Charles Woolfson, professor of labour studies at Glasgow University, seems to have got the wrong end of the stick about the construction workers' strike ("Warning over repercussions against union", The Herald, January 31). From the evidence of reports of interviews with strikers, reports of those visiting the picket lines and the workers' own website (Bearfacts), the dynamics of the action are far more complicated than he is willing to appreciate.

The incident that sparked the current wave of walkouts concerns the exclusive use of Italian and Portuguese workers to be brought in by the Italian contractor, IREM, specifically for a particular contract by dint of its right under the EU Posted Worker Directive. This comes after many protests outside construction sites in the past few months.

What the workers are protesting about is not the use of foreign workers per se but that existing workers in Britain, whether "British" or not, do not have the right to be considered for work on this contract. Their fight is about the right to work (in a recession) and their anger is directed against the Italian contractor. They are not calling for the expulsion, repatriation or sacking of "foreign" workers.

Alongside this, the strikers speculate that the use of the "foreign" workers by IREM is an attempt to undermine national terms and conditions of employment of any worker, whatever their nationality, who works in the sector in Britain. This is a reasonable point to make given that many employers operating in Britain have done so in other parts of the construction sector.

Beneath this lies another complex phenomenon. While the demand of "British jobs for British workers" has been to the fore on the placards and the like of the strikers, this owes much to the attempt to make political capital out of the phraseology of the promise coined by Gordon Brown in 2007. The strikers do so in order to exert some leverage over the government but at base this is a demand for the right to work. Their anger is then focused, also in part, on a government which has bailed out the bankers but not workers from the effects of a severe recession.

Now, of course, this is not to suggest that there is no racism or xenophobia involved. There is some among the workers, but where I have seen much more evidence of this is among those people who leave comments on newspaper websites and the like, and who are not directly involved in the dispute. Moreover, certain right-wing forces - such as the BNP - are also fond of trying to portray the strikers in this light in little regard of the reality, which is quite different.

It is to be hoped that the workers understand the underlying issues of the race to the bottom under capitalism, the drive to neo-liberalism and the European Union's deregulatory preference. If this is the case, as well as continuing their collective action, because it is having a political impact on the government by virtue of calls for talks and the use of Acas, they will hopefully also see that they need to engage in the political process much more and on a critical basis with all the mainstream political parties. Professor Gregor Gall, Research Professor of Industrial Relations, Director of the Centre for Research in Employment Studies, University of Hertfordshire, Hatfield. I am surprised that the normally forensic Iain Macwhirter joins in quite so readily with the accusation against the workers in Lincolnshire and elsewhere of racism (as he says, the impolite but accurate meaning of xenophobia) ("Economic migrants: softs targets for xenophobia", The Herald, February 2).

Of course, he's right to see the dangers of BNP involvement and the deliberate and divisive match-playing of Gordon Brown. This has helped to ignite flames which Peter Mandelson, for one, seems keen to fan.

However, I think Mr Macwhirter is wrong to impute such small-minded and unpleasant motives to those standing in the freezing cold outside power plants. This is a very complex issue and while there may be worrying strains of anti-immigrant sentiment, is it fair to see this as the main reason behind the protests and "the inheritor of the great tradition of British industrial militancy"?

Is it right that a company from another country should be able to bring in solely itinerant workers from thousands of miles away to do skilled work and fulfil a contract for work in the UK? We know this is less to do with a commitment to the free movement of labour and more because such workers are more likely to be able to work long hours and impinge minimally on this country, not having to be trained here and without families or other encumbrances.

We question the need for supermarkets to notch up unnecessary "food miles", but "job miles" can seem an even more wasteful and inefficient way of organising our systems of production - especially when there is a recession and massive unemployment is looming.

If globalisation has led us to the horrific phase we are now entering, would a degree of protectionism really be as dangerous as some politicians assert?

Perhaps if the prime minister had used the phrase "jobs in Britain for British-based workers", he wouldn't have become quite so tangled in this web of conflicting ideas. Paul Bassett, Glasgow. Presumably those politicians who think foreign, cheaper labour is a good thing will have no objection if, at the next elections, the UK electorate votes wholesale for candidates based in Greece, with the lowest salaries for MPs in the EU.

The Greek MPs could then take over from our existing MPs and do the same job at a cheaper price. That seems fair, doesn't it? Or are politicians the only occupational group to be uniquely protected as the practice of manipulating differential labour markets drives costs, also known as people's wages, into the floor? Alistair Richardson, Stirling. Gordon Brown has been quick to brand the striking workers action illegal. Has he investigated the Lindsey oil refinery contract? If all the conditions of employment are (as required under EU law) in line with those in the UK then the cost of accommodation must be additional.

The prime minister needs to provide some answers regarding a possible hidden subsidy. Is there really not one UK worker capable of this work?

With this large contingent of non-English-speaking workers present, have appropriate precautions and procedures been implemented to ensure the safety of everybody on the site? How much is this costing?

He seems to have forgotten that he is the prime minister of the UK, and that his first loyalty should be to our citizens. Maggie Jamieson, South Queensferry, West Lothian.