The Spark

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx

British Strike against Foreign Workers:
Union Leaders Divert Discontent

Feb 9, 2009

At the end of January, a strike with demonstrations broke out on 20 sites around Britain, involving more than 15,000 skilled workers. These workers renovate or maintain building sites, power plants, refineries, etc.

Jobs like these have been disappearing due to the crisis for more than a year. This strike was the first mobilization against the rise in unemployment. Unfortunately, the leaders of Unite and the GMB unions, who led the movement acted in a completely chauvinistic way. Their slogan, launched some months ago by Prime Minister Gordon Brown, was “British jobs for British workers!”

For the past three months, under the pretext of fighting unemployment, they have led the demand that contractors hire only British workers, instead of hiring workers who come from the European continent.

This scandalous policy of the unions plays the bosses’ game. It turns the workers against each other and poisons the atmosphere in their ranks, instead of uniting them to impose the same conditions for all workers. It also plays the game of the far right scum who used these slogans at the site of the picket lines.

This reactionary policy has been the policy of the union apparatuses since the beginning of the crisis. These leaders stand out in their silence. They had no other response when workers were threatened by massive layoffs and needed a perspective of how to respond to the blows of the bosses. These union leaders, along with the bosses, beg for subsidies from the government to “save British industry.” By diverting the anger of the construction workers into anti-foreign chauvinism, the union leaders pursue the same policy. They pretend to do something without touching the wealth accumulated by British capital.

It was clear the bosses had nothing to fear from this movement. But the speed with which the strike spread – and the fact that it involved workers from different companies and industries – shows that workers can break out of the straitjacket imposed by labor laws.

But if a fight is to serve the interests of the working class, it must take on the workers’ true enemies, the bosses and their government. It must unite the ranks of the workers in struggle, instead of dividing them as the union leaders are trying to do in the current movement.