Speaking later today at a conference in Madrid, TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady will appeal for the help of unions across Europe in persuading their governments to resist David Cameron’s attempt to ‘repatriate’ workers’ rights.
The new head of the TUC will say that if the Prime Minister gets his way over Europe, British workers, who already face the harshest anti-trade union laws in Europe, will lose out. The General Secretary’s words come after Nick Clegg expressed reservations about Cameron’s plans for the EU, warning his coalition partner that a promise to hold a referendum on EU membership risked damaging the already weak economy. Clegg, in further signs of coalition unrest, dismissed prospects of securing a significant renegotiation around the EU and suggested Cameron should concentrate on the economy – which risks slumping into a triple-dip recession.
Speaking at the ETUC event, Frances O’Grady will say: “Last week, the British Prime Minister made a speech which you may have heard about. To some people outside the UK, the logic of his argument may not have been entirely clear.
“Like the last Conservative Prime Minister, John Major, David Cameron has a problem – not so much with Europe as with his own party. He has now promised – if re-elected in 2015 – to hold a referendum on British membership of the EU, which he says he wants to win.
“What David Cameron is doing – if putting internal party management above the national and European interest wasn’t bad enough – is even more sinister.
“As well bringing the prospect of an unprecedented triple-dip recession even closer, the UK government is making the most vulnerable pay for a crisis they didn’t cause, and is set on a wholesale scrapping of workers’ rights.
“The government has already made it easier for employers to sack people they don’t like and more difficult for workers to get justice before the courts. Now it is trying to abolish wage protection for farm workers, and stop people injured at work getting their rightful compensation.
“But there’s one set of workers’ rights David Cameron can’t touch. Those are the rights provided for by social Europe – paid holidays, health and safety, equal treatment for part-time workers and women, protection when a business is sold off, and a voice at work.
“The Prime Minister wants to ‘repatriate’ those rights, and not because he thinks he can improve them! David Cameron wants to make it easier for bad employers to undercut good ones, drive down wages, and make people who already work some of the longest hours in Europe work even longer. To do that, he needs agreement from the rest of Europe. And when the UK government calls on your government to give him the chance to undermine British workers’ rights, we want your governments to say no. Not just out of solidarity with us, but in the interests of your own rights, your own wages, and your own jobs.
“British working people are looking to their colleagues around Europe to work with us. Trade unions are all about solidarity, about working together in the common interest. We must make common cause to defeat David Cameron’s attack on working people and Social Europe.
“As trade unionists, we have a crucial role to play in winning the argument for an alternative. Our focus must not just be on jobs but on good jobs that pay a decent wage, that help build sustainable demand, and that give opportunity to those who need it most. Only collective bargaining can deliver this.
“Together we must make the case for a worker’s and citizen’s Europe, not a banker’s and financier’s Europe. If the EU is only about fiscal austerity, open markets and privatisation, then ordinary Europeans will increasingly question its legitimacy – and rightly so.
“For a generation, Europe prospered by balancing the interests of business and those of workers. It’s time to rediscover that bargain – and the sense of solidarity that underpins it.”