On British workers marching to demand no jobs for foreigners

Lenin’s Tomb

Once more, instead of demanding more employment, the union is demanding that Polish and Spanish workers are replaced by British workers. How can this strategy not end terribly? How is it not a grubby disgrace to the working class movement?

It is sometimes a conceit of the Left that a) there is a mass working class movement and b) that it tilts leftwards. Clearly that isn’t always so. But ugly nativism demanding foreign workers out of Britain absolutely needs to be opposed, and the threat of extreme rightwing advances under such an agenda is real indeed there. Lenin’s Tomb will always be at the barricades on such issues, and that’s a good thing indeed.

Charlie in the comments has what I think could be an answer.

I think it misses the point though, that whether or not the strike is reactionary the job of revolutionaries should be to turn up on the pickets and demos, sympathising with the underlying economic motivations behind the strikes but diverting the anger away from foreign labour and towards the system.

Absolutely. Those workers are losing their jobs, are scared for their futures, and need to be supported. The way to win them over is by understanding what they’re going through, then explaining how the current system permits and encourages companies to bring in huge numbers of cheap, easily exploited foreign workers.


  1. What you’re talking about here is the need for universal employment– a cause trumpeted by Marxists and Catholics. Unfortunately, that’s not realistic in the setting of a large, centrally-managed (or regionally-managed) economic system. It’s not just that capitalism sees labor as a commodity subject to supply and demand, nor is it just that employing people costs money that has to come from somewhere– either from higher prices or higher taxes.

    It’s partly that there’s a huge wealth differential in the global economy, causing some people to be willing to work far harder for far less at undesirable jobs, putting those less willing out of work.

    And it’s partly that the whole statist and global economy presumes that the majority of people must be dependent on someone else above us for our livelihoods. There are exceptions, of course, including you and I and our spouses. We take responsibility for our own livelihoods. Yes, we depend on clients– but not on someone far away who owns or manages the means of production.

    At one time, 90% of the U.S. was self-employed. Now 90% works for someone else. That means someone else gets to decide what we do and how much we make. That “someone else” may be a company or a government, but as long as it isn’t us we’ll be dependent on others for our wellbeing– and angry when we don’t get what we want.

    • One major problem there is an, I think, EU directive that permits employers to ship in foreign workers instead of using locals. A previous post here had a photo of a former prison ship where Italian workers now live while working in Britain. This is something beyond the control of local workers.

  2. Industry has been shipping in foreign workers since industry was invented. Our railroads were built with Chinese, Irish, and Mexican labor. Our mills were staffed with Poles, French Candians, Italians, and others. (Descendents of all of these are now “local workers” BTW.) There may not have been “slave ships” per se, but check out conditions in the railroad camps, especially for the Chinese (who could be shot if they tried to “quit”– and who were not even permitted to have wives in the U.S.).

    Americans at the time were primarily self-employed. There would have been some competition for railroad jobs, but most Americans didn’t need them– they made their own livelihood. There was no shortage of racism, but less competition for jobs.

    The economic environment favors industry when everyone needs industry for their employment. That’s why in any industrailizing nation, the first thing they do is convince people to leave the family farm, trade, or small business in search of wealth in the city, where they join a huge pool of desperate people who’ll do anything for money. Industrialization requires an increase in poverty.

    Would you willingly work in a factory if you had a choice? Obviously not, or you’d be working in a factory.

  3. Of the few I fear – it wouldn’t take much to fan such flames here. There are in fact those already doing so. From the perspective of a v-vet who spent much of the Reagan years on the High Cascade in a school bus with guns and dogs and children and goats and a three year supply of dried goods: this puts me in a position of potentially defending my family against those who are not necessarily my enemy, nor I theirs’.

    Bad ju-ju, that.

  4. Why do they (and we) see outsiders as taking their jobs? Because they’re DEPENDENT on industry and/or government for their livelihood. Sad, that, but it was calculated and successful: most people don’t know how to be independent. We need the bigshots to survive. As a culture, in a mere 120 years, independence has been bred out of us.

    • But there’s no way in an industrialized, technological world that everyone can be an independent entrepreneur. Your ranch has a tractor, wind turbine, and you have cars and a pickup. Those got built in factories.

  5. That’s the catch. But look at the Amish, the Huterites, and some Mennonites. They thrive with less technology, and they put more people to work (and in smaller, more self-employed units). This is not to say that all technology is bad– I rather like penicillin for some applications (though its constant abuse in industrial livestock farming is disconcerting). But it does suggest that there’s a balance we have not yet found.

    Besides, more and more cars get built with fewer and fewer people. That’s the other catch: industrialism requires increasing efficiency, which puts more of the people dependent on it out of work, creating desperation, which feeds the cycle.

  6. DJ nails it

    “Industry has been shipping in foreign workers since industry was invented. Our railroads were built with Chinese, Irish, and Mexican labor. Our mills were staffed with Poles, French Candians, Italians, and others. (Descendents of all of these are now “local workers” BTW.)”

    In one generation, we’re all “natives”

  7. EYup, the melting pot, good – bad or indifferent.

    The Logging Town I grew up in was pretty civilized compared to the Logging Camps of my g’da and g’g’da. Hell even as the town m’da grew up in: Company Store, Movie Theater, Burger Shack / Soda Fountain, One-Lane Bowling alley, not to mention schools, square dances and (unfortunately) churches.

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