“British jobs for British workers”

January 29, 2009 at 10:18 pm | Posted in British Politics | Leave a comment

A few weeks ago, Chris Dillow warned of some of the nasty social side-effects of the recession. He noted that  “the main effect of recession is not to cause poverty, but insecurity. And when people are insecure and anxious, they care less for others.” In short, fear makes us all more selfish.

On one level, what’s transpired in Immingham over the last few days has been the opposite of that stark prediction. The unofficial walk-out by employees at an oil refinery – protesting their company’s decision to employ foreign labour – was an act of solidarity, not selfishness. Whilst many fear their own jobs are at risk in the future (at the moment, who isn’t afraid of that?), this protest wasn’t  driven by self-interest, but by concern for the skilled workers who could’ve been spared a winter of unemployment if the company had decided to ‘buy British’.

In the current instability, it might’ve been more sensible to keep their heads down and grumble in private, but they felt strongly enough to withdraw their labour, and their actions resonated so much that they were joined by workers from other sites, swelling the number of protesters to over 800. In this sense, the bonds of class solidarity remain as strong as they were at the height of the trade union movement.

But at another, much darker level, what this incident shows is the extent to which the recession is fostering nationalism & division. Whilst Baroness Vadera expressed optimism about the ‘green shoots‘ of recovery, in Immingham and towns right across the country, the only ‘green shoots’ are of a resentment which is increasingly being trained on foreign workers. Outside the refinery, one protester used a mantra uttered by both nationalists and one Labour Prime Minister: “British jobs for British workers”. It’s not as if they were loved in the past, but now is not a good time to be an economic migrant.

With elections around the corner, this climate of anxiety, decay and resentment is the perfect breeding ground for new recruits to the BNP. This time around, their line of attack will be more compelling than ever: “they’ve given all your money to rich bankers, they’ve sold all the jobs to foreigners and what do you get in return? Months stewing in James Purnell’s new Job Centres. Vote for us and we’ll put YOU first”. This time around, those who’re tirelessly trying to stem the BNP’s advance will find it especially tough; when mainstream politics carries such a the stench of failure, just what are we meant to say to them?

So I don’t begrudge Lindsey Oil Refinery for awarding a contract to a foreign company, I don’t begrudge the employees for protesting against the use of foreign labour and I don’t begrudge the Italians for going where the work is. No, right now the only people whose actions I begrude are swanning around some souped-up ski resort in Switzerland. I begrudge the complacency, the colossal mistakes, and the effect that those mistakes are having on the society the rest of us have to live in.

Ultimately, Dillow was right, and I’ve never wished for anyone to be more wrong.

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