Striking energy workers were last night warned to be vigilant against far right groups looking to hijack their protest.
The TUC issued the advice after evidence came to light that groups such as the British National Party had approached unemployed construction workers protesting against a contract awarded to an Italian firm. But Scottish union representatives insisted the campaign was a fight for jobs rather than an attack on the foreign workers.
Contract workers across the UK are demonstrating against the practice by foreign companies of undercutting British firms by bidding for contracts below agreed prices. The protest originated at the Lindsey Oil Refinery, in North Lincolnshire, on Wednesday after a major contract was awarded to Italian firm IREM, which plans to staff the job with Italian and Portuguese workers.
Some unemployed workers took the opportunity to challenge Prime Minister Gordon Brown's 2007 promise of "British jobs for British workers".
TUC General Secretary Brendan Barber spoke out against attempts to hijack the action, after evidence emerged that activists from the BNP and other far-right factions attempted to influence strikers around the country. He said: "Unions are clear that the anger should be directed at employers, not the Italian workers. No doubt some of the more distasteful elements in our towns and cities will try to use the fears of workers to stir up hatred and xenophobia.
"But I am confident that union members will direct their anger at the employers who have caused this dispute with their apparent attempt to undercut the wages, conditions and union representation of existing staff."
Bobby Buirds is regional officer for Unite trade union in Grangemouth, where some workers have staged wildcat strikes in sympathy with the Lindsey workers. He said: "The argument is not against foreign workers, it's against foreign companies discriminating against British labour. This is a fight for work. It is not a racist argument at all."
Writing on the BNP website, Nick Griffin said that Unite's claims that this was not a racist issue were "ridiculous".