Unofficial refinery walkouts 'over foreign workers' spread

Unofficial refinery walkouts 'over foreign workers' spread

An assessment of the spread of the refinery wildcat strikes - purportedly over the hiring of foreign workers - and the media coverage of them.

The wave of unofficial walkouts following the use of the Italian construction contractor, IREM with its own workforce at Total's Lindsey oil refinery have received a great deal of media coverage.

The motive force seems to be the precarious status of skilled work in Britain. The limited amount available and increased competition for skilled contracts has led to increasing insecurity amongst the workforce. The use of foreign companies with their own workforces to do the work more cheaply has compounded this. This is a result of the workings of the economy and not a conflict between nationalities, something that isn’t lost on at least some of those protesting. The Guardian quoted a picket from the protest in Cardiff, John Cummins, 44, as saying: "I was laid off as a stevedore two weeks ago. I've worked in Cardiff and Barry Docks for 11 years and I've come here today hoping that we can shake the government up. I think the whole country should go on strike as we're losing all British industry. But I've got nothing against foreign workers. I can't blame them for going where the work is."

It appears that this increasing insecurity for skilled workers is behind the protest, not racism. We should be wary of the way in which the media reports such disputes. When workers at a nuclear power station in Plymouth walked out on a wildcat strike last year after a round of layoffs, the media immediately reported that they were walking out over “foreign workers”, and that it was a protest against jobs going to cheaper Poles. This contradicted statements from strikers, and the fact that Polish workers were amongst those who walked out in solidarity. In that case it was again the unions which were spinning the “British jobs for British workers” line.

Django, a libcom user and member of the Anarchist Federation stated:
"The media will always go for the nationalist reasoning.

The strategy that Unite are following is to quote Gordon Brown’s words from the 2007 Labour Party Conference back at him – that he would defend “British jobs for British workers”. They are arguing in defence of the national interest, and the placards you see at the protests saying this are union ones. Its clearly part of the strategy for publicising the dispute, an effective one as it chimes with the nationalist sentiments you’ll find in the media. It’s one we are likely to see more of in similar kinds of disputes.

The economy is proving unable to provide the work we need to get by to increasing numbers of skilled workers, and so individual workers are faced with increasing insecurity. The managers at Lindsay put out the project to tender and took the most cost effective option as a way to protect their profits. This is what they care about, not providing means of subsistence to working class people. But nationalism is how this is being rationalised, nationalism of a vaguely left-wing sort – the working class should have work provided for them by the government, they have an obligation to protect us, etc. This is added to the xenophobia of the media, who otherwise ignore or criticise any strike action. The Italian and Portuguese workers at the site face unemployment at home as British workers face it here, this the problem is at root an economic one to which nationalism offers no solution, only scapegoats."

Comments

oisleep
Jan 30 2009 16:27
Quote:
British jobs for British workers.......the placards you see at the protests saying this are union ones

is this a factual statement?

CiaranD7
Jan 30 2009 19:59

I was born and raised no more than 15 miles from the site in question and I know the area well. I think one of the main reasons that a racial element has been ascribed to the situation is that the area, unlike the conurbations of South Yorks. for instance, have had a very low proportion of ethnic minorities and I would say that the workforce have had little chance to integrate. However that is not to say there is a racist intent, merely that the more politically motivated shop stewards are using the spectre of a foreign workforce 'taking our jobs' to call the workforce out. There is a large lack of skilled jobs in the Humberside area generally, and at the moment a lack of manual work even. Only 15% of the working age population have a degree; half the national average. It is no wonder people are trying to keep hold of their jobs given such strictures. The contractors are clutching at straws and the use of foreign labour conveniently seems to be a clarion call. If it keeps more jobs and leads to a change of policy at Total - then it seems a pragmatic means to an end.

Mike Harman
Jan 30 2009 20:43
Quote:
is this a factual statement?

I've noticed what looked like union placards (more like A4 laminated sheets) all with the same slogan, which look like they might have a Unite logo at the bottom, repeated in much of the footage that's been on News 24. I'll try to look more closely at the telly next time it's on and see if it's actually right. That's the impression I got from the footage though.

Not to mention that all the Unite officials - and I think a branch secretary ("my members") interviewed in a pub today - have been saying either exactly those words or pretty much, so it'd be very consistent with their line to be printing the same thing to wave at the TV cameras as well.

Not as immediately damning as professionally printed Unite placards, but given it's only been three or four days I wouldn't be surprised if a lot of the photocopied stuff was 'official' - at least on a local/regional basis.

So it's clear that the 'foreign workers' line is being pushed by both the media and local officials being interviewed. It's encouraging to see some quotes from participants which suggest that's by far not the only aspect to the strikes though

radicalgraffiti
Jan 30 2009 21:48

I copied this from the channel 4 website

Django
Jan 30 2009 22:07

From an AF comrade who works in a refinery in South Wales:

Quote:
Walkouts in refineries by an oil worker

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. Its 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 in 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 Workers solidarity?

oisleep
Jan 30 2009 23:08

most of the placards do appear to be union ones - the first few i saw had no union markings on them hence the original questioning of the statement

franticek
Jan 31 2009 11:59

www.bearfacts.co.uk

I have found a website made by workers from Straythorpe which might be of interest:

www.bearfacts.co.uk

In a forum thread called "Us brits!", you find the following exchange:

"We did not take this to a racial level, you did, now get ready to reap what you sow. I have worked in your country and respected your culture and industrial rules, just remember you drew first blood not us. Go home now, you have now outstayed the welcome we gave you by not involving you in our plight."

"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."

davidbroder
Feb 1 2009 22:09

At the Bearfacts page there is also this thread:http://www.bearfacts.co.uk/Forum/index.php?topic=155.0 .

The views are mixed: but there is a real debate going on and real contradictions in the movement, and those left groups who have expressed absolute opposition to the strikes are making a bad mistake. Such positions of hostility - or indifference to the manner in which the strike is ended - leave the way for the far-right to exploit the mood and win support.

Since I do not think workers are stupid I don't think the strikers have all been tricked into supporting the BNP, nor that those that express nationalist/chauvinist sentiment are unwinnable. Workers' Power have called for an immediate end to the strike and for the TUC to launch a fresh one with different slogans. Ridiculous! Why not fight, as much as we can, to change the movement which is already showing, whatever its slogans, that you CAN break the anti-union laws and can escape the control of the bureaucracy? The BNP has to relate to it as a strike and act of workers' solidarity, not only as a nationalist protest.

I think it is mistaken to picket the Unite HQ to demand that the strikes end. The symbolism seems like calling for the union leadership to rein in its members, whereas in fact surely we believe it possible to relate to the actually existing movement.

(All that said, I have doubts as to how well the media is presenting the actual politics of strikers, to what extent nationalism is dominant or it's just an attempt to portray workers as a racist underclass, whether the British workforce is all-white, whether the BNP have any real influence, etc. etc.)

Django
Feb 2 2009 12:12

Statement by a member of the LOR Strike Committee.

Quote:
'What's really behind the Lindsey Oil Refinery strike
Keith Gibson, Personal Capacity, G.M.B. - elected onto unofficial LOR Strike Committee.

Note: At the time of writing there are plans to lobby Alstom Head
Offices on 5th February in London.

A ninety day redundancy notice had been issued around mid November 2008 at Lindsey Oil Refinery (LOR) for Shaws' workforce.

This meant that by February 17th 2009 a number of Shaws' construction workers (LOR) would be made redundant.

The day before the Christmas holiday Shaws' shop-stewards reported to the men that a part of the contract on LOR's HDS3 plant had been awarded to IREM, an Italian company.

The Stewards explained that Shaws had lost a third of the job to IREM who would be employing their own core Portuguese and Italian workforce numbering 200-300.

Stewards and Union Officials asked to meet with IREM a.s.a.p. after Christmas to clarify the proposal i.e. would IREM employ British labour? Shaws' workforce were told that the IREM workforce would be housed in floating barges in Grimsby docks for the duration of the job, they would be bussed to work in the morning, bussed to and from the barge for lunch.

IREM workers would work from 7.30am - 11.30am and 13.00 - 1700. On Saturdays they would work 4 hours to make up a working week of 44 hours. The normal working week is 44 hours divided by 5 days, from 7.30 -1600 finishing at 1400 on Fridays (most workers work overtime).

Normal breaks include 10 minutes in a morning and a 30 minute dinner break. Stewards were told that IREM workers would be paid the national rate for the job; to date this has not been confirmed.

After Christmas the nominated Shop Stewards entered into negotiations with IREM. Meanwhile, a National Shop Stewards Forum for the construction Industry held a meeting in London to discuss Staythorpe Power Station where the company Alstom were refusing to hire British labour relying on non-union Polish and Spanish workers instead.

It was decided that all Blue Book sites covered by the National Agreement for the Engineering and Construction Industry (NAECI) should send delegations down to Staythorpe to protest against Alstoms' actions.

The workforce on the LOR site sent delegations. Then, on Wednesday 28th January 2009 Shaws' workforce were told by the Stewards that IREM had stated they would not be employing British labour.

The entire LOR workforce, from all subcontracting companies, met and voted unanimously to take immediate unofficial strike action.

The following day over a thousand construction workers from LOR, Conoco and Easington sites descended outside LOR's gate to picket and protest.

This was the spark that ignited the spontaneous unofficial walk outs of our brother construction workers across the length and breadth of Britain.

This worker solidarity is against the 'conscious blacking' of British construction workers by company bosses who refuse to recruit skilled British labour in the U.K.

The workers of LOR, Conoco and Easington did not take strike action against immigrant workers. Our action is rightly aimed against company bosses who attempt to play off one nationality of worker against the other and undermine the NAECI agreement.

THE B.N.P. SHOULD TAKE HEED, U.K. CONTRUCTION WORKERS WILL NOT TOLERATE 'ANOTHER RACIST ATTEMPT' TO SEVER FRATERNAL RELATIONS WITH WORKERS FROM OTHER NATIONS

Demands for Construction Industry:

* No victimisation of workers taking solidarity action.
* All workers in UK to be covered by NAECI Agreement
* Union controlled registering of unemployed and locally skilled
union members
* Government and employer investment in proper training /
apprenticeships for new generation of construction workers
* All Immigrant labour to be unionised.
* Trade Union assistance for immigrant workers - via interpreters
- to give right of access to Trade Union advice - to promote active
integrated Trade Union Members'

english think-tank
Feb 2 2009 12:17

This must be the beginning
It has taken from the 1950's right up to the present time for the people in our country to work out just what is happening in our country. The three main parties Labour, Conservises,and Lib/dems are all backed by the same group of Media and Multinationals, only by voting out side of these 3 main parties will there ever be any change. We are delighted that the people are at last beginning to wake up to what the aggender of this criminal group is, this has to be the start of what must become a revolution, to clear out these criminals who have gained power not just in the government but throughout the country through big business, and putting the people in power which is what democracy is. The government must always be our servants and never our masters, which is what they have become, so you can tell Lord Mandelson we don't buy it.
E.T-T
Grand committee.

Django
Feb 2 2009 12:32

From the Socialist Unity site

Quote:
I walked on Lindsey Oil Refinery and at 37 it was the proudest moment of my life. I’m no racist, in fact I spent 15 years of my life actively involved in Anti-Fascist Action. This is the first show of strength I’ve seen from the working class for years. Unite stewards and officials told us on Wednesday we were on a hiding to nothing, they’ve forgotten where they came from and the strength and passion we feel. I would for myself and the rest of the LOR strikers like to thank all our brothers and sisters who have come out in our support. United we stand, divided we fall.
davidbroder
Feb 2 2009 13:54

Portuguese language internationalist statement;
http://thecommune.wordpress.com/ideas/pela-defesa-dos-empregos-pela-unidade-da-classe-operaria-contra-o-racismo/

Feel free to point out any probs with the translation

Mark.
Feb 2 2009 20:58

David, the translation looks fine to me, apart from a couple of minor points:

"Deve ser una greve para defender os empregos, não una serie de accões ..."
This should read - "Deve ser uma greve para defender os empregos, não uma serie de accões ..."

"Se o BNP chegam aos nossos piquetes ..."
I think this needs a future subjunctive in Portuguese (unlike in Spanish) - "Se o BNP chegar aos nossos piquetes ..."

Also "Os trabalhadores desconhecem as leis anti-sindicais e a burocracia sindical" might be better as "Os trabalhadores não fazem caso das leis anti-sindicais e da burocracia sindical" - i.e. the workers are taking no notice of anti-union laws rather than being unaware of them.

And "Forçaremos-lhes a escorrer" should perhaps be "Forçaremos-lhes a fugir" - i.e. force the BNP to run away rather than drain away.

davidbroder
Feb 2 2009 21:26

Thanks comrade!

davidbroder
Feb 2 2009 22:05
littad21
Feb 3 2009 13:43

Globalisation the new word for SLAVERY.

Django
Feb 3 2009 16:07

Some interesting video interviews with strikers

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/jobs/4443428/Wildcat-strikes-show-no-sign-of-ending-as-talks-continue.html
From The Telegraph - one worker saying that he'd expect workers in Europe to do the same if they were being prevented from accessing jobs.

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/7866614.stm
A striker being very clear about the lack of hostility to foreign workers

Apparently the BBC news showed footage of BNP activists being given the boot from LOR last night, I didn't see this though.