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Democrat - Editorial September 2006 (Number 97)

EU migration increases exploitation

Polish plumbers in Britain

The huge pool of labour in Britain formed by mass migration from Central and Eastern Europe has created many problems for those who work for their living. Over half a million people have entered Britain since the EU expanded in May 2004 when Britain, Sweden and Ireland opened their borders. The government has been only too ready to rush to the pool of cheap labour.

Recruiting cheap labour

Building workers have for some time had their wages depressed by employers who tapped into this pool of cheaper labour. Bus companies have cut wages by recruiting drivers in Poland. Young people leaving school are unable to find a job and do not appear in the unemployment figures. They apply for jobs where it is made perfectly clear they are not wanted because they are not from the other side of the EU.

The single market of the EU is about the “free movement of labour” as well as that of “capital, goods and services”. The proposed healthcare and services directives specifically promote “free” movement and defined by TUC Council member Dave Prentis General Secretary of Unison as the “race to the bottom”.

To whose benefit?

Who openly welcomes this state of affairs and uses their influence to obtain it? The employers and capitalists who want absolutely everything deregulated. Included is the deregulation of our borders and removal of the right as a nation state to control who comes into Britain. In effect this neuters and deregulates the government itself. The objective is to let capitalism rip where market forces reign without a care for the social or human consequences. The purpose is very simple: to maximise profit by undermining hard won rights, conditions, decent pay and social protection.

For example the Swedish Vaxholm case referred to the EU Court of Justice puts into question basic rights won by trade unions on behalf of workers. This is where Latvian building workers and members of their own trade unions worked for 10,000 Swedish crowns per month compared to 16,000 crowns agreed by Swedish trade unions as part of collective bargaining. This means it is not simply an issue of recruiting these workers into trade unions and for workers to unite, rather that a situation has been created where workers compete.

Polish plumbers again

Polish plumbers are said to have solved the shortage of plumbers in Britain. The real answer is for employers to have apprenticeship and training schemes and decent rates of pay to attract young people. The migration of skilled workers from their own country causes the shortage to travel in the opposite direction. The Polish and Latvian governments are very concerned about the vacuum and have implored workers and professionals to return home.

It is completely unnatural to move a part of one nation into another, for that’s what is happening. It is clear that racists and fascists will take full advantage of the resentment of people losing their jobs. This has to be resisted and requires an understanding of what is actually taking place and what has to be done. The question of refugees and asylum seekers is separate from this mass movement.

Role of trade unions

The real problem pivots upon the sovereign right of nation states to control their own borders. This fundamental right should not be in the hands of a supranational body like the European Union which in practice acts on behalf of transnational corporations and capitalists.

Of course trade unions should help ensure these migrant workers are not used to force down wages or undermine conditions including health and safety. These workers need protection from ruthless exploitation. At the same time it is the obvious duty of the TUC and trade unions to oppose Britain having open borders for the free movement of labour in an unregulated labour market. Romania and Bulgaria are due to join the EU next year and voices in the name of “globalisation” have been raised to have open borders and migration from the Far East.

Class and nation state

It is not just a question of defending the working class but of the best interests of the nation state and its peoples. The government must carry out the sovereign right to control who enters Britain. That means opposing EU policies and diktats from Brussels.