“We don’t hire any English people”

June 9, 2009

The above is a direct quote from a business owner I talked to in my current capacity as a phone monkey cold-calling employers to try and get them to answer questions for a survey over the phone.  While I’m wary of drawing sweeping conclusions from one incident, I am prepared to take it as a symptomatic attitude of many in the boss class.  It is certainly not the first time I have heard such sentiments, either over the phone or face to face, but the statement was shocking in it’s frankness and lack of shame.

It’s an attitude that goes to the heart of why many of those who voted BNP on June 4th did so.  A feeling of being treated as a second class citizen for being English or British.  Often the example is given of social housing provision, that immigrants (often no distinction is made between those seeking asylum and economic migrants, and as a socialist I don’t see an important distinction there either, albeit for different reasons) are given priority over long standing locals.

It is undoubtedly true that preference is given to certain groups, judged to be more ‘vulnerable’ in the slightly patronising bureaucratic jargon.  Given the appalling shortage of social housing (and the near total lack of affordable private rented accommodation), blame if often directed at those who are provided with it, by those who are excluded.  This doesn’t always result in anti-immigrant feeling.  Where I live, you can pretty much count the number of immigrants (from outside Britain) on the fingers on a couple of hands.  So single mothers generally bear the brunt.

But where there do exist sizeable numbers of immigrants, and the lack of a sizeable political party pushing the perspective that greater social housing provision is needed rather than scrapping over an inadequate number, the issue of housing becomes an issue of immigration, and ultimately of race.  This is where the likes of the BNP have made hay.  The other is jobs.

Gordon Brown cynically played the nationalist card with his ‘British Jobs for British Workers’ speech.  The BNP were elected with a tagline which echoed this slogan, and printed the phrase on their leaflets, notoriously above a picture of American workers seemingly reenacting a Village People video.  They tried to intervene in the strike wave earlier this year, which kicked off at Lindsey Oil Refinery, when the slogan appeared on some signs at the pickets.  But they were sent packing with a flea in their ear.

The Lindsey strikes highlighted a key divide in the far-left.  There appear to be two different perspectives on the question of immigration, one a Marxist approach, the other a more liberal approach.  The Marxist approach was to recognise the grievance of the workers – namely that they were being discriminated against because to hire overseas workers would allow the contractor to undercut the national agreement, and undermine union organisation.  The Marxist approach was to recognise the movement as a developing one that with the correct arguments could be won over to working class internationalism.

This approach, which was taken to great effect in practice by the Socialist Party, and by the other members of the elected strike committee, won a victory for the workforce, British and non-British, particularly on the question of foreign workers joining the union and being employed in accordance with the national agreement.  The approach recognise that the grievance was legitimate, and posed a course of action to unite local and migrant workers, the better to jointly fight for a bigger piece of the pie from the bosses.  I apologise if I miss anyone here, but it  the other left groups supporting this approach included the Independent Working Class Association, the Communist Party of Great Britain and the Commune.

The liberal approach was to focus on some of the slogans printed on boards, and concentrate energies on denouncing them.  The SWP pioneered this approach with the Lindsey strike wave, and also when they decided to turn up to a picket, tried to snatch a Union Jack off one of the workers.  This approach failed, though when a non-SWPer had a word with the flag wielder, it emerged that he had not brought it along for nationalist purposes, and put it away when he was made aware that it could be used to try and portray the strike as nationalist.

The SWP also picked up on a reference by one picketer to ‘Eyeties’, relying on a deliberately distorted in a BBC article.  The full quote makes it clear that the ‘Eyeties’ were in fact referred to in a positive light.  The SWP’s internationalism at Lindsey was the internationalism of multinationals, not the working class.  They simply focused on a simplistic ‘no borders’ position, without putting due emphasis on the use of immigrant labour by employers to suppress wages and trade union organisation and because immigrants can often be exploited to an even greater extent than British workers.

Which brings me back to the quote at the top.  The parasite in question who said this to me went on to elaborate that the reason was that Eastern European workers have a greater ‘work ethic’.  Translated, this of course means that they are willing to work more, for less, and put up with more crap from above them.   This we need to oppose, and oppose in the same way as they did at Lindsey.  Critically we need to take hiring and firing out of the hands of the employers, and in the hands of the unions.  This guarantees that work is shared out, and given only to those in a union, thus maintaining union organisation, and national agreements.  It also strengthens organised labour’s hand in any collective bargaining and strikes.

This industrial work needs to be linked up, as Bob Crow said yesterday, with political work, to make the arguments for a reduction in the working week, abolition of the anti-trade union laws, a mass council house building programme, action against second homes, more progressive taxation, and other measures critical not just to the immediate interests of working class people, but the long term interest in destroying the growth of racism and fascism.

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‘Hope Not Hate’ and the cheek of Harman

April 10, 2009

The simpering and patronising Harriet Harman has once again seen fit to sully public discourse with some of her thoughts.  The darling of middle class feminists everywhere has bravely decided to highlight the dangers of the nasty old BNP, launching New Labour’s election campaign with the lamentable and hypocritical slogan ‘fairness not fear’.  I’m sure innocent Muslims languishing in jails on trumped up ‘terrorism’ charges, victims of the climate of fear the Government has tried to whip up over the ‘terrorist threat’, will be delighted to hear of this change of direction for the New Labout project.

This is all part of the mobilisation against the BNP for the European Elections in June, and there’s nothing New Labourite careerists love more than to play up the threat of the BNP and ascend to the moral high ground to condemn Nick Griffin and his gang of thugs and inadequates.  A few years ago I had the misfortune to attend the NUS conference in Blackpool, where the Labour and ‘Organised Independents’ (that is, Labour but pretends not to be) spent the entire time attacking the left in the most vicious terms, using every bureaucratic manoeuvre to try and stymie any attempts to challenge the Government over issues such as tuition fees, justice for Trade Unionists in Colombia, ID cards, and the war in Iraq.

They quickly changed their tone when it came to a discussion on anti-fascism, when all the rightwing gremlins came up to courageously inform us how terrible racism is and what a nasty bunch of characters the BNP are.  And you could really see the sense of self-satisfaction that they were experiencing as they courageously attacked an organisation which everyone in the conference hall despised.  I see the same look in the eyes of people like Hazel Blears when they do something similar.  And the outrage which is provoked whenever anyone points out the obvious – that New Labour, with its consistent anti-working class policies over the last 12 years of government, has created the conditions which has allowed the BNP to grow.

But most mainstream anti-fascist campaigns don’t recognise this.  The most respectable ones (and I use respectable as an insult here) are Unite Against Fascism and Searchlight.  They are both deeply problematic, and personally I won’t have anything to do with them, preferring grassroots local campaigns, which generally have better politics, and certainly have a greater awareness of the nature of BNP support in their areas, and how best to seperate the hard-core proper fascists from the soft racists and the disgruntled.  Unite Against Fascism is a Socialist Workers Party front organisation, which is founded on the idea that only the largest organisation can be effective, and only the broadest platform can lead to mass membership or adherence.

This is why they encourage Tories and New Labourites to participate, and this is why the message is reduced to a vague ‘don’t vote BNP, vote for someone else’, which doesn’t really work if people vote BNP in exasperation at the mainstream parties, who don’t even speak for workers in their rhetoric anymore, much less enact pro-worker policies.  The Searchlight message of ‘Hope Not Hate’ is a similar dead end, but perhaps an even more insulting one than UAF.  It implies that people are not sufficiently aware of the wondrous improvements New Labour and/or their Lib Dem/Tory/Labour council has made to their lives, or they are ungrateful.

Hope Not Hate presupposes that there is any hope to be found in the messages and programmes of the mainstream parties (and I include the Greens in this), and that to vote for the BNP would be a vote against the hope provided by the still-undiluted neo-liberalism of mainstream bourgeouis politics.  To this I would say what hope is provided by your council flogging off your council house?  What hope is provided by mass unemployment and a few McJobs?  What hope is there when you have to spend most of your income privately renting some shithole with not enough bedrooms, damp and a bastard for a landlord?  I could go on.

Winston Smith was right when he realised that ‘hope lies in the proles’.  While I apologise for being one of those lefties who has only ever read fiction by Orwell, the message is clear – the hope lies in the working class and it’s ability to organise, industrially and politically to build a better world.  New, democratic, industrial organisation and action, coupled with a political party based on, and run by workers up and down the country and internationally, would do a thousand times more to destroy the likes of the BNP than millions of glossy leaflets, television broadcasts by leading politicians, bishops and entertainers.

But of course what Harman really wants is to spread a little fear of her own, overstating the importance and threat of the BNP, in order to scare workers to voting Labour just to keep Nick’s Nazis out of elected office.  Come June 5th, not a word more will be spoken of ‘fairness’, but the fearmongering and attacks on workers of all colours will continue apace.