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."