Mandelson, Unions and Globalisation
Peter Mandelson was intelligent, thoughtful and a bit mischievous (oh, alright, more than a bit mischievous) in his IPPR lecture at the London Stock Exchange this afternoon. He put the case for globalisation, in which he believes so strongly, eloquently, while also warning of the fears that it raises, describing the challenges but also the opportunities it could bring, and even highlighting the importance of trade unions in defending their members in its wake.
Mandelson’s central theme was that people have two different views of globalisation. On an economic level, as if looking down from above, they see it as the way the wind is blowing. The nature of the world economy is changing, in a manner that can bring great opportunities and benefits. But on a personal level, they fear jobs lost and wages stagnating, while noting how a few among the very wealthy seem to be insulated from the dangers.
Mandelson argued the importance of international financial institutions, such as the World Bank, the IMF and the G20. Defending the last Labour Government, he noted how it had galvanised the G20 to defend the world economy, and lamented that the Coalition Government appears indifferent to the enhanced role that the G20 could play. He made the case for the industrial activism he championed in government and whilst supporting the argument that the deficit must be reduced, he called for an ambitious Green Investment Bank, criticised the fact that the Regional Growth Fund will have one-third of the budget of the RDAs and described the scrapping of the Future Jobs Fund as “the definition of insane, short-sighted policymaking”. It is one thing to cut back the branches of public spending, he argued, and another to attack the roots.
The TUC will be involved in the IPPR’s new project on the future of globalisation. This is surely one of the most important and timely projects the IPPR has undertaken in recent years. Peter Mandelson defended open markets, but spoke of a minimum ethical price for our openness. He argued for the defence of economic, social and cultural life, including guarantees of the right to join a trade union and the right to strike. Those guarantees are vital if thousands, no millions, are not to lose heavily in a globalisation that, if left to vagaries of the market, will have a few, colossal winners and very many losers.
Globalisation is going to happen, whether we want it to or not. Being internationalist in nature, trade unions can see the very real benefits of globalisation for people in poorer parts of the world, entering into the world economy and seeing their living standards rise. But it has, indeed, also led to job losses and stagnating wages, and those who glibly dismiss this as the inevitable price we must pay are somehow always those who don’t pay the price themselves, the insulated wealthy that Peter Mandelson spoke of.
Workers in the UK face tough years, as we slowly recovery from the financial crisis and suffer the reckless cuts of the current government. But even if the financial crisis had never happened, globalisation would have brought some real benefits, while also posing huge challenges for workers. They would still have needed their trade unions. Only those with an ideological axe to grind against us would deny our value at a moment as important as this.