Friday, January 30, 2009

This Is The Winter Of Our Discontent

Wildcat strikes are spreading across the UK as Brown's "British jobs for British workers" is thrown back in his face with a warning of a "social timebomb leading to civil unrest and soaring crime". Where's our illustrious leader? Swanning around as last Davos Man, droning on about global economics. Lose touch with reality and you lose touch with people. 

The writing is on the wall. When asked about the growing unrest back home, a deluded Brown predictably said the government was doing "everything we can" to shore up the economy as well as help individuals back into work. Empty words. Where have we heard all that before? 

Riots on the street of Paris has led to a blast from international labour leaders accusing world politicians of a failure to  respond effectively to a deepening crisis of their own making and a warning that the Paris unrest will spread around the world. 

It has, with oil refinery workers here staging mass walkouts over the use of foreign labour. The Orange Party warned earlier, that's a message leaders at the World Economic Forum ignore at their peril.

The Paris riots, over big unfair bail-outs for banks, have been greeted here with a mixture of arrogance and complacency - 'well that's what they do in Paris. Not much sign of revolution in the air thus far it seems'. But that is exactly what they do. They take to the streets. 

It's called the Paris mob stupid. And it can be students, public workers, fishermen or agricultural workers, it makes no difference. The result is the same. President Sarkozy will sit up and take notice.

Over here it's over construction jobs at refineries. Industrial unrest is usually confined to tightly controlled pockets of resistance. Only with big issues like the miner's strike does it spill over onto the streets, the mining villages, blockades of the Humber Bridge and running battles with political riot police. And that could well happen here.

The line between industrial unrest and civil disorder is very fine. But history tells us there is an English and Scottish mob out there too, quite prepared to take to the streets when homes, jobs and livelihoods are threatened. 

And it could all be nipped in the bud so easily. Coming out in support of the workers of this country, in times of deep recession, should override neo-liberal EU trade and employment agreements. Warnings about the perils of protectionism was fine for the boom years but fall on deaf ears during times of bust and mass unemployment.

Instead of swanning around with the high and now not so mighty, Brown should be on the picket lines, listening to the grievances, instead of wandering round busy doing nothing. Leave with a promise of action not words and a roasting maybe, but he'd come away with real soundbites, real pictures and real respect. 

Cameron too has missed the boat, preferring instead the delights of Davos. An industrial picket line may seem the unlikely setting for an eloquent public school orator but he's angry and it shows. 

It's about rolling up your sleeves and getting down and dirty with the workers. Cameron could well end up agreeing with them and staying on for a mug of tea. 

This isn't a dispute whipped up by political agitators. Coordinated by Constructionworker UK, the protest come from solid working people, worried sick about their jobs, their homes and how they are going to make ends meet. Those workers need answers and they are entitled to them. 

As one of the workers said: "All we want is for Gordon Brown to fulfil his promise. He said British jobs for British workers ... It's been a kettle ready to boil and the lid has blown off now."

Picture: The BearFacts, engineering construction workers website

No comments: