UNISONActive is an unofficial blog produced by UNISON activists for UNISON activists. Bringing news, briefings and events from a progressive left perspective.

Thursday, 24 January 2013

A Trade Union Yes to EU? Not at any Neo-Liberal price

Yesterday in his Bloomberg speech David Cameron set out a five point bottom line for renegotiation of the UK relationship with the EU, to be followed by an in-out referendum in 2018. Some senior Labour politicians argue that Cameron's stance is a distraction but in reality that's far from the case. His agenda for (acceleration of) neo liberal reform of the EU is a deadly serious threat to working people: http://www.number10.gov.uk/news/eu-speech-at-bloomberg/

The five changes Cameron seeks are:

- Competiveness (cutting back on social protection and regulation etc)

- Flexibility (UK withdrawal from political integration, weakening jurisdiction of ECJ etc)

- Rolling back of EU competences (repeal of EU directives on employment rights etc)

- Democratic accountability (bigger role for national parliaments)

- Fairness of the Single Market (parity between Eurozone and EU states outside of single currency)

If Cameron is successful in securing a new 'settlement' with the EU - and given the right wing ascendancy across the majority of EU member states as well as in the European Commission and European Parliament there's no reason to believe he won't get his way - an EU stripped of employment and social protection will have far fewer redeeming features than those currently articulated by trade union supporters of continuing UK membership.

The GMB made this point in stark terms in a statement on Cameron's speech by General Secretary Paul Kenny (a comprehensive footnote to the press release outlines what's at stake in terms of employment rights):
“Millions of UK workers bought into the EU ideal on the balance of a free business market for jobs that had a social dimension for equality, employment rights, health and safety protections, access to justice and for the free movement not the exploitation of labour.
Let there be no misunderstanding that if the EU is only there for the needs of business without these social benefits that this is not the EU millions of workers in the UK would vote for in a referendum. Let Cameron, the Tories and business be warned that if they succeed in getting a deal to take away these social benefits that workers will not vote to stay in the EU. UK workers will not vote for a one way street EU where in terms of social benefits they are second class citizens.
UK workers will not be used to appease the bigotry of the Tory backbenchers"
The European Trade Union Confederation is also alert to the threat posed by Cameron's 'blackmail' for EU renegotiation:
“We are very concerned that Mr Cameron wants to retain the benefits of the single market, while bringing into question EU competence to deal with subjects of vital importance to European citizens and workers including “the environment, social affairs and crime”. Workers rights are an integral part of the single market, because we need a Europe for citizens, not just for business. We must avoid the downward spiral of competition based on lowering basic standards at work that he is clearly advocating”

Last March the ETUC was quick off the mark to condemn the EU Fiscal Compact as a 'permanent austerity treaty' and has co ordinated impressive European wide days of action against austerity. However the UK Government's declaration of intent to roll back 'Social Europe' poses an unprecedented challenge.  http://www.etuc.org/a/9762

The GMB is right to say that trade union support for the EU - particularly an EU stripped of social protection, which drives a neo liberal austerity and privatisation agenda - cannot be at any price.