Friday, January 30, 2009

Contradictory Consciousness - or The Growing Respectability of Racism, part 3

This is not good news. On the face of it, wildcat strikes are generally something to be welcomed. However, the tone of the strikes that have broken out at oil refineries and construction sites around the country, is deeply concerning. The Unite union has been parroting Gordon Brown's phrase of 'British Jobs for British Workers', attempting to shift the blame onto foreign workers, rather than fighting for fair pay for all workers within the industry.

We should start by saying that the underlying fault lies squarely with this country's government and with the EU. It is an utter disgrace that there is not legislation in place that protects the rights and pay of workers from elsewhere in the EU. Furthermore, it is the pandering to the xenophobic rhetoric by the likes of Gordon Brown and Margaret Hodge that has pulled these sentiments into the mainstream, and helped to make racism respectable.

That's the backdrop that's brought us here. So how do we respond. The first thing to say is that Unite members should put pressure on their union to publicly dissasociate itself from the remark by their shop steward at Lindsey that "This is what it's about, it's about collective strength. I'm a victim, you are a victim, there are thousands in this country that are victims to this discrimination, this victimisation of the British worker." and other similar remarks.

Secondly, socialists need to continue to agitate around these picket lines. The argument needs to be made that workers from every country need to organise together to fight against pay cuts and job cuts. It is cheap agency and scab labour, and the easiness with which these can be brought in that needs to be fought against. Unite, GMB and the other unions involved need to recruit like mad amongst foreign workers and put up a serious fight over this. The only way any meaningful victory can be reached is if all workers are involved, and the fight is against the bosses, not between workers. These are lessons that need to be learned quickly. The statement released today by Socialist Worker should be read and distributed widely.

There is a history to this kind of thing of course. In the days of Jim Crow, unions in the southern USA had colour bars in place. This was used to reinforce segregation - black workers were not allowed to join the same unions as white workers, and consequently were used as scab labour during strikes. And the history in this country, while generally better, includes the dockers striking under the slogan 'Enoch was right'.

Things have not deteriorated to that extent yet, fortunately. However, if we take our eye off the ball, things can move in that direction. And the obvious beneficiaries of that could be the nazis, especially with European elections taking place in 3 months time.

Finally, this means we need to step up our anti-racist work masively. Setting up UAF groups in as many workplaces as possible, as we have done with the ANL in the past, can help to create a climate of anti-racism in which it is easier to speak out against the xenophobic statements that have been associated with this dispute. This is critical - the nazis are keen to take to the streets, and if these slogans continue to be popularised it will start to build their confidence to a point where they feel able to. If we push UAF as a central position of unions, it will be far harder for leaders like Derek Simpson to call for the kind of protectionist polices that give rise to racist ideas, whilst doing nothing to benfit workers. The alternative, if we don't fight for anti-racist ideas, if we don't fight for a class position that places the blame squarely on the bosses and the government, could be very nasty indeed.

Link: Lenin has a good article on this

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