It is known that workers’ rights met their strongest opposition through the inception of Thatcherite neo-liberalism in the 1980’s.
In Britain the challenge to workers’ organisation, controls to trade union membership in State controlled communications, strike ballots and picket laws, secondary support action with measures to back it all up like sequestration of union funds.
This was the biggest capitalist offensive against the workers in Britain since the Second World War.
The Trades Unions had sought to survive the onslaught by retreating on industrial actions to support the social economy and workers pay and conditions and other rights. The Steel workers strikes and the mammoth Miners Strike of 1984-85 were the epitome of the class battles of the second half of the 20th century in Britain.
In the autumn of 1988 Jacques Delors, the then President of the European Commission, addressed the British Trade Union Congress, promising that the Commission would be a force to require governments to introduce pro-labour legislation. The neo-liberal voice at the time was “centre left” friends of “Democratic Socialism”, which became synonymous with later Blairite “Third Way” politics.
Knowing full well the implications for the years ahead of class compromise instead of
class struggle and pro-business notions put forward such as the, “Unions are the motive force of industry” – EU maxims to curtail industrial action.
British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher responded with her infamous, “Bruges Speech” on 20 September 1988, in which she said that she had not, “rolled back the frontiers of the state in Britain only to see them reimposed by a Brussels superstate”.
Part of the Trades Unions retreat was a move to connect with Trades Unions throughout Europe and much of the leadership sought refuge in the ETUC. The ETUC offered “partnership” with the monopolies as a trade off for survival agreeing discussions with the “Round Table of Industrialists” to limit class struggle and agreeing support for the European Union.
In this situation the fraudulent social legislation and various protocols of the “Social Chapter” and “Social Charter” were drawn up along with the various ideas of “limiting working time” and later produced directives. These sops were presented and accepted as “evidence” that deals could be made within the EU, which in fact has proved that they are not worth the paper, they were written on.
Even today the TUC has published a report that sets out which workers’ rights in the UK are “underpinned by EU rules” thus perpetuating the fraud. The pieces of paper keep the lid on the class struggle and underline the so-called, “gamble” or “risk” if the UK votes to leave the EU of the monopolies.
This “risk” would be to the current legislation and Trades Union Bill in parliament and calls on workers to restrict their opposition.
These rights, which are not enforced, are supposedly guaranteed but where they?
Paid annual leave, time off for antenatal appointments and fair treatment for part-time workers, are only concessions and not solutions set legally in tablets of stone.
Usually local agreements support the implementation of such workers’ rights and are not likely to be torn up easily. Yet such rights are in no way enshrined in law at national or EU level. These rights to be established as such would require a British Written Constitution and statutory position for such a guarantee to be permanent and to ay otherwise is total misdirection and smoke and morrors by the TUC to say otherwise.
It is false to indicate that decisions on which rights to keep and which to amend or drop altogether – would be left to the Government alone. Such a declaration undermines the democratic struggle for decision-making and establishing public right over the rights of monopolies, it is a ridiculous claim that the neo-liberal offensive would not continue inside the EU supported by the monopolies right across Europe. Leaving the EU of the monopolies would on the contrary weaken the monopoly opposition to establishing and advancing workers’ rights.
TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said only recently:
“Working people have a huge stake in the referendum because workers’ rights are on the line. It’s the EU that guarantees workers their rights to paid holidays, parental leave, equal treatment for part-timers, and much more.
“These rights can’t be taken for granted. There are no guarantees that any government will keep them if the UK leaves the EU. And without the back-up of EU laws, unscrupulous employers will have free rein to cut many of their workers’ hard-won benefits and protections…Can you risk a leap into the unknown on workplace rights?”
The biggest stakeholders are the monopolies who support the EU themselves.
There are many workers across the EU who are having to live with the attacks on hard won, hard fought for paid leave, many workers on zero hour contracts and temporary contracts. Many have reduced leave and many witness the discrepancies across the EU. There have been no “guarantees” with discrepancies even across industries with discrimination still operating against women who become pregnant and whose employment or conditions or progression is threatened. Male parental concessions are not equally distributed in firms across the country and other European countries. Part-time workers are in no-way in a state of equal treatment.
The right to not be forced to work longer than 48 hours a week on average is regularly challenged in wage negotiations by employers, with forced overtime and lack of premium pay. The Junior Doctors are the obvious case in point today and the British Government, with no such protection available or invoked, directly enforces their conditions and contracts.
18 weeks’ parental leave per child and to time off for urgent family reasons simply does not exist for many workers or is made difficult or unavailable to claim.
The right to equal pay for work of equal value between men and women is nonsense in many circumstances. Job descriptions, job evaluations and benchmarks are unrealistic or uncategorised in many circumstances. Hard fought for women’s equality amongst production workers, gained by milestone struggles such as by Ford Women Workers, has still got the recognition of establishing new criteria to measure equal pay even though established outside of the EU.
The battle for rights to equal treatment for part-time, fixed-term and agency workers with other employees is still a recent struggle to establish them.
The right for workers’ representatives to be informed and consulted on significant changes that could affect jobs, changes in contracts of employment are still arbitrary and not conformed with in many consultations.
The right to high standards of health and safety at work have seriously been undermined in recent years leading to increased accidents and industrial injury reported in the press on a daily basis.
There are still no protections for workers affected by outsourcing or business buy-outs. Even when labour is supposed to be tuped across (Transfer of Undertakings ; Protection of Employment Regulations, 1981) at local authority level when services are outsourced along with jobs, it is undermined or not carried out.
To intimate that protections from discrimination in the workplace on grounds of sexual orientation, gender reassignment, age, and religion or belief is an EU prerogative is totally misleading and to indicate that it will not persist in or out of the EU or would be weaker is erroneous.
The TUC advocates for the EU, are trying to point out that as certain gains have occurred whilst being members of the EU, can only be attributed to EU membership, is wrong.
To dish out statistics like six million workers gained new or enhanced rights to paid holidays because of the EU is misleading nonsense.
To say that 400,000 part-time workers, most of them women, gained improved pay and conditions when equal treatment rights were introduced is also ridiculous.
It may be the case that workers received a pay rises by quoting laws and making comparisons but this has been and always will be the case though it does not mean that this is the source of the principles for improvement in the first place. They certainly cannot be assumed to be a result of EU legislation where no legal test has been carried out in the European Court of Justice. Suggesting otherwise by the British TUC can only be described as smoke and mirrors.
The TUC should not be collaborating with the neo-liberals and the EU of the monopolies to stay in. They should not be taking a pro-capitalist political stand, which favours the monopolies. It is requisite that the workers struggles should not be restricted through compliance. Many unions and Trades Unionists have struggled up to this point of referendum to change the parameters in which they have been restricted. The leaders at the top are carrying out a disservice to their members by mixing up the class interests by creating misconceptions and illusions about the interests of the monopolies and the interests of the working class. By intimating that workers’ rights can only be maintained by staying firmly in the EU is not only disinformation but also a betrayal of the struggle for workers’ rights. The TUC must rectify its course.