Sunday 21 June 2009

British workers must support Stalin

There are at least two important industrial struggles taking place in the UK at the moment. One is the brave fight of the Lindsey Oil Refinery constuction workers, who were sacked following a wildcat strike against redundancies. (Socialist Worker 20th June 2009: The sacking of the Lindsey workers is a challenge for the whole working class) All socialists must give our full backing to the Lindsey strikers, and to all sympathy walkouts across the UK - such as those at several power stations, other oil refineries and a biofuels plant (BBC News 19th June 2009: Oil plant sackings spark walkouts).

At the same time, however, we should be sceptical about the slogan used by some (by no means all!) supporters of the strike, of "British jobs for British workers". Such slogans pander to nationalism, and risk exacerbating the problem of racism towards immigrants. This is especially unwelcome following the rise of the Nazi BNP - I'm not saying the Euro Election results were frightening, but after watching the Euro election broadcast I had to watch A Nightmare On Elm Street for a bit of light relief ...

We must always remember that immigrant workers are never the problem. Where British workers' pay and conditions are being undercut - whether by foreign workers or by other British agency workers - the problem lies with the fat cat bosses who are cutting costs and boosting their fat profits by employing the cheapest labour possible. So the answer - far from attacking immigrant workers - is to fight for immigrant labour to be employed alongside British labour, on exactly the same, decent, pay and working conditions. This would not only eliminate the under-cutting of existing workers' pay and conditions, it would also eliminate the ruthless exploitation of new workers.

The key to this being achieved, is the struggle by immigrant workers for decent pay and conditions, as seen in another important struggle - that of the SOAS cleaners in London. A strike has been taking place against the sacking of Jose Stalin Bermudez, a Unison union official who was sacked by management. Stalin invoked the wrath of SOAS' management after he helped low paid Latin American cleaners demonstrate against non-payment of wages and for a London Living Wage (Socialist Worker 6th June 2009: Strike in defence of victimised union activist at Soas). Since then, the SOAS cleaners have been treated just as, or even more, diabolically than the Lindsay strikers; SOAS management gave no resistance to, perhaps even collaborated with, a raid by immigration officers which led to the arrest and deportation of several cleaners - who had taken part in action for decent pay and conditions and in support of Stalin (Socialist Worker 20th June 2009: Soas: Did bosses target their cleaners for deportation?). On a positive note, this raid and its aftermath led to occupations by SOAS students in support of the cleaners.

What we need is for the white working class, such as those striking at Lindsay against redundancy, to link with immigrant workers, such as the SOAS cleaners striking against low pay and exploitation. The workers' struggles must then be linked to struggles by students fighting against education cuts and tuition fees, and unemployed and disabled workers fighting against cuts in benefits and unreasonable conditions for claiming benefits.

If such unity could be forged, not only could it undercut racists such as the Nazi BNP. It could create a perfect storm which could sink not only the so-called Labour government and its plastic opposition in the form of the Tories, but the entire capitalist system.

1 comment:

Cobalt said...

You know, considering that your profile does say you are "into socialist politics in a big way", it is somewhat unfortunate that the Unison official in question ironically bears the name "Stalin", as many individuals holding certain popular misconceptions could well choose to read your post by its title, ignoring the important footnote of the article itself.

You say you had to watch A Nightmare on Elm Street for relief after the BNP won no less than two seats in the European elections, with, let's not forget, UKIP and the Tories (now allied to some delightful continental-fascists after quitting the centre-right EPP) picking up most of the rest. Myself I felt that Children of Men was somewhat more suited to the occasion.

It is not at all surprising to see striking refinery workers holding up giant union jacks with "British Jobs for British Workers" emblazoned on them. The left never benefit from recession. People always prefer scapegoats ("Immigrants have stolen your jobs") to solutions (More regulation, public spending for job creation etc etc).

Though it is true that the playing field would be infinitely fairer were some regulation in place to prevent under-cutting wages and conditions by using foreign labour to do the same job domestic labour could do, except for less pay.

However I think it is a safe bet to say that a collective unity between the white working classes and exploited immigrant labour is not going to happen. There are systems in place to prevent this from happening, and they work really well. The media, for one.