UK Strikes Developments

Readers may not know that workers in Britain joined their comrades in France, Germany and elsewhere in Europe this weekend on the streets, and this time of the wildcat variety. The first of the two Independent on Sunday stories linked to here document the frantic attempts to stop the strikes from spreading across the country, while the second the second chronicles the despicable Peter Mandelson’s (UK Business Secretary) outrageous “Let them eat cake” advice (issued, appropriately enough, from his own little Versailles at Davos) to workers. Then, an Observer story reveals that the government was warned four years ago about the likely impact of the implementation of policies that have resulted in this weekend’s unrest:

Wildcat wildfire: Frantic bids to stop strikes spreading

Whitehall crisis team meets, and Acas tries to resolve dispute as Europe joins recession protests. Ian Griggs, Jane Merrick and David Randall report

Sunday, 1 February 2009 Web

Strenuous efforts were being made this weekend by ministers, officials, unions and conciliators to stamp out the wildcat strikes now threatening to become a nationwide protest. Senior civil servants were ordered to an emergency Cobra meeting on Friday to plan the Government’s response to the disputes. Police, army and immigration services have been put on alert, and mediators are talking with unions and employers in an effort to resolve the unofficial strikes that erupted at 13 locations last week.

And yesterday there were fears that the disputes over the employment of foreign workers at refineries and power stations could spread to other areas. Tom Hardacre, national officer for engineering and construction at Unite, the union, told The Independent on Sunday: “I think it is extremely likely that industrial action could continue on Monday… There is so much frustration in all sectors of industry, it could escalate to other sectors. That is not what we want, but if there is no solution we could be faced with serious problems in terms of industrial unrest.” Unite is now calling for a national protest in Westminster.

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You can go and work in Europe, Mandelson tells strikers

Unions furious as ministers take aim at Britain’s wildcat protesters

By Jane Merrick and Brian Brady
Sunday, 1 February 2009 Web

Lord Mandelson enraged unions and Labour MPs last night by accusing wildcat strikers of “protectionism” and claiming they could turn the recession into a full-blown depression.

The Business Secretary inflamed the dispute over foreign workers by suggesting that protesters could go and work elsewhere in Europe if they were unhappy.

As the mediator Acas was called in to try to prevent more unofficial strikes planned for tomorrow, the peer issued a statement that failed to damp down growing industrial unrest.

His support for free movement of workers in the European Union was also at odds with Gordon Brown’s 2007 promise to safeguard “British jobs for British workers”, a phrase which has been turned against the Prime Minister by protesters.

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Unions: Labour was warned about jobs for foreigners
As industrial unrest at foreign-owned companies refusing to hire British workers spreads, it has emerged the government was told in 2004 that EU laws were being used to prevent local people taking up UK jobs

The Observer, Sunday 1 February 2009
Jamie Doward, Toby Helm, and Tom Kington in Rome

The government was warned five years ago that European laws governing the employment of foreign workers in the UK would result in the current industrial unrest sweeping the country.

The revelation comes amid fears that the row is playing into the hands of the far right and claims that similar strikes could affect other key projects.

The disruption has come back to haunt the prime minister, Gordon Brown, who in 2007 –in his first speech to the Labour party as its leader–promised to bring in “British jobs for British workers”.

The former Labour minister Frank Field last night called on Brown to make an emergency statement to parliament tomorrow. Field wants a new law to compel companies operating in the UK to offer contracts to domestic workers first. “We have got to get ahead of this debate rather than react to it,” Field said. “Unless we do, we are supplying oxygen to the BNP.”

Jon Cruddas, the Labour MP for Dagenham, said there was a real risk that “prestige projects”, such as the 2012 Olympics, would be hit by similar protests unless ministers acted. At the last count, only 63% of workers on the Olympics site were British.

“If the government is planning big infrastructure projects to keep the economy moving–including the Olympics–this needs to be resolved now, because it is in the construction and engineering sectors where these issues are most acute,” Cruddas said.

Last night the Unite union demanded urgent talks with Brown. It called for the government to ensure contractors on public infrastructure projects agreed to sign new corporate social responsibility clauses that will ensure free access for local labour. “If the government can bail out the banks, it can deliver a level playing field for engineering and construction workers in the UK,” said Derek Simpson, joint general secretary of the union.

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