David Cameron turning back the clock on 'Social Europe'
by Kathleen Walker Shaw
Workers will not vote in a UK-EU referendum for a 'one-way street Europe' where they are second-class citizens, says trade union officer
If British Prime Minister David Cameron thinks workers will give him their support in a European Union referendum that takes away their hard-won social benefits, he's got another thing coming. Millions of United Kingdom workers bought into the EU ideal. This was 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 free movement - rather than exploitation of labour. And they are not about to give it all away to vote for a one-way street Europe where they are second class citizens.
Nor will they be used as pawns in Cameron's gamble to appease the bigotry of the Tory backbenchers and Eurosceptic groups like Fresh Star, which are demanding that we unilaterally break ties and leave the EU altogether; if they don't get all the changes they want. Cameron has made big play of saying he wants to renegotiate a fresh settlement on the UK's position within the EU, claiming it is what British people want. But his priorities are for a Europe for the few, not the many. A club that would serve the haves, not us all.
Cameron wants to turn the clock back on social rights and the only thing fresh about any of this is his cheek to assume we are stupid enough to swallow that there is anything in this for us. But if we do not start asking some serious questions about where this 'Europe is always ripe for a kicking' approach is going to lead us, we are going to regret it.
The proposals planned in Cameron's now-postponed EU speech will cause us massive pain and put our standing in Europe and with the rest of the world in jeopardy. Even Cameron's buddies in the Confederation of British Industry have said the Tory plans are bonkers - because they know how badly it will affect our jobs, industries and economy.
Let us just look at what is at stake. Social and employment rights, and health and safety protections, are the key areas of legislation Cameron wants to repatriate. Not because he is going to give us sparkling new ones at a national level. No, the government will just flush them away altogether. If we were 'out' or on the edge of Europe, we could lose the following rights and protections: paid holidays; maximum 48 hours a week; covering part time, fixed term and agency workers; equal treatment and anti-discrimination; workplace health and safety; in collective redundancies; in the transfer of undertakings; for pregnant workers. And the list goes on.
We fought hard for these rights and we now need to fight hard to keep them. And to British jobs – half of our exports go to the EU, the world's largest market. Maybe they will set up new trade agreements with us but it will be at a price, most probably. Cameron talks of creating stronger trade ties with the United States but Obama has told him in no uncertain terms that our great relationship will only last so long as we remain firmly within the EU. Some call America a bully but how many pitches can Cameron afford to mess up before our economy and jobs go in to free-fall?
And what about access to justice? The Tories want us out of EU criminal justice measures. However, without cross-border police cooperation, how can the UK protect British citizens and support victims abroad? Just ask victim's mum and GMB member Maggie Hughes how it feels to be isolated helpless with a son close to death in a foreign country. We also need a European arrest warrant to bring criminals to justice when they flee across borders, as happened in the 7/7 bombings.
With regards to free movement - people in Britain want the freedom to visit, live, work, study and retire in the EU but not to be exploited when they go there or for workers that come to Britain to be exploited by employers who seek to undercut domestic wages, conditions and collective agreements. But Cameron and the Eurosceptic right-wingers oppose our calls to strengthen the rights of posted workers to stop social dumping and exploitation.
Look at banking and financial market regulation and reform. Most people in Britain applaud the EU for taking action to curb the reckless actions of banks and financial markets, which instigated the crisis. But Cameron wants to unravel all of this to keep his City mates rich and happy – we do not seem to matter. The Tories are praying we will be the silent majority in this debate but they need to understand that workers in Britain are not going to stand by and have their hard-won rights stolen to calm civil war within their struggling party. Enough is enough. It is time to put the majority of British peoples' interests first.
Kathleen Walker Shaw is European officer at the Brussels office of the GMB trade union
Time to do some work - get of your arses and stop relying on other people to create wealth and opportunities for you (to then complain about). I'm afraid you cannot expect the wealth generators, entrepeneurs and workers to maintain your benefits forever. Cameron is right.
Danny - Manchester