UKIP sheds crocodile tears over workers’ rights
There are now so many blog posts on the Lindsey Oil Refineries dispute that it’s become impossible to reply to all the distortions, misunderstandings and bandwagon jumping. The basic taxonomy is clear, however. First, pick the argument you want to make. Then, find one or two statements by other people to justify your argument (note, ‘statements’, not facts – and see next point for how facts would be inconvenient). Third, provide a walk-on part for a stereotype of an engineering construction worker (it’s instructive to read all the bulletin boards written by the actual workers, because they dispel most of the myths although they are as varied and disparate as you’d expect from a cross-section of real people, but it doesn’t make for such an easy ‘comment’ piece).
So we’re picking our targets. My next target is Nigel Farage MEP, leader of the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP), who has written in the Guardian that he sympathises ever so much with the poor workers, but while we stay in the European Union nothing can be done to help them. Nigel Farage hasn’t shown any interest in helping workers so far, and he’s wrong about what could be done on this case too.
His crocodile tears would be more believable if he had a better record of supporting any of the measures put to the European Parliament which would actually improve the lot of working people: eg scrapping the Working Time Directive opt out, enacting the Temporary Agency Workers Directive, reforming the Services Directive to protect industrial relations from devastation, or backing a stronger European Works Council Directive to give working people more of a voice at work.
But his basic argument is wrong anyway. The concerns that British workers have about undercutting and discrimination can indeed be dealt with in the European Union. As I’ve explained elsewhere, improved implementation in the UK of the Posting of Workers Directive could deal with the worst cases of undercutting, and the Directive itself could be improved to deal with other cases.
Nigel is ready for that one. His next argument is that even a reformed Posting of Workers Directive would be inadequate because the European Court of Justice rulings on the Viking, Laval, Ruffert and Luxembourg cases would overturn any protections of workers’ rights. Those ruling are certainly inimical to worker protection (although, once again, I’m not sure I’ve heard Nigel Farage or UKIP join the chorus of concern within the European Socialists or the European People’s Party about them), but they are judicial interpretations of the existing Treaties. Change the Treaties and the court will change its rulings, which is why the European Trade Union Confederation is campaigning to persuade the European Union to adopt a Social Progress Protocol to the Treaties. You will be able to demonstrate for that campaign in mid-May (probably the 15th) in Brussels or over the subsequent weekend, should you fancy the travel that freedom of movement allows you, in similar demonstrations in Germany, Spain, Scandinavia and Eastern Europe.
I suspect Nigel Farage hasn’t thought this through. I suspect that his answer to everything is that we need to leave the EU. And I also suspect that he means that we can’t behave like racists and xenophobes and stay in the EU. Which is a good argument for staying in.