The construction workers’ demonstration outside the Olympics site on Wednesday 6 May showed the effectiveness of different ideas and approaches within the workers’ movement.
Following the Lindsey dispute earlier on this year, the Socialist Party was criticised by some others on the left who claimed that we ignored the slogan ‘British Jobs for British Workers’ (BJ4BW), which was a small feature of the strike on the first few days.
On the entire Olympic site demonstration, I only saw one worker with the BJ4BW slogan on a sheet of A4 paper. When I spotted him, he was being harangued and shouted at by a member of another left group. Realising that she wasn’t getting anywhere, the left activist was trying to grab the sheet of paper out of the worker’s hand. Understandably, the response this provoked is unprintable, but the left activist cleared off fairly sharpish!
I went up to have a chat with the worker. He told me he wasn’t racist and that it was Gordon Brown who’d said “British jobs for British workers”. The lack of jobs and attacks on union terms and conditions made him want to “ram those words back down his throat”.
I told him I could understand where he was coming from, but it wasn’t clear from the BJ4BW slogan what the struggle was about – a rate for the job, trade union rights for all workers wherever they’re from and an end to the ‘race to the bottom’.
We had a chat about the media coverage of the Lindsey dispute and how the media had tried to make out that the strikers were racist. We came to the conclusion that the bosses’ papers are never going to be on our side anyway, but what’s the point of giving them ammunition to use against us? At that, he crumpled the BJ4BW sign into a ball, hoyed it away and took a Socialist Party placard with the slogan ‘trade union rights for all workers’ on it instead.
As far as I can tell, what those on the left, who claim the Socialist Party turned a blind eye to the BJ4BW slogan at Lindsey, mean is that we didn’t turn up on the first day of the strike and shout at the construction workers, calling them racist idiots. This example from the Olympic protest showed quite clearly that such an approach doesn’t work, but discussion and providing an alternative and an effective strategy to defend pay and conditions does.