Is freedom of movement anti-working class?

Eurosceptic trade unionists believe only capitalists benefit from the Single Market.

Doug Nicholls

Topics Politics

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At a time when China has announced that it will be cancelling the debts owed to it by the world’s most impoverished nations, and when it is strengthening controls on the export of capital to protect its currency and domestic economy, it is worth pointing out that the levers of political power can only be pulled if the freedom of capital is restrained.

Thatcher’s first acts in power were related. She got the state machine ready to take on the trade unions and removed the previous controls on the export of capital from Britain. Until then the wealth of Britain could not be exported without stringent controls and penalties.

Both of these moves were key to the success of the neoliberal agenda and the rise of the EU as an instrument of the large corporations and finance houses. We should never forget that, historically, the EU was mainly the creation of Wall Street high-flyers, the City of London and Germany.

Once capital is made footloose and fancy-free, those who benefit most from its mobility — the finance houses and speculators — start to rule the roost. The City of London prevailed over manufacturing and mercantile investors. Roulette replaced rooted investment in a growing domestic economy that made things.

Britain started to import everything and the balance-of-trade deficit rose to levels never previously imagined in the postwar economy.

If speculative financial transactions can be made in nanoseconds across the world, and capital is released from the long-term, slow-return demands of the real economy, industry and infrastructure, then it follows that labour must be forced to follow the quickest buck — and that national borders must be swept aside to speed things up.

City of London and EU machinations made long-term loans for industrial development less favourable. Profit margins had to be instantaneous. The unique security of final-salary pension schemes with predictable long-term requirements, a particular success of trade-union negotiators here, also had to be pulled apart and pension funds liberalised.

The EU is a mass-unemployment and slow-growth area committed to the break-up of collective bargaining. The hidden hand of the Single Market has drastically increased the reserve army of labour across the continent to a consistent 10 per cent of the workforce — about 20million human beings.

For a country to be democratic and respond to its own people’s needs, it requires self-sufficiency, self-reliance and self-determination in all aspects of its economy, and an ability to plan beyond the chaos of the market.

Democracy was the greatest regulatory obstacle to the neoliberal agenda. Replacing national parliaments with the unelected EU commissioners, enacting the wishes of corporations and banks, was the best way of subverting it on our continent.

The independence and strength of Britain once rested on our coal and steel and engineering. The EU’s origins lay in the coal and steel confederation established after the war. The plan was simple: destroy the ability of any individual nation to sustain its political economy on the bedrock of coal and steel production. The savagery committed against steelworkers and miners at the hands of Thatcher was part of this.

When industry is broken up, discord follows. Privatisation, the break-up of public services and the selling-off of public assets began. The ties and bonds of society broke down as we were told there was no such thing as society. The market penetrated everything and broke down any concept of labour-market and skills planning.

The Single Market’s freedoms are chains. Goods can be moved around, but if you lack the skill and infrastructure to produce them, what is the benefit? Indeed, the EU’s regional programme was designed precisely to limit the number of goods any individual nation could produce while ensuring that Germany got the wealth-creating core in engineering.

Services can be exchanged ‘freely’ across borders, but what does this mean? Foreign governments and buccaneers owning our railways and utilities, our town halls sold off to the highest bidders, and above all the finance sector acting with impunity and fleecing whole nations, as in the case of Greece, Italy, Spain and Ireland.

But the biggest illusion of all is the ‘free movement of labour’, which in practice is enforced migration. It is a deliberate attempt to deplete the economies of the East and undermine social provision and community in the West. The European Court of Justice made it clear time and time again that the needs of transnational businesses — which included shifting production to the areas of least resistance and trade-union organisation — would trump national collective bargaining and workers’ protections.

No nation has ever prospered by allowing its workforce to become nomads to suit the short-term needs of others. A central right of any worker is to be able to prosper and grow in the land of his or her birth and to have meaningful, gainful and enjoyable employment. When Norman Tebbit told workers to get on their bikes, there was outrage. And yet so-called free movement is now demanded by some on the ‘left’.

Any plan, as the Labour manifesto suggests, for full employment and skills development and hi-tech manufacturing, with re-established public services and national rail, requires that we end the madness of the enforced migration of labour. We must leave the Single Market.

Doug Nicholls is chair of Trade Unionists Against the EU.

On Monday 11 September, TUAEU is holding a fringe meeting at the TUC in Brighton, titled, ‘Is socialist planning compatible with the Single Market?’. Find out more here.

To enquire about republishing spiked’s content, a right to reply or to request a correction, please contact the managing editor, Viv Regan.

Topics Politics


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