As the AF has already pointed out, mainstream media coverage of the energy sector strikes was quick to seize on the “British jobs for British workers” angle. The media did their best to reduce the energy workers’ protests to a racist campaign against foreigners – even though the protestors themselves were very clear that their protest was against the bosses, not other workers. The same thing has already started happening with the Olympics site, this time even before the pickets and protests have got underway. The local and national press has been full of stories about “too many” foreign workers on the Olympics site, and rent-a-quote politicians like Jim Fitzpatrick and George Galloway have been only too happy to jump on the bandwagon.
But what’s really going on here? It’s true that only a small proportion of the jobs created on the Olympics site have gone to people living locally – about 25%, according to the Olympic Development Authority (ODA)’s own (disputed) figures. It’s also true that about 30% of the jobs have gone to foreign workers, mostly from the EU. The rest of the jobs have gone to UK workers from outside the East End of London. That’s partly because of the effect of the recession on the construction industry – there just aren’t enough jobs to go round. Building contractors can’t afford to hire new workers from the local community, so they’re bringing their existing workers onto the Olympic site instead. If those British workers didn’t come into the East End to work on the Olympic site, they’d end up being made redundant. The foreign workers who have come here are no better off either. They haven’t left their families behind and come here to work because they’re out to steal other people’s jobs, but simply because they can’t earn a living wage at home. Although newspapers like the Daily Mail have been trying to make out that the foreign workers are getting salaries of £60k, most of them are working hard and struggling to make ends meet – just the same as the rest of us.
This recession’s biting hard, and workers everywhere are having to do whatever they can to keep themselves afloat – not just in the East End of London, or even in the UK, but across the world. The cause of the problem isn’t the people who have come into the East End to work, whether they’ve come from overseas or just from elsewhere in the UK. The cause of the problem is the recession – and the cause of the recession is the banking crisis, which saw the whole financial sector collapse thanks to the greed and stupidity of bank bosses who had been making money out of poor people’s debts. In other words, if local people are struggling now to find jobs, that’s the fault of bosses and politicians, not of foreign workers. And it’s those same bosses and politicians who are now trying to push the anti-foreigner agenda, because they want to divert workers’ anger away from themselves. By speaking out against the use of foreign workers on the Olympic site, local MPs and councillors are simply trying to keep the workers divided along lines of race and nationality. The ODA itself has an obvious vested interest in keeping the workers on its sites as divided as possible. The same even goes for the union bosses. The unions were taken by surprise by the wildcat strikes in the energy sector and they’re determined not to let it happen again. Focussing their campaign on foreign workers, rather than on the real causes of the recession, is the union bosses’ way of trying to keep the protests under control and prevent them from spilling over into demands for real change in the way our society is run and organised. Politicians, bosses, and union officials are all terrified of what might happen if angry working-class people really got together to take collective action against them!
No matter where we were born, as working class people we are all in the same boat. Instead of blaming each other for the mess the capitalists and politicians have got us into, we all need to stick together to build a genuine sense of community and solidarity. It’s only by taking action together that we’ll be able to get out of this mess once and for all.