Sunday, February 01, 2009

European Jobs and British Workers

I was for my sins at the Labour Party conference in 2007 as the London delegate for London UNISON Labour Link. I posted here fairly positively on Brown conference speech at the time.

I agree with commentators since that his reference to “British Jobs for British Workers” has been taken completely out of context. While at the time I thought it was unwise since it did leave him open for attack by such issues as the wildcat strikes at the Lindsey oil refinery.

I actually think there are different issues going on with very different solutions.

The strikes at Lindsey and elsewhere are a local reaction to the increased threat of unemployment. Organised workers are using effective tactics to win access to paid work. I don’t think it is inherently driven by any real racist sentiment but this will have to be handled carefully, not least because the local BNP will be sticking their snouts into things and trying to stir.

The real political issue is that for years the EU had been broadly “worker friendly” and a great number of progressive policies have been brought in via Europe. Recently there have been setbacks and EU court rulings that potentially undermine national wage rates and terms and conditions. It is these rulings that need to be challenged by the government urgently.

Naked protectionism would be a disaster – I have close family and friends who work in Spain, Finland, Sweden, Ireland, France and Belgian. 2 million Brits work and live in Europe more than twice as many as EU workers over here.

I don’t personally know if the present disputes are down to exploitative European management who are bringing in cheap undercutting labour or is it due to greedy and/or incompetent British companies who badly mispriced a tender? The issue is clearly a dispute with management not the European workers themselves.

Hat-tip thingy to Ian about the campaign and petition against “social dumping”.


Anonymous said...

didnt the tories vote for it

thats not what cameron is saying now

Anonymous said...

2 million Brits work and live in Europe more than twice as many as EU workers over here.
Europe is 20x the size of Britain, how many floating hotels full of Brits in Europe? The BNP will gain from this situation,good.

Charlie Marks said...

Don't fall for Mandelson's "protectionism" line. He's just bailed out the UK car industry! They've just rescued the British banking sector - not European banks, just British ones!

It's hypocrisy. Mandy's on the side of the super-rich as usual.

People could still live and work in Europe if the UK wasn't in the EU - there are plenty of people from outside EU living and working in this country, after all.

Work permits might be bureaucratic, but they are better way of facilitating immigration because it would be fairer and more transparent. The lies of the racists could be countered.

So this idea that if we protect workers' rights then Europe will kick out UK citizens en masse and then refuse to trade with us - it's fantasy land.

In Ireland, voters were told the sky would fall in if they opposed the Lisbon treaty. Bravely, a majority opposed it. Ireland's economy has gone belly-up - but not because the EU took retaliatory action!

Mandelson might have done alright out of the EU - he's also done well out of his billionaire chums. But that doesn't mean we can all get on that Russian oligarch's yacht, we can't all go to Europe if we lose are jobs!

If we can opt out of EU laws on workers' rights to deny the rights of workers - as New Labour have done with the Lisbon treaty - then we can opt out of EU laws to ensure that all workers, settled or migrant, have access to apply for new work.

The tradition brought about by agreements with unions has been for 75% local and 25 non-local workers. As Unite's general secretary has said, there must be corporate social responsibility.

BTW: you'll note the banners have changed to request "fair access". The racist BNP has been asked to leave picket lines by workers who don't want anything to do with their bigotry.

John Gray said...

Hi Anon 1

Hi Anon 2
My brother-in-law has is an aircraft technician and has just completed a long term contract with Airbus in Seville, Spain. There are loads and loads of Brits working abroad. Outside high season he lived in a villa with 4 others on the coast with a swimming pool not in a ship. Please learn to count. There are twice as many Brits working in EU as EU workers over here.

Hi Charlie
I still don’t fully understand your hostility to the EU? If the EU was preventing or holding back improved rights for workers then that would be one thing. For all its faults (arrogance, bureaucracy, curuption, waste etc) it is a collective institution which is far more international in outlook than the traditional European state.

It was good to read about the BNP being told to leave the picket lines but I am sure they will be back.

Charlie Marks said...

"If the EU was preventing or holding back improved rights for workers then that would be one thing."

Erm, you do have a link to the social dumping petition, yes? This is a case of the EU holding back workers rights - by deciding that the rights of capital trump those of labour...

John Gray said...

Hi Charlie
Apologies – my mistake I meant to say that on balance the EU was a positive force for workers. There are still big problems which need to be addressed such as the EU rulings. Mind you even Mandleson seems to be suggesting that the trouble is the law of unintended consequences. But I feel my question is a fair one? You know my views on this subject but why don’t you support the slogan “Independence for England in Europe”

Anonymous said...

Yes John, the EU,not 1 country. Everythings fine then?

Anonymous said...

Can we take 50% of the jobs in the EU now?

Charlie Marks said...

Because an English republic within the European Union (as constituted) would be unable to be fully democratic - John Bercow famously described the Common Market > EEC > EU process as the "Thatcherisation of Europe". Would the EU allow us to renationalise our railways or take democratic control over the energy market to ensure fairness? I very much doubt it.

My fear is - and I'm sure you share it, John - is that the increased awareness that the UK government has no control over immigration policy within Europe will strengthen the electoral support of the BNP. Though the result of the Lindsay oil refinery dispute was progressive - no sackings, jobs for UK workers - my fear is that the BNP vote will be helped by media portrayal of the dispute as an issue of nationality rather than what it really was - an industrial dispute with political implications re: the EU. Was heartening to see that the strikers told the racists where to shove it - disproving the media bias that working people are bigots.

Anonymous said...

They also clearly told Brown to shove it!