Yesterday the TUC Executive Committee joined the debate about what the Prime Minister should say in his much-touted big speech on Europe, due to be given in the Netherlands on Friday. There’s a short statement on the web which sets out our views, but in a nutshell they are these:
- hands off workers’ rights!
- stop dithering about a referendum which is damaging job and investment prospects
- abandon austerity – start building a future that works
In particular, the big issue that seems to excite right-wing europhobes into a frenzy is the Working Time Directive, which offers flexible but shorter working weeks and paid holidays. Almost none of the Directive’s opponents seem to understand just how flexible it is, nor that its 48-hour average limit on the working week is supported by rafts of epidemiological evidence showing the ill-health that results from persistent long hours. But it has become the totem for frothy-mouth europhobics.
Congress this year rejected a call for a referendum on UK membership of the EU, and for the UK to leave. But what the Tories are after, as the Fresh Start group has made clear in its report, leaked to the Daily Telegraph, isn’t a simple in-out referendum. They want a free market Europe without workers’ rights, controls on the financial sector, equality laws, human rights and so on. The PM’s strategy is that if he can blackmail the rest of the EU into that, then he will put that to a referendum and seek the British people’s endorsement.
It’s very unlikely the rest of Europe will play ball (as I reported over the weekend), and as further evidence, consider the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement leaked last month, which requires the Ukraine, before it can even be considered for possible EU membership many years down the line, to implement … the Working Time Directive! (Not just that, obviously, but it is specifically singled out in the Agreement.) If the EU won’t let the Ukraine off the hook on working time, I doubt they’ll be minded to let Britain off, either.
Employers’ groups and businesses are beginning to speak out against loosening Britain’s ties with the EU, but they haven’t yet gone so far as to make clear that the single market isn’t sustainable without the social rights that go with it. That’s clearly our job, and the TUC Executive Committee statement fires the starting pistol on doing just that.