Oil refinery strikes

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baboon
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Feb 7 2009 16:35

Prior to the media universally adopting the headline “The strike against foreign workers….” the first reports of Channel 4 news on the strike gave a clue to a positive nature to this movement. The news presenter on the spot at Lindsey immediately emphasised that he had been told by workers that this wasn’t a strike against foreign labour. He made this point in at least a couple of early bulletins. What that showed was that a minority of workers had discussed the issue, come to a conclusion and wanted to generalise that conclusion. Right at the beginning then, a minority of workers actively countered the idea that this was a strike weighed down by nationalism.

Above, Revol mentions the union jack that appeared around the crowds. Two days before the strike ended, one union jack appeared and was filmed and photographed by most of the media. They largely ignored a “workers’ of the world unite” placard that appeared around the same time. On the morning of the vote at Lindsey, three union jacks made an appearance all around or on the platform. Throughout the whole crowd there wasn’t a single “British jobs for British workers” slogan. Not one. Suggesting that the minority view expressed at the outset of the strike gained a majority position against the nationalist campaign of the bourgeoisie that undoubtedly had an influence on some workers and that could have given this movement a different stamp had it taken hold.

posi
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Feb 7 2009 19:01
Caiman del Barrio wrote:
it's a red herring to construct hypothetical scenarios in which British workers were bussed cross-country.

But the question is whether this is a hypothetical scenario or something which has acually been happening. And if it has been happening, in what terms is it understood by the workers involved, and what brings them to differentiate beween those workers, and the ones from the continent.

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I mean, the linguistic barriers are obviously considered to be a benefit for Total and IREM, a part of a strategy of enforced segregation preventing fraternisation.

Yeah, but although it's on a lesser scale, this is probably also part of the objective of bussing workers from one part of the country to another - regional animosities, accents etc.

EDIT: interesting article in the FT today - http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/31408dc6-f48e-11dd-8e76-0000779fd2ac.html

I'm pasting it because sometimes stuff dissapears from FT online.

Quote:
A rash of 1970s-style unofficial walkouts by British workers over issues such as tea breaks spurred employers to use foreign workers in the sector at the centre of a wave of industrial unrest in recent weeks, industry insiders have told the Financial Times.

More protests are planned next week over the use of foreign workers at Staythorpe plant in Nottinghamshire, threatening a repeat of a national wave of wildcat strikes at oil refineries, gas terminals and power stations in sympathy with the dispute at Total’s Lindsey refinery.

Political debate over the recent disputes has been dominated by union allegations that non-UK companies are seeking to undercut British workers by paying their foreign employees less.

But companies working in the sector state privately that the attraction of using foreign rather than British workers is that they are much less likely to stage illegal strikes. There is an industry tradition of staging “sympathy stoppages” on the death of a worker’s relative or a retired worker – a site in Southampton suffered a limited walkout for this reason only last month.

British workers are also seen as being prone to walk out over problems with site facilities, such as hot-water boiler breakdowns. Tea breaks – protected in an industry-wide agreement with the unions – are another “huge bone of contention” and had led to walkouts, one insider states.

The engineering construction sector, at the heart of last week’s dispute at the Lindsey oil refinery, lost more than 22,400 days to unofficial action in the year to November. This equates to almost one day for every one of the roughly 25,000 blue-collar workers employed – about 32 times worse than the average for the UK workforce as a whole for the same period.

The Unite union rejected any suggestion that “British disease” of strike-prone workers was behind the unrest in the sector. The union said many of the unofficial walkouts stemmed from accidents. The perceived reluctance by non-UK companies to use local workers had “got to do with costs, in terms of circumventing national agreements”, a Unite official told the FT.

Business is alarmed by the increasing pressure on Gordon Brown, the prime minister, to press for a change to European law to allow non-UK companies in Britain to be required to sign up to such collective agreements.

Ministers are privately frustrated that the debate is being dominated by unsubstantiated claims that non-UK employers are paying staff less. Employers contacted by the FT refused to comment on record on illegal walkouts for fear of retaliatory action by the workers.

This wall of silence surrounding British workers’ productivity makes it harder for Mr Brown to win the argument against protectionist measures to ring-fence jobs for British workers, government insiders believe.

baboon
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Feb 8 2009 15:21

Let’ have some clarification then Revol and less abuse.

I agree with Alf, nothing’s guaranteed, but we’ve seen a development in class consciousness expressed in this strike. For all the media campaign, for all the work done to reinforce nationalism and racism over its tenure by the Labour Party (something that Revol is clear on), this, in good part, was a struggle against nationalism. There are positive lessons from this movement overall and we should perhaps move to draw this out succinctly. It is possible that this is just a pause in this movement - there was a sense of that in the vote to end the strike at Lindsey: unanimous, sober and reflective.

The gain was in the movement and the fact that, in large part, it took place on the terrain of the working class. The bourgeoisie hardly mentioned the word “illegal” and the use of repression must have been ruled out early on. To a certain extent, the bourgeoisie were taken by surprise. The first words of union leaders on the issue were along the lines of “we’ve been warning the government about this…”
The movement gained strength because of the numbers of workers actively involved and with solidarity strikes breaking out here, going back, breaking out there. It’s a pity that the Italian and Portuguese contingents didn’t join in but they were well isolated by the forces of order. Solidarity was expressed towards them among strikers at different levels and there were attempts to reach them. But they were too weak and not forceful enough. But the Polish contingent entered the scene with all its symbolic force. There would have been a number of Irish workers involved.

Of course the unions were more or less present and stewards would have played a role in the development. If it was the wildcats breaking out all over the country, many of them from workers directly communicating with each other, then these were the expressions of discussions, meetings and certain degrees of self-activity and self-organisation that were going on in the struggle.

Against those that see this movement for the expression of nationalism that the bourgeoisie will have us believe it is (and Revol has quite correctly and honestly raised his concerns), I believe that it has been positive for the development of class consciousness. Nationalism was a danger, but it was confronted early and that confrontation gained strength as the strike spread largely on its own terrain.
Nationalism is a potent weapon of the bourgeoisie. It was always in the background in the 84 miners’ strike, occasionally brought to the fore, and greatly contributed to the grinding down and defeat of that movement. But in this instance, this movement represents a slap in the face for nationalism.

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oisleep
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Feb 8 2009 15:49
Quote:
Solidarity was expressed towards them among strikers at different levels and there were attempts to reach them.

here's one (nicked from sihhi)

capricorn
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Feb 8 2009 19:42

Baboon seems to have missed this one

and this

and this

and this one

Doesn't look a very promising start to the World Revolution.

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oisleep
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Feb 8 2009 19:57

working class in not homogenous shocker!

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Joseph Kay
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Feb 8 2009 20:19

yeah i'm not sure what point capricorn's trying to make? nobody's claiming there weren't both nationalist and internationalist tendencies as far as i can tell (even revol, while he scrambles around to take issue with something).

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Joseph Kay
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Feb 8 2009 20:29
revol68 wrote:
Other oddities I've noticed is Steven's amazement that I was unsure of whether or not the italian workers were undercutting wages and conditions, funny he didn't find it odd that Joseph K had explicitly stated he didn't know this and wouldn't claim it. Like I said if pay and conditions are being undercut then the articulation of the strike was extremely muddled and confusing, so much so that even the front page of this website was under the impression the strike was over the exclusion of british workers.

you realise me and steven are different people right? and that the corporate media, and some internet communists reading between the lines of said corporate media are hardly as reliable a source on the demands of a strike as the actual demands subsequently issued by the strike committee? i'm not going to get drawn into another of your tantrums while you thrash about moving goalposts, to manufacture an argument to obscure the fact you basically waded in without knowing what you were really talking about. it's ok, nobody expects you to be the font of all knowledge, but there's no need to start calling people 'dishonest arseholes' and the like for calling you on it.

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Joseph Kay
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Feb 8 2009 21:55
revol68 wrote:
I'll ask you again if you know whether or not there is undercutting going on

you are not paxman. you quoted my answer to this in your previous post.

revol68 wrote:
if there is undercutting going on wasn't this poorly articulated during the strike, to such a point that everyone including libcom.org was reporting it as a stike in protest at the exclusion of british workers?

like i say, internet reporting by liberatarian communists with no connection to the struggle, there wasn't much coming directly from the strikers themselves to go on, so we had to rely on a combination of copy and pastes and reading between the lines, which is always going to be imperfect. we may well have misreported the strike, we're fallible. sorry.

revol68 wrote:
Still make some moans about me throwing a hissy fits and then some childish jibes about me acting like 'a font of all knowledge' (particularly ironic when I've actually been asking for clarification on a number of issues)

revol, far from saying that, i explicitly said "nobody expects you to be the font of all knowledge." that's the oppositie of saying you are acting like it. you on the other hand have implied people are "kidding ourselves about the content of these strikes and downplayying the nationalism within them" and extending "uncritical support of the wrong headed demands of one section of the working class over another." you haven't been able to substantiate either, and have subsequently moved the goalposts.

revol68 wrote:
certainly beats engaging with my posts and the questions and issues I've raised, one pertinent one being how you can support the strike without knowing whether or not undercutting is actually going on?

various posters have addressed this, so please drop the paxman routine. if i'm made redundant and replaced my someone on exactly the same pay, terms and conditions, i'm still going to be fucked off about the casualisation which paves the way for a subsequent race to the bottom and weakens the position of all workers.

martinh
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Feb 8 2009 22:17
revol68 wrote:
... the questions and issues I've raised, one pertinent one being how you can support the strike without knowing whether or not undercutting is actually going on?

Well, even if there isn't undercutting going on, this is an issue about taking on workers outside of a national agreement. There are times when bosses will even pay workers more to undermine national agreements (I seem to remember Kent CC doing it with teachers). The workers covered by that national agreement clearly see it as a problem.

Personally I think there is likely undercutting going on - the alleged parity in pay that the employers have been claiming is in large part a function of the pound's decline against the Euro.
The average full-time wage in NE Lincolnshire is £25181, low by national standards. These jobs are likely to be above average I would have thought. If the Portuguese workers are earning what JH reported, it would equate to a UK wage of around £43k, which I doubt undercuts many British workers. Though of course this is for skilled specialists, so it's difficult to compare like with like

Regards,

Martin
edited cos I got the sums wrong embarrassed

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Joseph Kay
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Feb 8 2009 22:44
revol68 wrote:
Oh fuck off you dishonest fuckwit do you think you're talking to a retard?

you're clearly not a retard, but there's clearly no point in engaging you further if your 'substantive' points keep shifting every time people show you to be factually wrong, or counter your arguments.

revol68 wrote:
Yes but like I said they aren't being made redundant in the conventional sense

well, they were issued with redundancy notices. but in any case Steven has responed to your 'argument' that 'that's just the way it is' with subcontracting.

revol68 wrote:
Yet in all this their immediate contractors have been barely mentioned, which just shows how subcontracting acts to try and tie workers to the interests of their employers.

the former may or may not be accurate - i've heard little from the strikers themselves and lots of spin from union full-timers, the press and Lord mandelson. do you know the strikers haven't been critical of their immediate employers, or are you just asserting it on the basis you haven't heard anything?

revol68 wrote:
Now if undercutting isn't going on, and there seems to be little definitive proof (...) either way, then how do we relate to a strike that would be essentially a protest by casualised labour against a contract being awarded to a permanent workforce and which see's workers lining up behind their local employers in opposition to 'foreign' firms?

which of the LOR demands "line up behind their local bosses in opposition to foreign firms"?

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PartyBucket
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Feb 8 2009 22:51
revol68 wrote:
I'd also like to point out that these concerns are also shared by other belfast posters on here, Choccy, Boul, and Notch8, so it's hardly me being contrarian for the sake of it as you have been unsubtley implying.

I personally find it extremely difficult to know what to think, as there seems to be a new twist almost daily.
Im also sceptical regarding the motivations behind sympathetic wildcats which were in sympathy with action under the banner the original strike was, eg at Kilroot here in NI, I doubt, depressingly, that there was any nuanced political discussion there before the walkout.

capricorn
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Feb 9 2009 08:45
Joseph K. wrote:
yeah i'm not sure what point capricorn's trying to make? nobody's claiming there weren't both nationalist and internationalist tendencies as far as i can tell (even revol, while he scrambles around to take issue with something).

It was to refute Baboon's ridiculous overestimation of the "internationalist" aspect of the strike which would have been confined to a tiny minority, mostly union reps with some understanding of the principles of workers unionism. Apart from that, a member of some Trot group holding up a "Workers of the World Unite" placard and Polish workers joining an "anti-foreigner" walk-out somewhere in the West country (that's what I'd have done too if I'd been a Polish worker -- it would have been crazy of them not to have walked out along with the rest of the workforce).

Baboon would never have made these claims if it hadn't appeared to be an unofficial strike. Even this is dubious since, even if it wasn't officially organised by the unions, it was organised by local union reps and shop stewards (as, as anyone who knows about unofficial strikes in Britain knows, is nearly always the case in such strikes).

This wasn't (as he imagines) an anti-union strike but one in which the moderating influences on the workers British nationalism would have been, precisely, the union reps and officials. In other words, it was a typical "trade union" strike, ie sectional, corporatist, only in this case more obvious than usual. You can't really blame the workers involved as, in a slump, what workers will want is a job rather than a socialist revolution (even if that's what they should want). But you can blame those who encouraged them from the outside.

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Alf
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Feb 9 2009 09:34

The new World Revolution has a balance sheet of the struggle, which tries to assess the significance of the confrontation between nationalism and internationalism within the movement:

http://en.internationalism.org/wr/2009/321/solidarity

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Alf
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Feb 9 2009 09:38

double post

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Django
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Feb 9 2009 10:29
Capricorn wrote:
It was to refute Baboon's ridiculous overestimation of the "internationalist" aspect of the strike which would have been confined to a tiny minority, mostly union reps with some understanding of the principles of workers unionism. Apart from that, a member of some Trot group holding up a "Workers of the World Unite" placard and Polish workers joining an "anti-foreigner" walk-out somewhere in the West country (that's what I'd have done too if I'd been a Polish worker -- it would have been crazy of them not to have walked out along with the rest of the workforce).

I'm not sure about this. No one has denied a strong nationalist element to the strike which was de-emphasised as time went on, but with a couple of exceptions the strikers quoted by the media emphasised that they had no hostility to foreign workers. I doubt this is down to the media being selective given how much they played up the BNPs (non-existent) involvement.

Obviously we also have the actual demands that the mass meeting agreed on, which can't be explained away as in the same manner as the examples you've given above as down to a tiny but vocal minority.

capricorn
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Feb 9 2009 13:50
Django wrote:
No one has denied a strong nationalist element to the strike which was de-emphasised as time went on

Yes, that is precisely what happened -- as more experienced union members came to the fore and toned down the crude British Nationalism of some of the strikers. So, it was a move from nasty, extreme nationalism to middle-of-the-road moderate nationalism as embraced by the unions, Guardian-readers, etc..

Django wrote:
but with a couple of exceptions the strikers quoted by the media emphasised that they had no hostility to foreign workers.

I'm sure most of the strikers were decent people who are not hostile to "foreign" workers as such (and accept an Italian as manager of the England football team). But that's not internationalism just common decency

Django wrote:
I doubt this is down to the media being selective given how much they played up the BNPs (non-existent) involvement.

No doubt the BNP did try to get involved but were rebuffed, because their support would be the kiss of death.

Django wrote:
Obviously we also have the actual demands that the mass meeting agreed on, which can't be explained away as in the same manner as the examples you've given above as down to a tiny but vocal minority.

The words of the resolution voted by the mass meeting would have been carefully drafted by the local union reps and shop stewards to reflect the moderate sectionalism/nationalism of the unions.

I think there's a lot of clutching at non-existent straws and a clever use of dialectics (interpenetration of opposites) going on to try to give the strike an internationalist aspect that it didn't really have. In essence it was just an ordinary run-of-the-mill strike for jobs and jobs security wuthout any revolutionary potential. Sorry, but wildcat strikes are not the hope of world.

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miles
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Feb 9 2009 14:51
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In essence it was just an ordinary run-of-the-mill strike for jobs and jobs security wuthout any revolutionary potential.

By which you mean that you've really failed to understand the depth of the economic crisis of the current period and the potential effect this has had (and will have) on workers struggles / consciousness.

Quote:
Sorry, but wildcat strikes are not the hope of world.

No one is claiming they are, only a future revolution will be that. However, wildcat strikes - i.e. ones out of the control of your beloved unions - are important steps in that direction.

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Feb 9 2009 15:28
Capricorn wrote:
Yes, that is precisely what happened -- as more experienced union members came to the fore and toned down the crude British Nationalism of some of the strikers. So, it was a move from nasty, extreme nationalism to middle-of-the-road moderate nationalism as embraced by the unions, Guardian-readers, etc.

"Precisely"? Do you have evidence for this? Or is this what you are assuming? (I'm not saying it couldn't have happened)

Capricorn wrote:
The words of the resolution voted by the mass meeting would have been carefully drafted by the local union reps and shop stewards to reflect the moderate sectionalism/nationalism of the unions.

And passed by a large majority of strikers. Unless you think that they passed something they disagreed with?

Would these be the same unions who produced the "british jobs for british workers" placards? How is that a more moderate nationalism than that displayed by the rank and file?

Capricorn wrote:
I think there's a lot of clutching at non-existent straws and a clever use of dialectics (interpenetration of opposites) going on to try to give the strike an internationalist aspect that it didn't really have. In essence it was just an ordinary run-of-the-mill strike for jobs and jobs security wuthout any revolutionary potential. Sorry, but wildcat strikes are not the hope of world.

Who has said that "wildcat strikes are the hope of the world" or that this strike had revolutionary potential? I certainly didn't. Its like your beef with the ICC is turning you into an inverse caricature of them here and workers are incapable of coming to any reasonable conclusions without the unions helping them along.

capricorn
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Feb 9 2009 16:53

Actually my beef with the ICC is not (this time) about whether or not the unions are State agencies but whether or not this strike was an anti-union strike. I think it was a spontaneous strike about job losses and job security organised organised by shop stewards and other union representatives at local level.

And I'm not defending the nationalism, moderate or otherwise, of the unions and their top leaders, but I do doubt that the "rank and file" were less nationalistic than the unions' shop stewards. Of course the extent to which unions are or are not a reflection of their members views is something we've discussed in other threads. I'm inclined to think that they largely do so the union-printed placards would have reflected what the strikers felt..

This case certainly wasn't a case of an internationalist rank and file being derailed by nationalist unions. And I wouldn't rely too much on resolutions put to mass meetings. What's important and what those at the meeting vote on is the bottom line -- whether to go back to work or carry on striking -- not the introductory whereases and wherefores (which in any event would have been drawn up by the local union shop stewards).

baboon
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Feb 9 2009 17:51

From the beginning I didn't doubt the danger of nationalism in this strike. I have an abiding memory of how it defeated the miners' strike. I didn't miss the posters about "British jobs for British workers" and mentioned them several times on here and other sites. It's good of Capricorn to show them again - it's as if he wants to emphasise how thick ordinary workers are. But this fits in with his Trade Unionist defence and his position that workers should "batten down the hatches" in the face of the bourgeoisie's attacks and fundamentally, let the unions "negotiate" their misery.

It was clear by the second or so day of this strike that there were a minority of workers, formulating and propagating an anti-nationalist position. In my book that makes it internationalist at a certain level. Even if this had remained a minority, even if a nationalist movement had occured, this still would have represented a significant movement in the face of the barrage of nationalism thrown against it. But, as the wildcats and obvious discussion within the movement developed, the position advanced in the following days: the thinning out of the nationalist slogans; the comments by individual workers expressing a class standpoint; the BNP being shown the door and the fact that in order to get a racist/nationalist comment, the BBC had to resort to editting the non-racist views of a workers to get him to look like a nationalist. At the final meeting at Lindsey there were three union jacks surrounding the union platform. The platform could have easily ordered them to be taken down. But they didn't.

This is not a revolution and wildcats are not the answer to everything, but this movement represents something far more than "batten down the hatches" which could easily be interpreted as "look after number one", and "let the unions look after us". If this latter view, that held by Capricorn, had dominated in this strike it would have made the emergence of the nationalism that the bourgeoisie tried to infiltrate all the more easier.

The bourgeoisie would have preferred this "dispute" to take place on the grounds of nationalism. Then the "globalism", "anti-globalism" argument could have taken place between government and unions leaving the workers bemused and squeezed out.

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Steven.
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Feb 9 2009 18:33
revol68 wrote:
acting retarded... ridiculous... fucked witted and knee jerk... dishonest arsehole...Oh fuck off you dishonest fuckwit do you think you're talking to a retard?

as you are aware, this is a no flaming forum. Please discussed politely, without the childish abuse.

Quote:
To be honest I think Steven. is being a dishonest arsehole in his responses here, though considering the last time I had a political discussion face to face he was defending lying to fellow workers in order to shore up support for a strike...

For all your talk of dishonesty to make no response to either Joseph or myself about the false positions you attributed to this. And to bring up a private, joking, half-drunk conversation we had at a house party to try to use against me is pretty pathetic.

Quote:
My pointing out that the nature of the industry and the fact that contracts come and go all the time, wasn't meant as some wanky justification of the status quo but was more an issue of trying to contextulise the struggle in a bid to understand the motivating catalyst. As I said if a cornish company won the contract and brought their own permanent workforce would there have been the same hoopla? To pretend there would have been no difference in outcome is rather naive.

like I said, there have been struggles before over workers being sacked when contractors change. I don't have any links for any, but they were not particularly uncommon. Of course, without the potential nationalist slant I'm not aware of any that have attracted much media attention.

What you actually said, did not sound like you were trying to " contextualise the struggle" but did sound like you are trying to justify the status quo:

Quote:
Yes Steven. I'm well aware of what contracting involves, however this has been something that has gone on for decades in the industry. When a contract is won by a company they decide who and where they hire, that's just a fact...

I responded to you that this may well be a "fact" in some areas, but it is not a good thing for workers, so it is good if workers fight this. It is in workers interests for the new company to just take on existing workers on the same pay and conditions. This is not something you have responded to - do you disagree with this?

Quote:
My posts were not meant as some black and white denouncement or support, I was simply looking for clarification on some points and raising some points that I feel warrant further discussion,

O RLY?

Quote:
My internationalism and solidarity doesn't extend to uncritical support of the wrong headed demands of one section of the working class over another, especially when it seems to rest upon parochialism and latent nationalism.

As for this:

Quote:
Other issues that I feel need discussed are how do we determine undercutting in a situation where comparing 'free lance' contractors and permanent workers, and how does this subcontracting act to tie the interests of british workers to british construction firms?

it doesn't. If workers are well organised and they can fight to have their jobs and conditions protected regardless of who their employer (the subcontractor) is.

Following past worker struggles over this, the government introduced TUPE legislation to ensure that this generally occurred. Martin in response to your question about why TUPE did not apply here, apparently TUPE has a get out clause if the new contractor has an existing skilled workforce which is capable of taking on the new work. This appears to have been the case with IREM - however, apparently IREM did recruit more people for the job - but just from Italy.

Also of course I note that you have refused to address most of the points that myself and Joseph had made, particularly in response to your appalling comments and complete misunderstanding of workers solidarity, which I explained to you, and against which myself and others have mentioned concrete examples of workers losing out in the short term themselves in order to support the struggles of others. I expect you will just ignore this again and respond with more strawmen and abuse but I've got used to your debating style over the years.

To whoever posted the motion from the RMT - whereabouts was that motion passed? Also that article in the financial Times is very interesting, thanks for that.

All that said, I think baboon is being very overenthusiastic in his praise. Especially saying that this strike marks a huge step forwards in class consciousness from the miners strike is unfortunately totally flawed.

That thousands of other workers downed tools and walked out in support of the first group is a testament to workers solidarity still being alive and well. This movement is also showed that workers can walk out, and have unofficial action, and break the antiunion laws, and if they stick together they won't be victimised. It also shows that if workers stick up for each other that they can win - and that the way to win is by breaking the antiunion laws and spreading the struggle.

There are of course, big potential dangers. Principally that if nothing else the media coverage will bolster "workers" nationalism, which would be a very damaging development. Combating that is very important, but denouncing this strike wholesale is foolish - as with any struggle we should take the positive and negative lessons from it and try to apply them in future.

baboon
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Feb 9 2009 21:44

You can't blame the workers, says Capricorn (for what?) but you can blame those who encouraged them from the outside. What does he mean by that? What's 'middle of the road nationalism'? He's sure that 'most of the strikers were decent people'. How kind. The "take" he wants to give to this movement is that the unions were running it. What's missed in Capricorn's position is the consciousness of the working class, its self-activity and organisation. I don't want to talk about great leaps since the miners' strike, a strike that long held the potential to extend beyond its own restrictive boundries. But, without overestimating it, I would say that this is a significant step by the working class overall.

Were the unions involved: of course they were.
The union leadership and most of the full timers, almost all proponents of nationalism and the defence of the national interests resorted to blaming their mates in government.
Stewards undoubtedly played a significant role in organisation and the movement generally. But there's an element that Capricorn doesn't give a great deal of weight to and its the workers themselves. Numbers of workers were involved and implicated in the struggle and shop stewards are workers too. Capricorn doesn't have a lot of time for wildcat strikes either.
I think that the fundamental lesson of this strike was in the role of the workers themselves and the practical expression of their solidarity and consciousness. It's not revolutionary but it's a significant development in the international wave of struggle building up.

capricorn
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Feb 10 2009 07:40

Some people here argue "unions bad, wildcat strikes good". The point I'm trying to make is that the position is not so black and white and that this strike has brought this out. The "bad" aspects of trade unions (sectionalism, corporatism) can also be exhibited in wild cat strikes and the good aspects of wildcat strikes (solidarity bringing results) can also be part of official, union-organised strikes. In other words, there's nothing special about wildcat strikes.

I was also making the point that this particular wildcat strike was not an anti-union strike. Baboon virtually concedes this point when he writes:

Quote:
Stewards undoubtedly played a significant role in organisation and the movement generally. But there's an element that Capricorn doesn't give a great deal of weight to and its the workers themselves. Numbers of workers were involved and implicated in the struggle and shop stewards are workers too.

Shop stewards are of course groundlevel union representatives. As World Revolution (May 1974) put it:

Quote:
Representatives of the unions on the shop floor, ie, shop stewards in Britain and their equivalents in other countries, are often directly elected by their fellow workers and can appear to be very militant defenders of the workers' interests. Nevertheless, they perform the same function as unions in general; they iron out union problems between the workers and management, formulate wage demands and ruthlessly keep the self-activity of the working class within the framework of 'law and order' and wage slavery.

I'm not sure about what they are said here to do "ruthlessly", but the rest is an accurate description of their role. Which they performed in this strike too, ie ironing out this particular problem between the workers and management, formulating the strikers demands and ruthlessly keeping the BNP away.

Caiman del Barrio
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Feb 11 2009 08:58

Protests continue at Staythorpe, plus workers at the Isle of Grain, Kent:

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/7882767.stm

BBC wrote:
A delegation of union members will deliver a petition to Downing Street later urging Gordon Brown to insist employers give British workers fair access to work on UK engineering and construction projects.

It also calls for overseas workers to be paid in line with agreed UK rates.

Even the BBC is recognising this now...

baboon
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Feb 11 2009 17:58

It won't stop them, and the rest of the media, calling this a strike "against foreign workers".
Reports on the BBC earlier on, that 200 power plant workers had walked out on wildcat at Staythorpe after 40 steelworkers were threatened by the bosses for joining a demonstration.

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Alf
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Feb 12 2009 09:30

Steven, in general I think that there has been a very serious response to the oil strikes by yourself and as far as I know all the other comrades most involved in the libcom collective. I basically agree with the conclusion to your last post:

There are of course, big potential dangers. Principally that if nothing else the media coverage will bolster "workers" nationalism, which would be a very damaging development. Combating that is very important, but denouncing this strike wholesale is foolish - as with any struggle we should take the positive and negative lessons from it and try to apply them in future”.

This strike certainly increases the importance and concreteness of the fight for internationalism. And, as over the recent massacre in Gaza, there has been a noticeable strengthening of the clearly internationalist currents on libcom. In other words, those who were most active in the effort to put forward an internationalist response to Gaza were also among the first to grasp the significance of this strike and of the need to oppose the nationalist distortions while identifying with the movement as an expression of the class struggle.

I also agree with most of your arguments in response to Revol68 – as I said before, Revol seems to have largely missed the significance of this strike. Also (and perhaps this is not news to you….) he can be very annoying in the way he casually abuses those he’s debating with, although he has improved quite a bit of late. However, when you say that he has shown “a complete misunderstanding of workers’ solidarity”, and that you have explained it all to him, I think that you would need to (a) make it clearer what you think Revol’s misunderstanding is and (b) make it clearer what you have explained because that’s quite a serious charge and quite a major claim to put all in one sentence.

We then come to the next points:

“….I think baboon is being very overenthusiastic in his praise. Especially saying that this strike marks a huge step forwards in class consciousness from the miners strike is unfortunately totally flawed.

Concerning Baboon’s ‘overenthusiasm’ about the oil strikes, I think that you have to pose the question in a broader framework. The defeat of the miners’ strike did not bring class struggle to a halt in Britain during the 80s, but it was certainly a factor in the growing difficulties the working class was facing and which became much more apparent in the 90s which was a definite period of retreat in the class struggle. In contrast, the oil strike seem to be part of an ascendant movement internationally, which is also taking place at a time when there is a far greater potential for large numbers of proletarians to understand that capitalism is in a profound impasse. It’s in that context that these strikes may well prove to mark a significant step forward in the struggles in Britain – not least because the question of nationalism was posed so openly and because, much more than in the miners’ strike, workers were forced to confront the issue head on.

Another element here is the one you yourself point to as a clear lesson of this struggle:

“[i][i]workers can walk out, and have unofficial action, and break the antiunion laws, and if they stick together they won't be victimised. It also shows that if workers stick up for each other that they can win - and that the way to win is by breaking the antiunion laws and spreading the struggle”.
[/i]

Absolutely: and to a considerable extent, this is a marked contrast with the image of the trade unions we were left with after the miners’ strike. Even though there was a strong element of spontaneous, unofficial action at the beginning of the 84-85 strike and at different moments during it, one of the principal ideological images of the struggle is that of a radical trade union with a militant leader, Scargill, facing up to the Tories. It is thus questionable how much the effect of the strike was to show workers that they can win by taking unofficial action or going beyond the unions Thus I think that Baboon’s assessment needs to be taken more seriously than you have done in your post.

As a final point, I think it needs to be said that laws which are aimed at preventing workers from taking the slightest action outside of union control are not “anti-union” laws.

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Steven.
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Feb 12 2009 16:55

Alf, thank you for your comments, I haven't got time to respond to it all.

But this point was a good one

Alf wrote:
As a final point, I think it needs to be said that laws which are aimed at preventing workers from taking the slightest action outside of union control are not “anti-union” laws.

I was just using leftist shorthand, without really thinking about it. Thinking about it, these could be seen actually as pro-union laws, as they actually aid the unions in maintaining control in many ways (of course, not so much in other ways, in that they can have their funds sequestered, etc).

It's interesting that more small disputes have sprung up, like Alan has posted.

I've also seen the following articles from HR journal Personnel Today (which is useful as it is written from a boss's point of view) which I found interesting:
http://www.personneltoday.com/articles/2009/02/09/49287/british-jobs-for-british-workers-is-not-easy.html

Quote:
Key points
Workers from one EU state have the unrestricted right to work in another.
The Posted Workers Directive guarantees them certain minimum statutory rights in the host country.
This does not extend to locally agreed terms. Foreign contractors can pay below locally agreed rates, provided they pay the statutory minimum wage, and do not discriminate by nationality.
Workers on unofficial strike are at risk of dismissal. Employers would be immune from unfair dismissal claims.

this one also covers an important consequence of the strike:
http://www.personneltoday.com/articles/2009/02/05/49261/equal-opportunities-code-for-public-sector-contracts-likely-after-wildcat-strikes.html

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oisleep
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Feb 12 2009 17:12

that stuff about the posted workers is exactly what i posted on the previous page

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Ed
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Mar 8 2009 21:21

Interesting article about Lindsay strikes: http://www.newsocialist.org/index.php?id=1842