Thursday, 5 February 2009

Statement on the Oil Refinery Protests

I am sure that Plaid members and supporters are concerned with the industrial unrest across Wales and the UK over the past week. I have prepared a statement on behalf of Undeb, our trade union section, explaining our position.

It is inevitable that in the current economic climate, workers will seek to express their grievances through protest. Plaid supports the right to protest and the right to organise in trade unions. We are proud of our growing links with the trade union movement, and have campaigned in the recent past to support industrial action by the fire fighters, local government workers and civil servants. We recognise that the demonstrations and solidarity strikes that have spread across the UK and Ireland are not sanctioned by any union and are in defiance of anti-union laws laid down by Thatcher. Categorically, the protestors are not protesting against the principle of foreign labour being used in Wales or the UK. Rather, the demonstrations are calling for labour to be sourced locally where possible due to the rising unemployment levels. Undeb sympathises with these demands although we do not agree with the slogans that have been used.

The discontent felt among the workers involved in the Oil Refinery dispute is genuine, and action has not been taken lightly. In South Wales a support action involving 50 workers took place at Aberthaw Power Station. The strikes and protests were spontaneous. However, Undeb is concerned that the slogan of ‘British jobs for British workers’ does not represent the best way to resolve this dispute, particularly as the jobs in question are linked to IREM, an Italian company.

Undeb lays the blame for this message at the feet of Gordon Brown. He irresponsibly promoted this slogan at a time when he must have known he could not deliver it. His promotion of ‘Britishness’ has helped create conditions in which non-British workers could be excluded from showing solidarity with other workers in disputes over pay and conditions. Undeb believes the Labour Party has undermined the trade unions by dividing workers against each other on the basis of nationality. In the coming months and years there will be further disputes, and because of Brown’s ‘Britishness’ mantra it will now be difficult to unite workers of varying nationalities even if they are campaigning for the same demands . Plaid has a history of campaigning with every section of the community for social justice and represents the interests of all people in Wales regardless of nationality, origin or ethnicity.

Undeb also believes that the strikes have been misrepresented and workers’ demands inaccurately portrayed. Demonstrators at Aberthaw made it clear that they were not protesting against foreign labour, and that they work alongside Polish staff in a friendly manner every day. We are proud of the internationalism of the people of Wales and support the free movement of people in the EU. We also opposed the anti-trade union laws which mean our workers are far easier to exploit than in other EU member states. We will support any progressive demands for changes at the UK-level or EU-level to Employment or Trade Union legislation that might emerge as a result of these protests, including making sure migrant workers are unionised as the Lindsey Refinery Strike Committee has suggested. Those kinds of demands do not suggest anything near racism or xenophobia.

A deal has now been reached at the refinery where the dispute began. The company has agreed to offer new jobs on the project at UK conditions and rates of pay. No migrant workers will lose their positions. This is a positive outcome but this dispute could surface again in Wales as we have a number of energy-related construction projects planned in the future.

The real basis of this dispute is not nationality but rests with the actions of Gordon Brown and previous Labour and Tory Governments in building a purely market economy rather than a balanced, moral economy.

Leanne Wood AM


Progressive Comment said...

The workers at Milford Haven also walked out in 2007 to defend a colleague (an ethnic minority man) who had suffered racial abuse. Hundreds of them walked out. So they have an anti-racist tradition.

carldalesunderpants said...

Leanne, do also you object to the phrase "Welsh jobs for Welsh workers"?

Leanne Wood said...


Draig said...

It's a pity the workers at Milford Haven didn't also walk out in solidarity with the communities whose safety they have now compromised.