The protests at the Alsthom office, Peter Mandelson’s Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and the Houses of Parliament’s Old Palace Yard were attended by about 100 people, most of whom were unemployed construction workers from power stations in the Midlands and the North. The demo was organised by the GMB after an audit proving that at the Staythorpe power station site in Nottinghamshire, migrant workers were being paid only 500 euros a month – i.e. 1300 euros a month below the industry rate.This doesn't sound kosher - or indeed halal to me. 500 euros a month is way below UK minimum wage - or does it not apply to people under the Posted Workers Directive ( Wikipedia says it does apply, but gives no citation) ?
Blogger David Broder has a problem here. As a good Marxist internationalist the idea of a nation having interests of its own is self-evidently ridiculous. There is only class and class struggle.
The union’s placards demanded equal pay for all, and attacked undercutting which meant the subcontractor Somi preferred to use foreign labour rather than local unemployed workers, since it could do so more cheaply and undermine the industry agreement. Speakers at the closing rally repeatedly and clearly expressed solidarity with the Portuguese, Italian, Polish and Greek workers who were being underpaid and demanded that they be paid the industry rate.
Doesn't make a lot of sense to me. As others far to the left of me have said, a glut of labour lowers wages, and a glut of imported labour lowers indigenous wages. In another Labour MP, Jon Cruddas' words :
“the government tacitly used immigration to help forge the preferred flexible North American labour market. In the service sector, construction and civil engineering, for example, immigration has been used as an informal reserve army of cheap labour. People see this at their workplace, feel it in their pocket and see it in their community - and therefore perceive it as a critical component of their own relative impoverishment.
Objectively, the social wage of many of my constituents is in decline. House prices rise inexorably, and public service improvements fail to match local population expansion. At work, their conditions, in real terms, are in decline through the unregulated use of cheap migrant labour.Migrant labour is the axis of our whole domestic agenda.
Now there's a lot of PC self-deception here - or possibly cynicism, in the demo speakers' "solidarity with the Portuguese, Italian, Polish and Greek workers who were being underpaid".
"whereas the Daily Star had quoted an Amicus/Unite shop steward to the effect that “All we want for Brit workers is a fair crack of the whip to have first preference on jobs”, and at yesterday’s Cadbury demo Unite’s Jack Dromey had commented that “Our fear is that the Kraft takeover is not in the national interest”, most speakers at the Old Palace Yard rally steered well clear of such sentiments."
Because the speakers - and the workers - know quite well that if the imported workers were paid UK wages, there would no longer be any incentive to import them, cheapness being their USP. In effect, if not in form, the call for "the industry rate" is the call of 'British Jobs For British Workers'. It's just the call that dare not speak its name.
Save for one champion. I know little about John Mann, Labour MP for Bassetlaw, a solidly working class constituency covering what was once the Nottinghamshire coalfield. Emboldening is mine.
However, while most speakers stressed that the struggle was over the industry agreement and agencies’ monopoly of recruitment, the New Labour MP John Mann injected his own special venom into proceedings. Mann “had no problem” with ‘British jobs for British workers’ and stressed that there was plenty of land in his constituency to build more power stations. He argued against employing migrant workers who supposedly “don’t pay tax towards the NHS” and put British workers on Jobseekers’ Allowance, decrying this as ‘bad economics’ for Britain.What ? Here we have the grotesque sight of a Labour MP - a Labour MP, mind you, suggesting that it's bad for Brits to be unemployed while migrants work ? What is the world coming to ?
With an eye on the upcoming General Election, Mann announced that he would be tabling a motion in Parliament to the effect that all major construction projects are carried out by British workers: if anyone had a problem with that, he assured us, he had the “100% backing of all 79,000 men women and children” in his constituency.I'll keep an eye open for that. He's got an enormous majority - are the BNP giving him a hard time, or his constituents, or both ? Could it be that he's sincere ? Seems to have taken him a long time - he's been an MP for nine years.
While what Mann had said was at odds with the general themes of the rally, he received enthusiastic applause, more than anyone except Hicks’ militant class struggle speech. Whitehurst and Kenny’s speeches were several times interrupted by unemployed workers asking what precisely the union was going to do about the situation, which has left many without work for as long as 9 months. Quite. It seemed as though, just like Hicks’ call for solidarity action and fighting rather than lying down, Mann’s overt and defiant nationalism might also perhaps have appealed to a sense of frustration at the lack of progress made by the GMB and Unite over the last year.In other words, the workers are noticing that the boilerplate union rhetoric is long on words, short on jobs and wages. They're noticing that :
"the moral and political objections to undercutting "our own people" (a phrase which immediately brands the utterer with the indelible scar of racism) have been totally marginalised and discredited (in this context, rendered almost unsayable - LT). The trades unions, which instinctively understood the objections to cheap 'scab' (non-unionised) labour, now welcome the undercutting of an entire working class."
A journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step. I'll be keeping an interested eye on Mr Mann.