Wednesday, February 18, 2009

The half-truths about the Lindsey strikes

Every day thousands of foreign workers are squeezed for profit while no-one notices. But the one case that caused mass hysteria was based on a lie.

It is now official. The claims that caused the wave of mass xenophobia and the series of walkouts at Total's refinery in Lindsey last month were based on a campaign of complete mis-information. Tabloids and newspapers alike were keen to spread the rumours that "foreign workers" at the refinery "were undercutting locals".

It is true that thousands of foreign workers in Britain are indeed paid below the minimum wage, exploited and kicked about by gangmasters and ruthless profiteers. But the same press who couldn't normally give a monkeys' got all worked up with indignation over the wrong case.

Three examples. In the Mirror, Brian Reade wrote about his "mate Dave" priced out by foreign workers brought over to the refinery "to cut costs". Sue Carroll thought it was a given that "at Lincolnshire's Lindsey refinery, Italian and Portuguese labour continues to be hired on the cheap". In the Telegraph, Philip Johnston used that word again, "undercut", prophetising that "The sky is now darkening with chickens coming home to roost".

For a whole week, the opinionmeisters egged on each other, and the people would read and get exceptionally wound up. Except, British press-style, nobody bothered to check the facts. In the words of David Aaronovitch in the Times, it was a load of "fabricated fear and loathing".

Two days ago, the arbitration service Acas concluded its independent inquiry into the Lindsey controversy and found that the wages the "foreign workers" were paid did not undercut British workers. Now, don't expect the papers to have that on the front page.

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