Protectionism at home and abroad

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British energy workers are protesting the use of foreign labor at a UK plant. Meanwhile, the European Union and Canada are threatening retaliation over the "Buy American" clause in the economic stimulus package making its way through Congress. "The World's" Laura Lynch reports on rising global concerns about protectionism.

As the recession takes hold and jobs disappear, the vacuum is being filled with anger, fear and frustration. Late last week walkouts began at an oil refinery in Eastern England. The workers want the owners to send home about 300 Italian and Portuguese construction workers hired by a sub-contractor. That was enough to send other workers around Britain onto the streets.

The workers say they're drawing inspiration from the words of Gordon Brown -- words he may well be wishing he didn't say shortly after he became Prime Minister in 2007. The economy looked a lot better then and Brown boasted about Britain: "A world leader in science, a world leader in financial and business services, a world leader in energy and environment -- from nuclear to renewables, a world leader in innovative industries; and yes a world leader in manufacturing too, drawing on the talents of all to create British jobs for British workers."  

"British jobs for British workers" -- it's a mantra now repeated again and again at the gates of power plants, nuclear sites and oil refineries.

But the foreign workers at the refinery in England are there legally, under EU labor laws. It's supposed to be what the EU is about -- a free flow of goods and labor across borders. That's fine when times a good, but when times are tough, protectionist feelings creep in.

All this comes as the European Union mounts its own continent-wide campaign against protectionism in the United States. The EU Trade Commission is threatening to hit back if Washington goes ahead with the "Buy American" provisions in the stimulus package.

EU spokesperson: "In times of economic difficulty, the immediate response of some is toward protectionist measures, but this is clearly not the right way to go about it. Protectionism in the past has failed, protectionism would fail today. We need to keep markets open, we need to keep trade flowing -- that is the only sure way that we can finally emerge from this economic downturn. It's in everybody's interests to keep markets open -- that is what the ... G20 countries signed up to in Washington in November, we must honor that pledge."

PRI's "The World" is a one-hour, weekday radio news magazine offering a mix of news, features, interviews, and music from around the globe. "The World" is a co-production of the BBC World Service, PRI and WGBH Boston.

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