Strike it right?

Ring out the old, ring in the new, Ring, happy bells, across the snow:

The papers and TV screens may be full of happy, cheerful children, making the most of the school closures by speeding down snow covered hills on make-shift toboggans but they also showed something slightly darker and a little more worrying.

Hundreds of workers, standing around what used to be called picket lines until the Tories made them illegal, in the freezing snow. Hundreds of workers going on strike to protest against the use on foreign workers when there are, it is argued, perfectly good UK workers willing and able to do the work.

It started with the oil refineries, now it’s moved to Sellafield and who knows where else. If it escalates, we could be in for a rather sticky time. Only just over eight years ago the country was brought to a virtual standstill – and the government almost to its knees – by the lorry drivers’ blockades over fuel prices (which were a lot less then than they are now). And that was when things were, economically speaking, pretty fine; Chancellor Gordon Brown still reaping the benefits of the tidy house his predecessor left him.

The disputes today are about a more deep-seated fear – that of unemployment and home repossession. It’s not an idle fear, either, since the Department for Work and Pensions has warned that unemployment could treble as a result of the recession.

Gordon Brown hasn’t helped matters by highlighting at the party conference last year ‘ British Jobs for British Workers’ and then being all wishy washy when workers try to take him at his word.

If the situation were reversed and British workers were filling European posts would we see similar strikes? You bet we would. Remember what happened when the French farmers decided France was importing too much of our lamb?

A Labour government, strikes, recession, and huge government debts which might need a bail out from the IMF: ever get that sense of déjà-vu?

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About Fiona Russell-Horne

Group Managing Editor across the BMJ portfolio.

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