TUCs Frances O’Grady tells Euro unions: Don’t let the Prime Minister repatriate workers’ rights

TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady

Speaking later today (Monday) at a conference in Madrid, TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady will appeal for the help of unions across Europe in persuading their governments to resist David Cameron’s attempt to ‘repatriate’ workers’ rights.

Attending a meeting to mark 40 years of the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC), Frances will say that that if the Prime Minister gets his way over Europe, British workers – and possibly workers across the continent – will lose out.

Speaking at the ETUC event, Frances O’Grady will say: ‘Last week, the British Prime Minister made a speech which you may have heard about. To some people outside the UK, the logic of his argument may not have been entirely clear.

‘Like the last Conservative Prime Minister, John Major, David Cameron has a problem – not so much with Europe as with his own party. He has now promised – if re-elected in 2015 – to hold a referendum on British membership of the EU, which he says he wants to win.

‘What David Cameron is doing – if putting internal party management above the national and European interest wasn’t bad enough – is even more sinister.

‘As well bringing the prospect of an unprecedented triple-dip recession even closer, the UK government is making the most vulnerable pay for a crisis they didn’t cause, and is set on a wholesale scrapping of workers’ rights.

‘The government has already made it easier for employers to sack people they don’t like and more difficult for workers to get justice before the courts. Now it is trying to abolish wage protection for farm workers, and stop people injured at work getting their rightful compensation.

‘But there’s one set of workers’ rights David Cameron can’t touch. Those are the rights provided for by social Europe – paid holidays, health and safety, equal treatment for part-time workers and women, protection when a business is sold off, and a voice at work.

‘The Prime Minister wants to ‘repatriate’ those rights, and not because he thinks he can improve them! David Cameron wants to make it easier for bad employers to undercut good ones, drive down wages, and make people who already work some of the longest hours in Europe work even longer. To do that, he needs agreement from the rest of Europe.

‘And when the UK government calls on your government to give him the chance to undermine British workers’ rights, we want your governments to say

no. Not just out of solidarity with us, but in the interests of your own rights, your own wages, and your own jobs.

‘What David Cameron is trying to do isn’t just opt out of Social Europe, he wants to undercut it. When he talks about Europe becoming more competitive and about going back to the days of the Common Market, what he means is that he wants to end Social Europe altogether.

‘Some of your governments will be tempted to let David Cameron have what he wants, just to keep Britain in the EU. And some will be tempted to pull the very same trick and get rid of their own workers’ hard-won rights too.

‘British working people are looking to their colleagues around Europe to work with us. Trade unions are all about solidarity, about working together in the common interest. We must make common cause to defeat David Cameron’s attack on working people and Social Europe.

‘And as if that wasn’t enough, the continent-wide rush towards austerity is destroying jobs, living standards and services. In Britain and across the EU, the current trajectory of economic policy is leading us towards disaster.

‘Current EU economic governance – such as the rules on budget deficits – is a recipe for recession, not recovery. And the Fiscal Compact, which effectively prohibits Keynesian stimulus, could lock us into low or no growth for a generation.

‘Despite not being part of the Fiscal Compact, everything it involves is already being done in Britain, just as it is in Greece, or Spain, or Italy. If everyone embraces the cult of austerity, who will we be able to sell our goods and services too? Even the IMF is ringing the alarm bells.

‘The increasingly tight fiscal straightjacket is strangling the European economy. It has unleashed a crisis of unemployment unseen in our continent since the 1930s, nowhere more so than here in Spain. It is destroying growth and doing little to ease debt problems – indeed in Britain, debt is rising, not falling. And it is weakening the public services, welfare provisions and workers’ rights that have long been at the heart of the European project.

‘The Troika and the EU establishment need to understand that putting people out of work, making workers poorer, increasing insecurity is not the way to get our economy back on track.

‘We need a credible, compelling recovery plan that gives European workers a sense of hope about their future. We need a plan that gets our continent back to work, gets tax revenues flowing, and living standards and wages rising again.

‘If we can find hundreds of billions of euros to divert into the black hole of Europe’s banking system, then we can invest in new infrastructure, new low-carbon programmes to make homes and workplaces more sustainable, and new schemes to give work to our young people.

‘As trade unionists, we have a crucial role to play in winning the argument for an alternative. Our focus must not just be on jobs but on good jobs that pay a decent wage, that help build sustainable demand, and that give opportunity to those who need it most. Only collective bargaining can deliver this.

‘Together we must make the case for a worker’s and citizen’s Europe, not a banker’s and financier’s Europe. If the EU is only about fiscal austerity, open markets and privatisation, then ordinary Europeans will increasingly question its legitimacy – and rightly so.

‘For a generation, Europe prospered by balancing the interests of business and those of workers. It’s time to rediscover that bargain – and the sense of solidarity that underpins it.’

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