Sunday, February 01, 2009

Is Johnny Foreigner the new Karen Matthews?

Is this the best the Unions can come up with? The current anti-foreign worker hysteria is a route to be avoided at all costs.

The wildcat strikes across the UK are at risk of turning into something much more sinister. With the end of cheap credit revealing the true plight of workers and exposing a rotten system where people are being milked for the benefits of the very few, it is quite clear that a lot of people have had enough.

The danger, however, is that what Madam Miaow calls "the inevitable outpouring of anger" is already being conveniently deflected and channelled against the weakest targets, i.e. fellow victims of the financial crash. Johnny Foreigner is already becoming the new Karen Matthews. But whereas few expected the Unions to get the bull by the horns and tackle head-on the system that lead to the crisis, no one thought they'd so easily go down the route of patriotic gravy trains.

This is why a number of questions are being posed.

1. Like John Cruddas MP wrote in yesterday's Guardian:

"Britain has lost control of key industries and their labour procurement procedures. The Lincolnshire dispute is a small symptom of a big problem. Britain is a country that no longer owns the productive processes that create its wealth. Crucial economic sectors have been handed over to unaccountable foreign ownership".

Britain is reaping the harvest of thirty years of relentless drive towards a 'democracy of the shareholders', to quote an old Thatcherite soundbite. In the specific case of the British oil industry, the moment the assets were privatised and sold off (from 1974 onwards and all through the 80s), the UK Government lost their control, plain and simple. Those who warned against it were branded 'old fashioned', 'stalinists', 'dogmatists', you name it.

That's the reason why little can be done if the oil company Total, or any other private firm, wants to employ whoever they want, if and when they want. As long as they do it legally, it is within their 'free market' rights to do so. It is quite obvious that the free market envisaged by the Daily Mail (The Italian job that proved the final straw for British workers'), the Express ('Jobs Fury') and all the usual suspects is a pick 'n'choose one.

2. Successive British governments have also chosen to second the airy fairy dream of a 'knowledge economy'. In their view, at the first sign of a downturn, manifacturing wasn't worth propping up, with the result that skills were lost, communities torn to shreds and Britain became the country that sold bullshit shares for a living, instead of factual, tangible products. Now the shares aren't worth the paper they were forged on, and people are crying foul.

3. As a former member of T&G, I find it embarrassing that the Trade Unions haven't been able to challenge the political trend over more substantial matters other than the hollow "British Jobs for British Workers". For years, British corporations have been offshoring entire departments to other countries. In 2004, it was estimated that up to 750,000 jobs were shifted from the UK to offshore destinations. What is more harmful to 'British workers', that or the few hundred Italian and Portuguese working at the Lincolnshire refinery for six months?

Yes, Unite may have whispered that the Government should bail out Jaguar, but how effective were their pleas? Theirs was, once again, a rearguard battle. Like The Independent writes today, "[TUC Leader] Mr Barber largely backs the Government's handling of the financial crisis, at a time when many union members would like to see him battle to guarantee their jobs". Little was done to challenge mass repossessions, or the fact that banks continue to award absurd bonuses and this time courtesy of the taxpayer's money. Why don't they organise strikes urging the Government to spend that money supporting wages instead?

4. This why it's depressing to see the British Unions waking up to back such a divisive and potentially explosive slogan, one that looks like textbook BNP. Compare it to France, where properly organised strikes with up to 2.5 million workers demanded action to protect wages and jobs. The French were asking, for instance, where the 360bn euro shore-up fund to guarantee banks came from. Unlike the UK walkouts, they weren't striking against "foreign labour", the "victimisation of the French worker" and "Put French Workers First". There were no jingoistic tones whatsoever.

5. This blog has raised the point repeatedly here, here and here. Britain's relationship with all things foreign is a deeply fucked-up one, perhaps the direct consequence of centuries of colonialism. The Lincolnshire protest is quickly turning into fodder for anti-French rhetoric, as well as anger aimed at 'wops' and 'johnny foreigners'. Or, the spine-tinglingly ignorant 'they all wanna come here cuz they get everything for free'.

How can the hate merchants bang on about economic nationalism and 'British Jobs for British Workers' when there are hundreds of thousands of British workers in the EU, some of them Auf Wiedersen Pet- style? On a different level, in the last fifteen years the Brits have literally invaded countries like France and Spain, clogging up their health service, pushing up property prices and distorting the 'market' in significant areas.

This time it's not just the tabloids. The Unions too, alas, are playing with fire and they don't even know it.


Madam Miaow said...

Top post, Claude. Love the headline.

Anonymous said...

I don't think anybody is saying that strikes should not be supported; simply that the slogan and the rationale of scapegoating foreign workers is the wrong way to go about it. From the SW statement it seems clear that there is a call for strike action that is class-based and targets the employers rather than other workers.

I don't know the precise mechanics or development of this wave of strikes; but I would think it is pretty clear that if you use this "British jobs for British workers" angle you will quickly go down a blind alley. Any tangible gains will be minimal and short-lived since such approaches never really shore up jobs for the domestic labour force anyway - the whole thing smacks of the "buy British" campaigns the Daily Mail used to run and along with the reactionary angle this had such attempts were woefully unsuccessful in achieving their aims. Given the legal realities of the EU and the global nature of the current depression this kind of approach is another variant of beggar-thy-neighbour policies.

I would say that I am disappointed in the TU leadership and in individuals like Simpson, from whom I expected better, but this seems symptomatic of their behaviour over the last 11 years.

the patriot said...

Anonymous, Claude and MM,

I take it your not employed in a job under threat from imported cheaper labor then?

Would the skill level here have anything to do with the argument?

For example, the highly skilled UK workforce is lost due to lower job opportunities and pay in the UK while the lower skilled jobs are taken by lower skilled workers from abroad. So the UK loses it's high skills and imports the low skills.

Snafu said...

Johnny Foreigner is guilty if your "Karen Matthews" headline is correct!

claude said...

the headline is aimed at the fact that the tabloids (the Daily Mail and the Express) in particular are milking it like fuck.

Karen Matthews became the scapegoat of Britain's ills. Now it looks like Johnny's next in the queue.

Just hold you nose and check the tabloids' websites. Some of the viewers' messages are sickening. Scary, in fact.

The Express, normally going on about immigrants anyway, have stepped up one gear. The word bombardment doesn't even begin to describe the way they're ramming the point home.

Stan Moss said...

Well said Claude.
The Daily Mail counts hundreds of comments that range from the xenophobic to the openly racist.
And they're egging each other on.
Chinese whispers-style, now they've started saying that people were discriminated from work "because they're British".
We're actually witnessing the situation snowballing right in front of our eyes.

a very public sociologist said...

Yes, the unions should be ashamed of themselves. And the editors of the tabloids ought to be taken out and shot (well, perhaps not, come the revolution I'd like to see these scumbags put on trial for their incitement to racial hatred).

As for the strikes and why nationalism appears to have a hold on them, I've had a stab here.

Anita said...

"Britain's relationship with all things foreign is a fucked up one.

How true. Glad there's someone who said it openly. I've been thinking the same for 28 years.

It can be amusing. But it's also embarrassing at times.

Snafu said...


Karen Matthews is an example of everything that is wrong with Britain today.

Reliance on a bloated welfare state, an abdication of personal responsibility, children that have no possible chance of improving their lot in life and a bunch of lefties who see nothing wrong with this.

You should be ashamed.

claude said...


Karen Matthews is an example of everything that is wrong with Britain today.

That's right. She was a Sun reader, wasn't she? That says it all. She wanted to milk her favourite tabloid and pocket a hefty reward.

Anyway. A couple of Hail Marys tonight and I hope I can expunge my shame. And then look for a scapegoat to make me feel better.

Anita said...

To the person called Snafu,
Karen Matthews was guilty and was a right tramp. But it's out of order that the tabloid used her face and her vile actions as an excuse to stage an unprecedented attack on unemployed people or those on benefits. Or even unmarried/single mothers.

Did you have a chance to read The Sun or the Daily Mail just before Christmas?

No-one can deny Matthews had indeed acted like an evil cow, butt he news was turned into an unstoppable witch-hunt with a political agenda.

The reason I do take such offense at people making Sun-induced easy assumption is because it's exactly that - an easy, lazy assumption. It's utterly offensive when people look at you like some sort of uneducated tramp who is sprogging kids left, right and centre to claim the most amount of benefits going.

Thanks to them, it's now socially acceptable for people to label my family and stigmatise my children. People basing their opinons on stereotypes is just indicitive of the "I'm better than them" society we appear to live in.

And I wonder if Karen Matthews would have done what she did and how she did it had the British tabloids been less obsessed with those aggressive campaigns about paedophiles, children etc. Whipping up public fears and then exploiting it to sell more copies and come across as guardian agels of public decency.

Back to this article, and so back to the topic, Snafu don't underestimate the power of the press. Because the story of 100 foreigners on a 3-month temporary contract is already being used by the tabloids and the BNP as a toxic anti-immigration proxy.

Just as dealings in the City of London affect share prices around the world, so the popular press of Britain influences the daily reportage not just in the news media of this country but often for newspapers, magazines and television stations in countries far and wide. The tabloids' take on the news of the day is all pervasive.

That's why they need to be a lot more careful.

Snafu said...

I don't read the Sun or the Daily Mail.

The idea that you can earn £400 per week by having so many children abhors me. Whatever happened to personal responsibiliy? How is she helping to reduce child pvoerty!?!

Anita, it's interesting to note that you welcome press censorship so long as you agree with it...

I have no problem with people having large families so long as they don't expect everyone else to pay for them.

John said...

"I don't read the Sun or the Daily Mail.

The idea that you can earn £400 per week by having so many children abhors me. Whatever happened to personal responsibiliy? How is she helping to reduce child pvoerty!?!

Anita, it's interesting to note that you welcome press censorship so long as you agree with it...

I have no problem with people having large families so long as they don't expect everyone else to pay for them."

Absolutely agree with you point about censorship of press unless you agree with it. I find this all the time among the left wing socialists knocking any press that they dont agree with by suggesting "bias" all the time. How come its bias, what because its not your political agenda? I am not a reader of any newspaper but you cant have censorship of some political agendas and not others.

I'm sorry but as an independent voter I found this mainly among the left wing bloggers always issuing these statements about bias and always knocking others press.Well have a look at your press.