As impromptu industrial action breaks out across the country, could the underlying more insidious message in Gordon Brown’s “British Jobs for British Workers” speech be coming home to roost?
Following the mass walkout by energy workers at the Lindsey Oil Refinery after its owner, Total, awarded a £200m contract to Italian firm IREM – who has been paid to bring in more than 300 of its workers from Italy to do the work – the BBC report that solidarity action has broke out in the following ways:
Workers at Grangemouth Oil Refinery, in central Scotland, walked out in solidarity with the Lincolnshire strikers. Hundreds of contractors – who work for BP and INEOS – agreed the move at a meeting. INEOS said the site was safe and fully operating.
The Unite trade union said contractors at six other Scottish sites were also involved in action, including Scottish Power’s Longannet and Cockenzie power stations, in Fife and East Lothian, Shell’s St Fergus gas plant in Aberdeenshire, and British Energy’s Torness facility in East Lothian.
South Wales Police attended a protest at Aberthaw Power Station, which organisers said involved around 50 people peacefully rallying outside the main gate.
About 550 demonstrators gathered outside chemical and steel plants on Teesside in support of the strike.
Cleveland Police confirmed that around 400 demonstrators were involved in a protest at the gates of the former ICI complex at Wilton on Teesside. About 150 people assembled outside the Corus steel plant near Redcar.
Some 300 contractors walked out from Fiddlers Ferry power station, on the banks of the River Mersey at Warrington, Cheshire, on Friday. The staff will return to work on Monday.
GMB union stewards at the South Hook Liquified Natural Gas terminal in Milford Haven, Pembrokeshire, said around 1,000 workers walked out on Friday. The one-off action did not involve a protest at the site, they added.
Workers at BP’s Dimlington gas terminal in East Yorkshire and its chemical manufacturing plant in Saltend, Hull, also walked out in support of the Lincolnshire workers.
Hundreds of contract workers at the Conoco Phillips oil refinery – neighbour to the Lindsey site – also walked out.
Having listened to a phone in on Radio 5 this morning about the protests, the mantra of ‘British Jobs for British Workers’ was being used in ways that verged perilously close to sounding like a rallying cry for the BNP. As various workers aired their frustration at the situation – and overlooking the capitalist pursuit of Total to make as much profit from as cheap labour as possible – so it became clear that it was the ‘foreign workers’ rather than the company that the hatred and vitriol was being directed as.
This is particularly worrying given that in the past week, Harriet Harman has warned that the current recession presents a very real opportunity for the far-right British National Party (BNP) to exploit the situation and make electoral gains in the European elections in June. Speaking at the Progressive London conference she said that the BNP sought to “spread division and despair” among those hit hardest by the recession by blaming the economic slump on generations of migrants. She added:
[The] BNP threat cannot be ignored…Their poison is spreading.
As has been written here before, since the birth of the ‘New Labour’ project the Labour Party has been taking its traditional, core voters for granted. They believed they had nowhere else to go and so left them to get on with it. Because of this, they have been left susceptible to a message of hope quite irrespective of where that message might emerge from. Sadly, this message has come from the BNP, a party that has profited and gained support in those places where house prices are lower than average, where local residents have to face a constant influx of people seeking cheap accommodation and casual employment, and where all working class communities appear to have been forgotten by those holding the balance of power.
In Lincolnshire and elsewhere, it is these very people and communities that are now taking direct action in protest against their sheer sense of desperation. Already anecdotal evidence suggests that the BNP have recognised this opportunity and begun standing side by side with those taking industrial action on the picket lines. No doubt they will be presenting themselves as the real worker’s champions, those who were genuinely prepared to put in place Gordon Brown’s misguided “British Jobs for British Workers”. And no doubt, putting that in place will see them demonise the ‘foreign workers’ that are the innocent scapegoats rather than the politicians, businessmen and corporations as well as the capitalist system that have all united against those now feeling the brunt of the impact.
In terms of the potential of the BNP in making political inroads on the back of the recession – and indeed, history has repeatedly shown how social attitudes towards fascism and nationalism gain increased support during times of recession and economic crisis – estimates suggest that they pose a threat in six of the European regions, possibly needing as little as 7.5% required in the North West where BNP leader Nick Griffin is standing. Whilst the Labour Party has focused solely on “middle England” for the past decade, the BNP has widened its base across the country. In 2007 it stood 742 council candidates, averaging 14.7% of the vote. Last year it averaged 13.9% in 642 wards. The prospect of Euro gains is a significant one as indeed is the broadening appeal of its hateful message.
With the rise of the BNP and the venting of anger at ‘foreign workers’, it feels as though we might be standing on the precipice of something major. The industrial action and acts of solidarity may be disparate at the moment. But with a little guidance and orchestration, a growing number of increasingly disillusioned and desperate people – willing to take the situation into their own hands – could be coerced into bringing about consequences that are far more disastrous. The support for the hideously misguided “British Jobs for British Workers” statement may therefore have a much deeper relevance and resonance than maybe even Gordon Brown could ever have imagined.
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