by John Foster writing in the Tuesday issue of Unity! published for delegates at the 2015 Trade Union Congress by the Communist Party
THE 2015 TUC is on course to adopt a strongly progressive agenda for social change, one of its most radical ever. It demands public sector intervention to halt further de-industrialisation, to redevelop social services and address poverty, insecurity and environmental degradation. It calls for democratic control over the economy alongside a free trade union movement.
Delegates know that politically this will not be easy. It will require a massive struggle to defeat the Conservative government. Yet there is another political challenge, in some ways more fundamental, which remains largely unidentified. This is the European Union.
Very little of the TUC’s progressive (and economically essential) agenda is compatible with EU membership.
Public ownership of transport Railways come under the 4th Railway Package which requires further fragmentation of services with compulsory competitive tendering. And road passenger transport is equally subject to competitive tendering – with even more stringent provisions against state aid.
Public ownership of energy The EU’s 3rd Energy Package of 2009 again requires competitive tendering and fragmentation.
A public sector investment bank This would also be disallowed by state aid and competition rules. In 2009 the EU agreed the rescue of the Royal Bank of Scotland as an emergency measure but laid down strict conditions and a timetable for re-privatisation.
State aid for industry This is strictly prohibited – as any trade unionist fighting against closure will have discovered. Manufacturing is condemned to continuing haemorrhage.
And all this is before we come to the issues of TTIP, austerity and labour law.
Within the EU there can be no escape from TTIP: the EU Commission has exclusive rights over trade policy – and TTIP’s enforcement of big business interests through court action exactly mirrors both the processes and legal assumptions of the EU.
Freedom to trade always trumps trade union rights. We have seen this in the EU’s policy on labour mobility and posted workers. The EU portrays its labour mobility policy as a matter of freedom and internationalism.
Yet the decisions of the EU Court of Justice expose its cynicism. The Viking, Laval and Luxemburg judgements outlaw any action, by trade unions or governments, to impose local or national collectively bargained wage rates on employees brought from another country.
It’s a mechanism for undercutting wages that is itself a recipe for divide-and-rule racism. And it does so in line with EU economic policy.
The TUC backs pump-priming productive investment and social expenditure to overcome recession yet the EU’s Fiscal Compact demands the reverse. Its restriction of deficits to 0.5 per cent of GDP assumes that unemployment and labour mobility will restore ‘market equilibrium’ by forcing down wages and increasing profits.
That’s the real objective of EU austerity programmes and why they always include cutting away existing collective bargaining rights. Not just for Greece but for all of us.
Twenty-five years ago the EU provided certain labour protections. Cameron intends to eliminate what’s left of these before asking for a vote to remain in and sign up to an EU now fully recast in Mrs Thatcher’s image.
This is why delegates need to consider their position on the EU. The referendum will be with us within 12 months – possibly before the next TUC. Does it make any sense to back a cynical, pro-big business EU at the same time as fighting against the self-same policies in Britain?
John Foster is international secretary of the Communist Party
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