From the TUC

Cameron’s EU renegotiation strategy matters to everyone in Europe

05 Jul 2015, by in International

Pastor Martin Niemöller’s famous poem about Nazi persecution begins (in its most quoted version): “first they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out because I was not a socialist”. It eventually ends up “Then they came for me, and there was no one left to speak up for me.” Trade unions get a mention, a reminder that we were one of the groups, along with Jews and travellers, that the Nazis were determined to wipe out. But his poem is not fundamentally about the holocaust, it is about solidarity, about the need to stand up for each other rather than allow one group after another to be picked off.

So in that reading (and apologies to anyone who finds this hyperbole in the face of the appalling fate of German and other Jews) it is very relevant to David Cameron’s EU renegotiation strategy. Because Cameron’s approach is all about the thin end of the wedge, starting off with one group and then broadening his attack to everyone.

Take workers’ rights. The TUC has been talking to trade unions around Europe, urging them to lobby their politicians to resist Cameron’s plans to repatriate employment rights from Brussels to London, or pare back the provisions of the Working Time Directive, or Temporary Agency Workers Directive. They and their governments understand and sympathise with our call for solidarity to defend British workers’ rights. 

But they also understand that, to realise his objectives, Cameron is widening his agenda to attack workers’ rights across Europe, demanding a commitment to a moratorium on any future social measures, and thus leaving no scope to adapt existing rules to new circumstances in the labour market like zero hours contracts, or growing demand for childcare and eldercare.

Or take the element of Cameron’s strategy that seems focused quite differently only on foreigners, the restrictions he is planning on migrant workers’ entitlement to benefits and tax credits. Again, he has started out arguing that only migrants should lose their right to in-work benefits. But he has quickly broadened the agenda to cover everyone who receives such benefits, migrant or domestic. 

This is why we’ve been rejecting the Cameron renegotiation agenda. First he came for the workers and the migrants…

3 Responses to Cameron’s EU renegotiation strategy matters to everyone in Europe

  1. Daniel Vulliamy
    Jul 6th 2015, 8:55 am

    A good point well made. It points to the glaring failure of the progressive left to develop an alternative critique of the European Union and a different set of negotiating demands (particularly around democracy and accountability) to those of the right.

  2. Silent Hunter
    Jul 8th 2015, 5:40 pm

    An awareness of Godwin’s Law is really useful when making our arguments. You mention Nazis straight off, a lot of people will lose interest straight away.

  3. Owen Tudor

    Owen Tudor
    Jul 8th 2015, 9:28 pm

    To: Dan – many thanks. Good point.
    To: Silent Hunter (I’m guessing that’s a pseudonym, but I’d really like to be proved wrong!) Point taken, although I’d always assumed Godwin’s Law to apply to comments below blogs, rather than the blogs themselves. I really did think hard about whether it was appropriate to use the Niemöller poem, and apologies if I reached the wrong conclusion. But I don’t think his poem is fundamentally about Nazism – it’s about using scapegoats and minorities to undermine the whole progressively. If you can think of another way of evoking that, please let me know and I could redo the blog. Thanks for writing.