Mar 20 2009

Blame the bosses not ‘foreign workers’

Category: Emancipation & Liberation,Issue 17RCN @ 3:52 pm

The SWP gained some notoriety on the Left when it came out against Opposition to all immigration controls in the pre-split Respect. Now, no longer bound by Galloway’s Left British Unionism, Socialist Worker published the following useful contribution to the debate.

Millions of working people across Britain are fearful and angry at the mounting economic crisis. Manufacturing industry is now shedding jobs at a rate of 30,000 a month.

This week 6,000 workers at drugs giant Glaxo Smith Kline will become the latest victims of the jobs massacre. In the car industry, Honda workers face a shut-down until June.

Now this fear and anger has exploded into unofficial strike action with thousands of workers in oil refineries and power plants walking out.

They are right to want to fight this recession. But the central slogan of the current wave of strike action, British jobs for British workers, targets the wrong people and points in a dangerous direction.

Any demand framed in terms of putting British workers first inevitably paints another set of workers – foreign workers – as the problem.

It pits British workers against Italian, Portuguese and Polish workers. It seeks gains for one group at the expense of the other.

But foreign workers are not to blame for mounting unemployment, rampant subcontracting or worsening pay and conditions on construction sites.

The blame for these things lies squarely with the bosses – of whatever nationality – aided and abetted by neoliberal politicians such as trade secretary Lord Mandelson, the high priest of the free market.

Bad track record

The slogan British jobs for British workers was used by Gordon Brown in his 2007 speech to New Labour’s conference. As many pointed out at the time, it has a bad track record.

It was used in the 1930s by Oswald Mosley’s fascist blackshirts to justify attacks on Jewish workers in east London and elsewhere. It was used by the National Front in the 1970s to try and force black and Asian workers out of their jobs.

These attempts to play the race card to divide workers have always been cheered on by the right, by successive governments and by the bosses. But they have been opposed by a powerful counter tradition of unity across the labour movement.

The working class of this country is multiracial and most people are proud of that fact. It is made up of people descended from migrants who came here seeking work – whether from Ireland, India, the West Indies or eastern Europe.

In recent years trade union activists in supermarket warehouses, on the buses and, indeed, in the power industry have fought hard to unionise migrant workers and ensure that everyone is paid the same and works under the same conditions – regardless of nationality.

The chorus of British jobs for British workers pulls the rug from under the feet of those who’ve fought to create such unity.

And it can only encourage those elements who want to echo filthy tabloid attacks on migrant workers. It’s no surprise that the Daily Star and Daily Express – papers that never miss a chance to attack workers or migrants – initially welcomed the walkouts.

The real issue is not the nationality of workers, but the imposition of neoliberal regulations across the European Union (EU) that reduced workers’ rights and aided employers in every member state.

Britain’s New Labour government has championed every such piece of neoliberal legislation. Yet it has also insisted on exempting Britain from the few pieces of EU legislation that could have benefited workers – such as caps on the number of hours we work.

Lord Mandelson is now advising British workers to go and get jobs in Europe – echoing Tory minister Norman Tebbit’s advice from the 1980s that the unemployed should get on your bike.

Of course British construction workers should be free to work in Germany or Saudi Arabia, just as workers from abroad should be free to work here. But when Mandelson talks of a “free market” in labour, what he wants is a race to the bottom. He wants Latvian workers to be employed here on Latvian wage rates, subject to Latvian health and safety laws.

That is why tens of thousands of trade unionists across Europe have held sustained and militant protests against the EU’s neoliberal attacks on workplace rights.

Workers from Italy and Portugal want decent jobs and a decent future, just like workers here. They are our brothers and sisters.

We should join their fight to ensure that all workers across Europe get the highest pay rates, the best conditions and the strongest health and safety laws. Focusing on “foreign workers” also lets Gordon Brown and New Labour off the hook. For the past 12 years they have continued Margaret Thatcher’s work.

They told us it did not matter that manufacturing jobs were disappearing, because Britain was becoming a global financial centre instead. That was before the banks went bust, of course.

They have kept Thatcher’s anti trade union laws intact and continued to privatise our public services. New Labour gave bosses the key to 10 Downing Street, but treated trade unions with contempt. And far too many in the trade union leadership have gone meekly along with this treatment – or even, shamefully, encouraged the British jobs for British workers slogan.

Mounting anger

Anger over how working people have been treated has been mounting and is now threatening to explode. The current walkouts are a symptom of that. And they have shown that unofficial strike action is an effective way to fight.

But think how effective it would have been if trade unions had led such walkouts over job cuts, subcontracting and factory closures, rather than over foreign workers. Such militant action could force Brown to act quickly.

On Friday of last week 400 members of the Unite trade union in Ireland occupied the Waterford Crystal factory to stop its closure. In the same week 2.5 million French workers struck over jobs, wages and pensions, refusing to pay the cost of the bosses’ crisis.

Every worker is facing the same horrors in the face of a global recession. We can’t let ourselves be divided by racism or nationalist sentiment.

We need a united fight that targets the real culprits – the bankers, the multinationals, the politicians. Let’s turn the anger on those truly responsible for this dreadful recession.

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Oct 04 2006

Solidarity : A Statement from the Socialist Worker Platform

Category: Emancipation & Liberation,Issue 13RCN @ 6:41 pm

The Socialist Worker platform justify their decision to walk away from the SSP

There can have been very few times when there was such widespread public revulsion against the government. Lebanon is on everyone’s lips and the world seems an increasingly dangerous place in Bush and Blair’s hands. It seems that the only people who do not see the connection between imperialist war and the growth of terrorism are a few Cabinet time-servers.

In that sense the need for a political formation that can express and organize that anger and frustration was never more urgent. We know the people who are demanding that kind of organization; we have marched with them on anti-war demonstrations and most recently in protest at the destruction of Lebanon by Israel. We mobilised with them for the G8 demonstrations and most importantly for the Alternative Summit that followed the Make Poverty History march.

The potential for a mass organization of the left that can draw together all these people is obvious. Yet it is also very clear that the SSP has completely failed to build it.

The reasons for that are political. Underlying the bitter personal exchanges of recent months is an idea of political organization very different from ours. We joined the SSP to build a mass party that could draw together those opposed to war, those fighting discrimination and oppression, those who had joined an anti-capitalist movement to fight the multinationals and their political servants, those who were shocked at environmental collapse, those Muslims who were now more than ever the object of racism and harassment.

That is still our purpose. Sadly, it is obvious that the SSP is not that party, as we had hoped it would be, and despite the work and effort we put in to try and make it happen. Yet the need as well as the potential support for this broad, democratic and active anti-capitalist organization are greater than ever. And there are many both inside and outside the SSP today who have stated their commitment to the project. That is what we now have to build. And it is important that people have the opportunity to express their support in their activity as well as electorally.

We can build that united activity around the key issues on which there is already broad agreement. We are opposed to the imperialist war in Iraq, in Afghanistan, in Lebanon. We are in solidarity with the Muslim community in Britain who are part of our movement. We are committed to fighting racism in all its forms. We are internationalists who see ourselves as part of a global struggle against the capitalist system. We are implacably opposed to all and any discrimination on grounds of gender whatever form it takes. We are committed to social justice and the proper use of society’s resources for the benefit of all its members. We are for the defence of pension rights. We support trade unionists wherever they struggle to improve and defend their members’ rights and conditions of work. We are for a defence of the environment against the rapacious economic instruments that destroy it in the name of profit.

Today it is clear that war is the central question that unites us all. A new Scottish left can find its focus and its launching point in our common revulsion against Blair and Bush’s war. On September 23rd the whole of the British left will march on the Labour Party Conference in Manchester under the banner Out Now Britain and America out of Iraq, Blair out of power. Let that be the founding moment of a new Scottish left that looks resolutely out at the world and shares the determination to change it.

Mike Gonzalez for SW Platform

Motion passed at SW meeting on 20.08.06

At a members meeting held today in Glasgow, the members of the Socialist Worker Platform of the SSP unanimously agreed the following motion.

This aggregate of the Socialist Worker Platform recognises with some sadness that the SSP is no longer the broad and open mass party of the left we committed ourselves to building when we joined it some five years ago. While the imperialist war intensifies and spreads into Lebanon, and the level of public anger and opposition grows, the SSP has proved unable to respond to that anger or provide any direction for it.

The potential for building a broad and inclusive organization of the Scottish left is as great as ever. It is the duty of socialists to respond to and build on that potential. We welcome the initiative of calling an open public meeting of the Scottish Left on September 3rd in Glasgow and will actively work to build it, in the belief that it could represent the first stage in building new political formation that can answer the needs of the many socialists and activists in Scotland, embracing all strands of the movement including Muslim organizations taking a leading role in the antiwar movement and all those involved in the resistance to G8.

The SW Platform believes that the ‘Time to Go’ demonstration at the Labour Party conference in Manchester on September 23rd can provide a common focus for every section of the movement and a launching point for a new Scottish left that will be open, democratic, internationalist and committed to the building of a new and better world.

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