The present struggle of construction
workers in defence of their national agreement on terms and conditions has been
deliberately distorted by the British media and press. One not unexpected
aspect of the recent wave of wildcat strikes in the construction industry has
been the way that the media has reported them.
Most experienced trade unionists will
already be aware of the tendency for the TV and print media to misreport
strikes – ‘holding the country to ransom’ ‘small, politically motivated group
of men’ ‘greedy/selfish strikers’ and so on. The aim is always to belittle
industrial action and attempt to demoralise those taking it.
|UNITE joint General Secretary Derek Simpson|
|shown misrepresenting members’ struggle.|
This time, however, the media has sought to
play up the nationalist angle. Reporters from some of the more dubious tabloids
have been sighted at mass protests with flags etc. attempting to get workers to
make anti-foreigner statements. One paper even turned up with ‘page 3’ girls!
However, it should be noted that even the
more respectable BBC has not been above a little misreporting. Visit http://www.vimeo.com/3065190
for an example of selective editing to give a different impression of what the
workers were saying.
In this video-clip a worker is presented on
the ‘News At Ten’ in a way that makes him appear that he does not want to work
with Portuguese or Italian workers. In the full report that appeared on the
Newsnight programme it become clear that what he is saying that he is not
allowed to work with them, because they are segregated.
The victory of workers at Lindsey Oil
Refinery, which secured an extra 102 jobs for British workers also resulted in
the national agreement (the Blue Book) covering all foreign workers on the
site. This ensured that workers were not undercut by foreign contract
companies, eager to undermine trade union terms and conditions in order to
boost their profits.
The capitalist press, however, were keen to
twist and divert this struggle onto nationalist lines, as a struggle between
British and foreign workers over “British jobs”. The above BBC distortion is
achieved by a very small cut in the original video. The media in general,
however, went out of their way to portray the struggle in this light at every
possible opportunity, attempting to set worker against worker.
The ‘Sun’ newspaper, as well as the ‘Daily
Star’, published posters and whole pages with the slogan “British jobs for
British workers”, as an attempt to whip up a divisive campaign. It was
blatantly obvious on the protests that this was the case. At yesterday’s
protest at the Isle of Grain, a reporter asked a picket some questions and then
pulled out a ‘Sun’ poster “British jobs for British workers” from his pocket.
He advised the picket to hold up the poster while he took a picture. When
challenged afterwards, he pleaded innocence. But it was clear he had prepared
his “prop” in advance to “prove” that the demonstration was against foreign
workers – which it was not.
This was deliberately done to prevent other
workers drawing the real conclusions, namely the need to engage in militant
struggle to defend ALL terms and conditions and prevent a “race to the bottom”
for the working class.
The same was done by an Italian
photographer at a demonstration of construction workers outside the UNITE
headquarters. He deliberately went out of his way to get a British worker to
display a Union Jack. The photo would be printed in Italy to “show” how
nationalist the British workers are. Quite correctly the shop stewards
intervened to prevent this manoeuvre aimed at encouraging disunity between
British and foreign workers. As one worker said afterwards, “I have more in
common with workers of Latvia, Poland and Italy than any British boss.”
Throughout the protest at the Grain Power
Station, there was not a single Union Jack or a single poster or banner
demanding “British jobs”. All the banners put forward class, trade union
Halfway through the morning, as photos were
being taken of the pickets, a reporter from the ‘Daily Star’ turned up with a
photographer and two girls clad in flimsy ‘Daily Star’ T-shirts holding their
posters “British jobs for British workers”. They tried to push their way to the
front of the pickets, but there were howls of protests from the trade unionists
telling them to “get lost”. Sheepishly, they went around the back of the
protesters and managed to get a few lads to pose with the girls. But still
there were protests from the pickets, so they swiftly departed.
There were no pictures of the Isle of Grain
protests in the next day’s ‘Daily Star’. They obviously didn’t get the right
shot they wanted. What they did print, however, was the same two girls with
their nationalist posters at the side of Derek Simpson, the joint-general
secretary of the UNITE trade union, outside parliament. He apparently was a
willing tool in their dirty game. He allowed himself to be used as part of this
nationalist distraction, which attempted to distort the trade union’s actual
campaign. By this act, Simpson was simply pandering to the lowest prejudices,
hoping to gather a few votes in his re-election campaign.
Many ordinary members of UNITE will be
asking themselves why Simpson would allow the union’s name to be used in this
scandalous fashion. The workers at the Isle of Grain gave the ‘Daily Star’
short shrift. That is the only answer to these anti-union rags that pretend to
“support” workers, while undermining their solidarity and struggle. Workers –
beware of these scoundrels! Unity to defend our hard-won terms and conditions!
Reject the sugar-laced poisoned “support” from the yellow press.