Not in my name/Ode to Joy

For the past thirty or so years patriotism has not been fashionable. The hippies sorted it. And Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now. Thanks to them, and GCSEs, together with Playaway’s Brian Cant, patriotism is no longer acceptable. We have evolved. We have progressed. We have grown up. We know better. We no longer read Kipling. Unless it be to mock his jingoism. Commando magazine and it’s cries of Achtung! and take that, Fritz! raise a derisive chuckle. The national anthem no longer plays out every night on the BBC. Britishness is now irrelevant. We are citizens of the world. Or, at the very least, citizens of the European Union. We are enlightened. We are modern Europeans.

 

On 21st October 2005 the Battle of Trafalgar was re-enacted. The battle was instrumental in Britain’s dominance of the sea and helped pave the way towards building the empire upon which the sun never set. On its two hundred anniversary, for the delight of dignitaries, the battle was re-played not with the opposing sides of the British pitted against the French and the Spanish, but with two teams. Red and blue. No one won. An analogy in itself.

 

And yet…

 

This week Northern Ireland’s Environment Minister Sammy Wilson suggested that local people should be offered jobs over foreign nationals. He said what?! This week Northern Ireland’s Environment Minister Sammy Wilson suggested that local people should be offered jobs over foreign nationals. Wilson was promptly decried as ‘bringing shame on Northern Ireland’. And in response to Wilson’s remarks Bob Collins, of the Equality Commission, stated the current state of the law plainly: ‘You can’t restrict applications for positions on the basis of a preferred national identity.’ Sinn Féin’s Sue Ramsey summed it all up: ‘What Sammy Wilson fails to recognise is the rights and entitlements of foreign workers and the fact that laws, especially European laws, make working across countries a basic right.’

                                      

This comes in the same week that energy workers at the Lindsey Oil Refinery in North Lincolnshire protested over the use of foreign labour. Somewhere in the region of two hundred and fifty Italians have been contracted by petroleum firm Total (apparently pronounced as if to rhyme with ‘go pal’. You learn something new everyday). A contract worth £200 million awarded to a company based in Borgone near Turin. Perfectly legal. All above board. But the British workers are unhappy. They are moaning. They are calling for ‘British jobs for British workers’. Mimicking Gordon Brown’s words from his inaugural speech as leader of New Labour at the 2007 party conference in Bournemouth. ‘As we set out on the next stage of our journey this is our vision: Britain leading the global economy – by our skills and creativity, by our enterprise and flexibility, by our investment in transport and infrastructure – a world leader in science; a world leader in financial and business services; a world leader in energy and the environment from nuclear to renewables; a world leader in the creative industries; and yes – modern manufacturing too – drawing on the talents of all to create British jobs for British workers.’ The refinery workers are accusing foreigners of taking their jobs. The refinery workers are accusing Gordon Brown of letting them down.The demonstration was supported by walk outs at refineries in Hull and Scotland. Wildcat strikes. More spontaneous downing of tools followed in the succeeding days. The images of massed pickets evoked memories of the 1970s. Arthur Scargill closing the coke depot at Saltley in 1972. Red Robbo bringing British Leyland to its knees at Longbridge later in the decade. The protests prompted a huge police presence. Dissent was simmering. Resurrecting the spirit of working class militancy that many thought had been stamped out and exorcised in the 1980s.

 

Struggling to keep up with their member’s feelings and actions, Unions responded to the protests by saying that the contract should have been given to British workers. The same Unions that have fought for equality. Union officials state that the foreign workforce have been hired as a ‘cheaper option’. They reject claims that they are ‘specialist’ contractors. This is the same union that declares: ‘The vision of Amicus is not limited to the United Kingdom. It extends throughout Europe, and we have links with unions and governments across the globe. Never afraid to get the best we can out of Europe, we’ve set up more European Works Councils than any other union.’

 

But apparently they don’t want European workers in Britain.

 

Tough.

 

The government and legislators proscribe a kind of international socialism. This year will see a new Equality bill placed before parliament. The bill aims to provide a framework for a fairer future. Amongst its clauses is the principle that employers will be able to choose a job candidate from an under-represented group over an equally qualified ‘majority’ candidate. In other words positive discrimination. The government legislates that fairness has no borders. That fairness isn’t constrained by a fundamental sense of right and wrong. And, it seems, that fairness sometimes has to be unfair. To be fair. But is that fair?

 

Foreign workers from the European Union have the same rights as British workers. Rights that are enshrined in law. Employment Minister Pat McFadden, cleared up any ambiguity in the Prime Ministers words from 2007. ‘Gordon, in saying that [about British jobs for British workers], never said we are going to have economic protectionism, we’re going to stop international trade, we’re going to stop British companies trading abroad, or European companies trading here. What he’s saying there is, “I want to see the British workforce equipped for the jobs and skills of the future”. And that’s precisely what the government is doing.’ Gordon shrugged the protests off with blithe pragmatism, cutting down the refinery worker’s calls for a patriotic approach to recruitment policy: ‘Well, we are part of a single European market but I have always understood the worries that people have. They look round and say, well, why can’t we do these jobs, jobs ourselves, these are jobs that we can do. When, when I talked about British jobs, I was taking about giving people in Britain the skills, so that they have the ability to get jobs which were at present going to people from abroad.’

 

Ah, I see. That’s that one cleared up.

 

Old school Nationalism, the Nationalism of the Union Jack and the Swastika, of Tommy Atkins and Bobby Moore is a cultural, political and economic anachronism. It has been replaced by Corporate Imperialism. Superseded. Tesco employs more people than the combined armed forces of the UK. The McDonalds golden arches is more readily recognized by school children than the Cross or the Crescent. The level playing field of employment laws within the European Union give Corporations access to a wealth of workers who are willing to work cheaper than the British. They don’t even have to re-locate their factories or refineries. They can simply import labour. It’s a cracking idea. Corporations are unhampered by borders and work permits or restrictions. Corporations prompt government policies. Corporations shape government legislation. The little man with the big ears and the misshapen nose, stood warming himself at the factory gates next to the burning oil drum, hasn’t adjusted himself to the idea yet, that’s all. But he will. He’ll learn. Right now he’s being prepared and equipped for ‘the jobs and skills of the future’. The British worker is too expensive. I’ve seen the future. The future is the credit crunch and the minimum wage. We are learning some new lessons.

 

The protests at Lindsey would have been unthinkable two years ago. And unpalatable. The media would not have been supportive. The sight of podgy working class faces, stuffed on bangers and mash, shouting the odds in thick regional accents about ‘foreigners’ would have merited condemnation. Racist, xenophobic bigots. Sun reading, tit-ogling Neanderthals. They would have been marginalized. With their holidays in Spain and their football team loyalties. Now the media tout them as the down-trodden little man. The BBC sheds crocodile tears. The News at 10 highlights the story hypocritically.

 

We are living in a time of change. Of massive economic turmoil. The idea of ‘British jobs for British workers’ and the legal hurdles against such a proposition poses questions about the fundamental principles of nationality in the modern world. If only economically. The spectre of protectionism – for decades scorned – is rearing its head. Is this post-modern xenophobia? Possibly. But does the government owe me, a British citizen, anything? For the taxes I’ve paid begrudgingly for years? For my worthless National Insurance contributions? For the decades I have spent living here? Not according to the laws that have been passed. The government needs have no loyalty to the British people. The law says so. In which case, what is the purpose, under these circumstances, of national government? I pay my council tax to Barnsley Council but they’re more bothered about emptying the bins for a bloke that lives in Birmingham. So what am I paying them for? The man in the big chair at the Town Hall has decided to use my money to light the street lamps on St. Anne Street, Salisbury. What’s in that for me? BMBC are building a new primary school in Aykley Heads, Durham. How am I getting value for money in that? I’m being fleeced for nothing. Eh? Similarly how is the government protecting my best interests? And the best interests of the refinery workers at Lindsey? And if they’re not then what use are they to us? Why fund them? There is an argument that we should be governed from Brussels. Some might say why not. Some might argue that we already are.

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