So, the English press is afire at present with the decision of British “workers”[1] to protest supposed off-shoring of their work to Italian workers. There really is no reason for me to care about this except that I am British but I feel like a foreign worker, because I’m really Australian[2]. So today I am going to rant in a completely off-topic way about the stupidity of the British response to this “problem”.

First, the problem: A French oil company building a new refinery in Northern England has tendered out a short-term construction contract, and an Italian company beat 5 British companies to the job. This Italian company is going to import 400 workers from Italy, who will live in Barges in the nearby port and work on the site. It’s a new contract, so no existing jobs will be lost, but there are lots of unemployed people in Grimsby who could supposedly do the job. So the local workers have downed tools in protest at the lost employment chances for their unemployed neighbours, and other workers in other cities are “spontaneously” going on strike in protest. There is lots of talk of “cheap labour” and a so-called “race to the bottom” (the bottom being, apparently, Italy – not Grimsby) and general left-wing pride at the unions taking on transnational capitalism.

Only, it turns out  (if you read the Humber business news) that the Italian workers are being paid British rates. And if you read that Cruddas article about “cheap labour”, you’ll note that he simultaneously claims that the British workforce is unprotected and exploited, while simultaneously accusing the Italians of undercutting the “most unprotected workers in Europe”. Now usually, when I read two contradictory opinions in the same sentence, it’s in a right-wing piece – am I sensing racism here? In Australia we have a term for this kind of subtle message, we call it a “dog whistle”[3]. I always thought that “cheap labour” was a rallying cry of left-wing internationalists, but it would appear that in the left-wing British press (for that is what the Guardian is, and Cruddas is supposedly a Labour politician) it seems to be a rallying cry of racism, carefully coded so that it can sound reasonably whilst riling up the troops. That, my friends, is dog whistle politics.

So why is it racist to protest Italian workers being shipped in barges to do a job in England? Shouldn’t British workers do that? Well, perhaps. But it’s a 4 month contract, and hiring 400 locals could take a bit of time. And – count them – 5 British companies tendered for this contract with staff being paid at the same rates and couldn’t win it. So an Italian company which has to ship its workers over here, pay them British rates and pay for their accomodation and food won the contract  over 5 British companies with no such expenses. Could it be the British companies were being greedy? Or couldn’t guarantee completion of the contract? Or that there was no British company set up to win short-term construction contracts? Maybe they were busy doing building contracts down south? Sounds like poor British business management, or greed to me. Sound familiar? Poor British management and greed has been in the news a bit lately, something about a “credit crunch”.

And what does this mean for me, a foreign worker in this country because no-one could find a British person capable of doing my job? Does it make me feel welcome? I think of those Italians on their barges and I wonder if some lunatic BNP[4] member might decide to sink one. I think of the Polish people who are doing all the catering work at my company because no white British person will do a job like that… do they feel welcome here and respected when they leave their poorly paid jobs and see this in the news? While outside the British lumpen proletariat, all those unemployed Brits who’d rather pull a welfare cheque than serve coffee, wander around stabbing each other and swearing.

And if we’re to get into the business of recalling foreign workers who are doing jobs that locals could be doing, does that mean that British expats in Tokyo, Dubai and New York should go home? All those British backpackers who spent a year living off their trust fund in Australia, earning sub-award[5] rates tax-free to steal Aussie jobs, should also  go home? It’s a can of worms.

But the fundamental problem here is that British companies are incompetent, the British are unskilled and undereducated, and they can’t do their jobs let alone compete. But here we see the British solution at its best: blame the foreigners!

[1] One day I will prepare another off-topic post on all the ways in which the British worker’s incompetence and slovenliness has made my life here hell…

[2] For anyone who is confused by this I have the magic words “commonwealth”.

[3] I have no idea if this is an international term,  but I won’t have foreigners stealing my work.

[4] British National Party, for my American/Canadian readers – it’s a funny British thing, it rhymes with “National Socialist Party”

[5] An “award” is an industrial agreement setting out what employees should earn.