THOUSANDS of construction workers from all around Britain are taking strike action this week in support of the sacked workers at the Lindsey Oil refinery in Lincolnshire. The anger is mounting after the employer Total last Friday sacked 900 workers on unofficial strike after the company reneged on a deal forged after strike action in February this year. The February strike was a protest against imported contract workers being given jobs that local workers were barred from applying for. Last week’s strike was set off when a group of local workers were made redundant while other contractors on the site were recruiting. The redundant workers – all trade union activists – were barred from applying for these jobs.
Those are the basic facts but behind them lurks a clause in the European Union’s Lisbon Treaty: the posting of workers directive and a couple of rulings by the European Court of Justice in the Laval and Ruffert cases.
The ECJ – a tool of greedy bosses – ruled that it was unfair for contractors from one EU country carrying out a project in another to have to abide by local labour laws on minimum wages, conditions and even health and safety. Such labour laws were deemed uncompetitive and prevented capitalists undercutting each other. After all, how can an employer from outside a country possibly compete with local contractors if they are not allowed to cut wages and conditions? The rights of the workers to hold on to hard-won minimum wages and conditions did not come into it.
So now whenever a major construction project is underway in any EU country it is more profitable for the owners to employ foreign contractors to do the work. And these contractors are not going to employ local labour because they would have to pay them a fair(er) rate for the job.
This is causing friction not only in Britain but all over Europe. The bosses are hoping it will set local workers against the foreign imported labour and exacerbate racism and xenophobia. This has been partly behind the swing to the right in the recent EU elections.
But the trade unions are being very careful not to fall into this trap. They are campaigning for all jobs to be open for anyone to apply for – including locals – and for imported and local workers to work side-by-side on equal wages and conditions and with equal access to trade union representation.
European unions have been fighting this posting of workers directive now for years but the battle has had little media coverage here. But the workers at Lyndsey and all those who are supporting them are now becoming wise to the implications of the directive. This is driving their anger and the dispute is becoming the strongest showing of industrial action for 25 years. It is a proper all-out strike, rather than a 24-hour gesture – one that is really hurting the greedy employer; workers are defying Britain’s Tory anti-union laws and taking mass solidarity action. The greed of the bosses has unleashed a working class anger and power that had been demoralised and dormant for far too long.
IN THE EARLY 1950s Iran had a popular democratically elected prime minister called Muhammad Mossadeq who carried out his election pledge and nationalised the country’s lucrative oil fields – previously owned by Britain.
The British and American governments were outraged and organised a coup against Mossadeq. First they demonised him in the media, which carried endless reports of how the local population was disgusted with him. Then a covert CIA operation led by Kermit Roosevelt organised a coup to overthrow him. Western “democracy” imposed the brutal and very undemocratic rule of Reza Shah Pahlavi, known as the Shah of Persia and a compliant tool of the imperialist powers.
History seems to be repeating itself; Ahmedinajad is being demonised for his resistance to US imperialism. Elections are being denounced as rigged with no evidence; anti-government riots are being fanned by the West; violence is reported via rumour and internet chat sites like twitter and cannot be checked; the scenes broadcast could be from anywhere. And Mousavi is certainly not the first disappointed election candidate who thought he had victory in the bag but did not. He had plenty of support in the urban, westernised areas but not in the rural localities where most of the population live. Ahmedinajad is no progressive but he does have majority support and those who pretend to be democratic must respect that.