Far right tries to hijack British labor dispute

Strikes have broken out across the UK in support of a mass walkout by energy workers in Lincolnshire angry at the use of foreign workers. Hundreds gathered for the third day of the original strike at Lindsey Oil Refinery after owner Total gave a £200 million contract to an Italian firm. They are joined by hundreds of other “sympathy” strikers in Scotland, Wales and other parts of England.

Total said that staff employed by the Italian company IREM would be paid the same as existing contractors. More than 300 Italian workers have been brought in by the firm. Sites affected by sympathy walk-outs include Fiddlers Ferry power station in Cheshire; Grangemouth oil refinery in central Scotland; South Hook Liquified Natural Gas terminal in Pembrokeshire; and Kilroot Power station near Larne, County Antrim.

The Unite union has called for a national protest in Westminster. Unite general secretary Derek Simpson said: “The union is doing everything in its power to ensure that employers end this immoral, potentially illegal and politically dangerous practice of excluding UK workers from some construction projects.” (BBC News, Jan. 30)

But leaders of the Trades Union Congress (TUC) warned energy workers to be vigilant against far-right groups looking to hijack their protest, saying the British National Party has adopted the slogan “British jobs for British workers.” The slogan was used by Prime Minister Gordon Brown in his 2007 election campaign, but has been taken up by the BNP to exploit the labor dispute. (The BNP’s website follows the slogan with the kicker “When we say it, we mean it.”)

TUC general secretary Brendan Barber said: “Unions are clear that the anger should be directed at employers, not the Italian workers. No doubt some of the more distasteful elements in our towns and cities will try to use the fears of workers to stir up hatred and xenophobia. But I am confident that union members will direct their anger at the employers who have caused this dispute with their apparent attempt to undercut the wages, conditions and union representation of existing staff.”

Bobby Buirds, regional officer for Unite in Grangemouth, where some workers have staged wildcat strikes in sympathy with the Lindsey workers, said: “The argument is not against foreign workers, it’s against foreign companies discriminating against British labor. This is a fight for work. It is not a racist argument at all.”

Writing on the BNP website, BNP leader Nick Griffin said that Unite’s claims that the issue is not foreign workers is “ridiculous”. (The Scotsman, Feb. 1)

The charming Griffin also seems to be a Holocaust denier, of course. The Socialist Unity wesbite has a Quixotic appeal to demand he retract some charming statements in this regard. While on trial for incitement to racial hatred, Griffin wrote, “I am well aware that the orthodox opinion is that 6 million Jews were gassed and cremated or turned into lamp shades. Orthodox opinion also once held that the earth is flat … I have reached the conclusion that the ‘extermination’ tale is a mixture of Allied wartime propaganda, extremely profitable lie and latter witch-hysteria.”

In an interview with the Mail on Sunday, Griffin added: “It’s well known that the chimneys from the gas chambers at Auschwitz are fake, built after the war ended.”

See our last posts on the UK, the global econo-protests, resurgent fascism, and anti-Semitism.

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  1. BNP not importing nationalist line, but hardening it
    There is a discussion about this taking place at the UK libertarian communist website here:

    From some of the comments published there, it appears that the nationalism is not simply imported from the far-Right BNP. Already from the beginning of the demonstrations, union signs are being held with the slogan, “British Jobs for British Workers.”

    If the BNP is trying to take advantage of the situation and trying to strengthen the nationalist line, it seems only possible because at least some of the workers have pushed that line already.

    While the BNPs nationalism is extreme, nationalism is very mainstream, the slogan, as reported in your article, coming from Gordon Brown himself.

    It seems than, more a matter of the BNP trying to harden the nationalist sentiments of some of the workers and the union, than that of an importation of nationalism itself into a non-nationalist situation.