news just now the reporter on the scene said:

that 'most of the workers have nothing against the Italian or Portuguese workers'

that 'they want to simply know why they can't do the work' and

that 'most of the workers believe the company is doing this just to save money'

They went on to roll out some government robot to explain exactly what our Gordon meant when he said 'BJFBW'..... apparently he meant british workers having the chance to gain better skills(!)

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Jan 30 2009 19:49
Quote:
surely you can see that this strike, which is being presented by the media (I believe wrongly) as being a strike against foreigners getting work, is getting much more media coverage than most other strikes which cannot be presented in a similar, nationalist light

yes i can, but can't see the relevance of your point to a post of mine commenting on the irony of how much spontaneous (or more correctly autonomous) non-union led worker actions are fetishised on sites like this

Quote:
now I know you have some weird bee in your bonnet about anarchists etc, but who is labelling people "racist" here?

nothing weird about it, it chimes with 99.9% of the people you are supposed to appeal to

as for labeling them racist, it's not explicit here (although it is elsewhere) but it is implicit - we have a thread title saying workers are striking over company hiring foreign labour, we have someone posting both a picture of a worker with a sign saying british jobs for british workers while tut-tutting and also posting that same phrase in the context of a national front paper, also chipping in with 'ah well at least there was no union jacks waving in the protest'

Quote:
And is there any evidence to the statement that the company will "only" employ non-British labour?

unless you know something more than what's been told in the various news reports then all we have to go on is the fact that the company will only employ their 'own' italian and portuguese workers - i'm not sure why you are forcing the statement 'will only employ non-british labour' into my mouth as i never said that, however given the fact that being a british worker precludes you from being an italian or portuguese worker then it seems clear to me that the condition of being a british worker would seem to preclude you from getting a job there

Quote:
Saying that people are refused work because of their "nationality" I think is flawed. Don't care about abstract concepts like nationality - British workers are expensive, because wages here an average are relatively high. It is not because of their nationality, but because of their cost (Polish or Pakistani workers resident up there for example wouldn't get those jobs either - again not because of their nationality but because they don't work for one of those Italian firms)

i want to agree with you on this one but you seem a bit confused, first of you say it's not because of nationality but because of costs which i agree with, but you seem to contradict this later by saying polish workers wouldn't get work there either because they don't work for an 'italian' firm - even though polish or ukrainian workers would probably cost less than those italian ones - although in general i agree with the sentiment

ernie
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Jan 30 2009 20:48

No1 thanks for the link. Very interesting reading, depressing in places with the nationalism and racism, but good to see that this did not go unanswered

ernie
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Jan 30 2009 20:53

Oisleep

I am not sure what you are trying to say about the unions pushing the idea of British Jobs for British workers, but this link to channel for shows pretty clearly that Unite and the GMG were producing banners saying this:
Britsh Jobs for British workers

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Jan 30 2009 20:54
Quote:
So much for those who think that unofficial wildcat strikes are better than union-organised ones.

The fact that one obstacle has been overcome doesn't automatically mean they all have. And I have suspicions about the role of the unions in this. They may not be the source of the nationalist fervous in this movement but they will certainly do everything in their power to fan it.

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And so much too for those who think that workers are intrinsically revolutionary but are held back by the unions.

Strawman argument. Who has said that unions are the only thing holding back the working class?

Quote:
With strikes it's the content not the form that counts.

Actually both matter. A wildcat organised on the basis of a reactionary demand is doomed unless it can move beyond that demand. A union struggle based on a proletarian demand is doomed unless it can break free of the union.

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Demogorgon303
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Jan 30 2009 20:55

Nuke workers are now threatening to join the strike.

Note the bit about the union calling for a national protest.

Mike Harman
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Jan 30 2009 20:56
miles wrote:
What Unite is doing here is entirely within the spirit of the defence of the national interest. They're all quoting the words of Gordon Brown back at him from, if memory serves me, the last Labour national conference

Which is what I said. However there are different degrees and ways this is expressed - lobbying for protectionist subsidies to particular industries, import tariffs, "British jobs for British workers", "immigrants out" - these are on a spectrum. For example I'm pretty sure the "Justice for Cleaners" campaign in London involved primarily immigrant workers, and iirc Unite was the main union involved - I don't see any way in which it'd benefit Unite to turn around and pull an "immigrants out" line on cleaning contracts having just done a massive recruitment campaign on those same immigrants in the same sector. One doesn't necessarily lead to the other.

ernie
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Jan 30 2009 21:09

On the nature of this strike, as many have said there is more behind this than nationalism. These workers and those supporting them want to do something about the growing level of unemployment, as do workers around the world. The problem is that it is taking place after a period of retreat in the class from 1989 to 2003 and in Britain there has been a limited number of major struggles. Workers self-confidence has been effected and there is also the aspect of the sheer size of the attacks we are facing and the desperation this is causing. Thus if this movement has some very contradictory elements this should not surprise us. This was expressed by one of the posters on thebearfacts, who in response to nationalism and racism pointed out that many building workers had worked in Europe, the Middle East etc and not questioned their impact on local employment, he also expressed the fear if it appeared that they were against the Italian workers they would lose support, he said it was the international tenders they should be against not the foreign workers

Quote:
I've got nothin against the Italian workers as such, they're just doing a job, putting food on the table for their families

but he ends by saying the jobs should have gone to British contractors who could do the job. This is probably the attitude of most of the workers involved.
Not an easy struggle to fully understand or intervene in

ernie
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Jan 30 2009 21:23

Agree with catch on the different ways in which Unite can defend the national interest. The use of the British Jobs etc in Inningham ties in very well with the fact that workers from italy and Portugal are being brought in, precisely in order to stir up divisions. This tactic is as old as the hills. Whereas in London it needs to gain a hold amongst workers who have immigrated here. Shows you how slippery the unions, above all their ideology, are.
It would be worth while looking back at some of the struggles in the past which have been pushed in the nationalist direction by the unions in the past. If I remember there were several in the 70's.

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Jan 30 2009 21:43

Interesting comment on the Guardian website:

Quote:
The company have said that they chose the Italians because they employed permanent staff, whereas the British companies employed subcontractors. If this is true the argument is not about pay rates as such, but about the employment model. I find it hard to take when union reps are arguing for the right to take insecure jobs over permanent positions. I was also gob-smacked to hear one of the workers on TV this morning say they should have selected a British company anyway "so what if they can do it faster, so what if they can do it quicker". Not exactly a strong negotiating position!

Likewise I've never been able to stomach union reps who take the petit-nationalist "local jobs for local people" approach, which just boils down to foreigners-out chauvinism. Whatever happen to "workers united will never be defeated". Italian workers are workers too. Nationalism is a cancer.

There are also a (very) few supporting voices.

It seems that this may stimulate some real reflection in the wider class, about the ease with which a struggle to defend jobs has been transformed into a nationalist cheerleading session. If the class as a whole can appropriate this lesson then the struggle may turn out to have a positive aspect after all.

baboon
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Jan 30 2009 21:49

This is an interesting strike with both positive and negative elements. It is spreading very quickly which is positive. It underlines the understanding in the class for action and, paradoxically, there's a real expression of solidarity. It also underlines the potential strength of the proletariat because the workers on strike, and many of these were wildcats of one sort or another, are limited to the petroleum industry and these are but a fraction of the working class. It nails the lie of the bourgeoisie - now is the winter of our discontent.

The unions have played the nationalist card but the campaign of division and racism has been well laid for years now. It's been insidious and relentless and played out with the Labour Party at its head: constant immigrant stories; the "British Muslim" question; government statements and local political campaigns. The BNP has "progressed" on the back of this campaign (they were driving around a 'support Britain' lorry at one strike). The whole bourgeoisie has undertaken this well-tried and tested campaign of division and the Labour Party has fronted it and the unions have gone along because it's in their blood.

There doesn't appear the to be the overt racism among workers which I saw in the dockers and meatworkers on strike in the 60s (and the former went on to be at the cutting edge of the struggle, going beyond racism as the struggle progressed). This is not a time to take a snapshop, nor to fall for the racist campaigns of the bourgeoisie that have it that the working class is inately racist.

Contractors from the continent (north and south) and from Ireland wouldn't be unusual in the petroleum industry. They are cheaper for companies when put up against direct labour costs - always dearer - and there are some tax implications. Like everywhere else, the industry will be suffering job cuts and "flexibility". The Italian workers, as others apparantly (Channel 4 News) have been housed separately with separate canteens.

This strike is at an important stage and underneath the racist ideology is a class demand for jobs.

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Jan 30 2009 21:59

An AF comrade who works in a refinery in South Wales wrote this for our blog:

Quote:
I work for a contracted company in charge of the maintenance of a oil refinery in south Wales. The start of the strike occurred due to an Italian company being contracted to increase refinery capacity at the Lindsey refinery. The strikes quickly spread across the rest of the refineries sporting the slogan “British Jobs for British workers”.

In the area where I work there are two oil refineries and two LNG terminals plus an oil storage facility. Recently due to the economic crisis workers at all of these sites have been made redundant, which is pretty much uniform across the UK and even the world. With the prospect of work coming in the form of new building projects such as the planned gas fired power stations and nuclear power stations there is hope for workers who are out of work. However due to the recession the fat cats want to cut costs. As a result they will use the company who will charge the least. It is unfortunate that overseas companies can do the job for less than the British companies. This is where the problem began, workers recently made redundant were horrified when local jobs when to an Italian company who would use Italian and Portuguese labour.

A lot of my colleagues regularly work overseas in places such as Kazakhstan, Dubai and other countries. When this work is offered people jump at the chance. Don’t blame the workers - it's not their fault at all. Its the system: capitalism. To quote one of my colleagues “ foreign workers are in the same boat as us, if were offered work we would take it” the recent wave of redundancies had nothing to do with overseas workers “taking our jobs”. Its the whole greedy system that is to blame. In an the engineering industry, especially with the oil and gas industry, the job takes you world wide. Contractors can work all over the world. As i'm sure the media is pushing this on the front pages they are doing nothing to defend the foreign workers who also face threats of redundancy and unemployment. Who can blame the workers who just want to work and support their family? What Happened to international Worker solidarity?

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Jan 30 2009 22:01

Talking to some comrades tonight, I think what is clear is that this struggle has positive and negative elements, and could go either way. At root it is a demand for jobs, and expresses the needs of the workers there against the needs of capital. Capital can't provide for us. So in as far as it is a class demand ("the right to work" is the most basic class demand imaginable), there is something to be supported. I doubt that the protests would be of lesser intensity if the slogan was "give us work" rather than "British jobs for British workers". And I've seen far more statements quoted in the paper explicitly saying that they aren't against the foreign workers, but the open tenders than I have seen statements expressing xenophobia. A comrade who works in a refinery says as much.

There is the potential for this to develop into a xenophobic political campaign against "foreign workers" generally, and clearly we have to be vocal in opposing nationalism and the damage it causes to our real attempts to assert our needs effectively.

I think that, approaching this, we have to base our responses on what we would do if we worked there. I would be arguing for similar tactics as now but pushing the material demand for more work, and arguing against any xenophobia.

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Jan 30 2009 22:16

The forums at UKWelder make interesting reading. There is a demand for jobs but the nationalist undercurrents are also strong. There is a great deal of hostility from some towards the unions and the recognition that "unity is strength". So far, no-one seems to have explicitly recognised that such unity needs to be across national boundaries too though.

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Jan 30 2009 22:38

Theres some relatively sensible stuff on UKWelder, also at bearfacts.co.uk.

Even one of the rabid nationalists at bearfacts.co.uk told the BNP hack there to piss off.

Some quotes from bearfacts forums:

Quote:
We want to be careful with the nationalism, lads, so that things don't turn nasty. I've got nothin against the Italian workers as such, they're just doing a job, putting food on the table for their families. They're not W*** (Without Papers- as they are EU citizens and are legally allowed to work here)- besides this is racist. Many of us have worked abroad- Germany, Spain, Middle East- did we think or care about jobs in those countries? Getting at the workers is just going to give us a bad reputation, and turn the public against us.

The problem is with the tenders, Total management and probably the govt. for allowing foreign companies to undercut. The govt. shouldn't allow this to happen. They haven't thought about the social price to the area, only the price of the contract.

These jobs should go to British workers, cos we can do the work and we need it. Just leave the racism and aggro at home- it doesn't do anyone any favours.

Quote:
Hey lads,

I'm a Brit working overseas, just like many of you have done in the past - and might end up having to do in the future. Please think carefully about how you deal with your situation. The last thing we all want are bosses exploiting the divisions between workers that are based on nationality. The scum that send jobs from profitable factories in the developed world to sweatshops exploiting children and wage slaves in other parts of the world would end up having a field day with all of us if they could play us off against other Europeans. I might be wrong, but I think the tawdry sell-out leadership of the union has a lot to answer for, particularly in its continued funding of New Labour (the Tory B Team), and its backroom deals that sell out working families. Instead, they should have been building links with effective workers organizations around the world, helping to unionize on a global scale, and taking the fight to the exploiters who tell us we're lucky to have some dead end job. Moreover, our unions, the organizations that take our dues, also need to grow a backbone and form a new party run by workers that stands for the interests of workers. Right now, Europe is ripe for such a party. The massive protests in France and Greece are just a precursor for what is to come. Ever thought of contacting and building links with those workers and strengthening a Europe wide protest against workers getting the shaft? Sounds like a better option than having the real guilty parties. that cabal of bosses, union leadership sell-outs, and New Labor continuing to take advantage of the working class. Just my thoughts, Digger

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Jan 31 2009 01:15

Any scope for taking the statement Django made and JoeK suggested turning into a leaflet and handing it out locally or at any future solidarity walkouts elsewhere?

SW
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Jan 31 2009 06:48

Here is the TUC's response

Quote:
date: 30 January 2009

embargo: For immediate release

"Refinery workers are understandably and rightly angry", says TUC Commenting on the dispute centring on the Lindsey Oil Refinery in North Lincolnshire, TUC General Secretary Brendan Barber said:

'With big job losses announced every day, workers are fearful for their jobs. Refinery workers are understandably and rightly angry at employers who have not given British based workers the opportunity to apply for new jobs. The employer will be in breach of the law if they restrict any future vacancies to workers of a particular nationality or location.

'But unions are also clear that the anger should be directed at employers, not the Italian workers. No doubt some of the more distasteful elements in our towns and cities will try to use the fears of workers to stir up hatred and xenophobia, but I am confident that union members will direct their anger at the employers who have caused this dispute with their apparent attempt to undercut the wages, conditions and union representation of existing staff.

'Unions have fought hard for decent conditions for migrant workers and back the free movement of labour within the EU, but that is entirely compatible with wanting to see new jobs recruited fairly, with everyone given the chance to apply and be judged on the basis of their skills.

'There is much concern among unions at recent decisions of the European Court of Justice - particularly the Viking-Laval cases - that appear to allow companies to undermine existing pay, working conditions and pensions by moving workforces around Europe in this way. European governments must close this legal loophole that drives a huge hole through social Europe.'

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Jan 31 2009 09:18
Choccy wrote:
Any scope for taking the statement Django made and JoeK suggested turning into a leaflet and handing it out locally or at any future solidarity walkouts elsewhere?

Theres a demonstration in London coming up which would be easy to do. The walkouts seem to be in areas where there isn't much in the way of organised groups.

I think we should be making links on the ground, at least to find out what way the wind is blowing.