Thousands of workers in the construction industry who walked out in solidarity with workers at the Lindsey oil refinery run by Total in Killingholme, Lincolnshire, have won a significant victory. Strikers at Lindsey voted to accept a deal drawn up by union officials and the companies involved in the dispute and end their unofficial industrial action on Thursday 5th February.
The government and media have been keen to present this as a nationalist or even "racist" dispute and the ever-opportunistic BNP made efforts to capitalise on the struggle. Certainly there have been reactionary elements within the strike and the "British jobs for British workers" slogan, which echoes Prime Minister Gordon Brown, is unerringly reminiscent of the far-right. Nevertheless, the politics of the strike were complicated and at Langage Power Station near Plymouth, Polish workers joined strikers.
Regional Feature: Workers walk out at Staythorpe
Newswire: Strikes in oil refineries and power stations | British jobs for British workers - Green jobs for Green workers? | Oil and Power strikes: News, Resouces and analysis | Wildcat strikes in Newark | Today's wildcat strikes in the UK oil and now nuke business | Wildcat strikes - an open letter to the anarchist/anti-authoritarian movement | A 'Racist' Strike? | BNP activists agitating at wildcat strikes
The wave of wildcat strikes was one of the largest waves of working class militancy in decades with walkouts across the country. Among the sites affected were Sellafield nuclear site in Cumbria, the Heysham nuclear power station in Lancashire, Fiddlers Ferry power station in Cheshire, Staythorpe in Nottinghamshire and South Hook LNG gas terminal in Milford.
The dispute flared up on January 28 after it emerged that an Italian company contracted to work on the project would ship in its own employees rather than using local labour. Walkouts by workers at the refinery spawned a wave of solidarity strikes across the country.
Strikers argued that they were actively discriminated against by subcontractors who refused to allow them to apply for work. The deal will not see any Italian workers losing their jobs. Strike committee member Tony Ryan said: "It's been a hard week for the lads, this week they've stood out in all weathers. It's been a hard-fought fight, and I'm glad the lads are back at work, earning money again, and the Italian lads are still here."
All of these actions took place outside the trade union bureaucracy (although Unite has been an influential player in the dispute) and were completely illegal under the anti-trade union legislation. This does not appear to have deterred strikers and so far there has been little indication that anybody will face legal consequences for the walkouts.
While workers have been victorious at Lindsey, similar arrangements are in place at other sites. In Staythorpe near Newark in Nottinghamshire, subcontractors at the site of a new power station have refused to employ UK labour. Unemployed workers have been protesting there since November and it was one of the facilities which saw solidarity walkouts. The dispute there continues and on Saturday 7th January, a protest was held outside the offices of Alstom who are running the project.