From Irish Political Review: March 2009

Cowed By EU Globalism

Brian Cowen came back from Brussels on 12th December 2008 with a package of "legal guarantees" in response to The Statement of Concerns of the Irish People on the Treaty of Lisbon which he had brought with him. The deal with Sarkozy was set out in the EU "Presidency Conclusions" which committed the European Council to finding a legal means to enable it, while implementing the Lisbon Treaty, to retain a Commissioner for each member state and provide "protocols" in relation to Irish neutrality, national sovereignty in the area of taxation policy, the "right to life, education and the family" and workers' rights. All of this was on condition of the Irish Government "seeking ratification of the Treaty of the Lisbon by the end of the term of the current Commission". The mechanism offered to secure these "legal guarantees", according to Sarkozy, would be legislation attached to the next enlargement Treaty, presumed to be that for Croatia in 2010 or 2011 (See Cowen/Sarkozy Lisbon Deal: The Primacy of Politics over Legalism, Irish Political Review, February 2009)

Cowen blinded by EU Globalism

The halt brought to EU expansionism by the Russian stand over Georgia last August and the failure of Mandelson's radical globalism to secure an international deal at the World Trade Talks (followed by Mandelson's hasty exit from the Commission) all added to an illusion of a coming change of course in Brussels. But the adamant refusal of the Government to meet SIPTU demands during the last Lisbon Treaty to legislate for collective bargaining rights or to secure anything meaningful in this area under the tentative "legal guarantees" negotiated with Sarkozy point to the deeper flaw of the Irish Government's essential acceptance of the globalising agenda of Brussels and inability to see that recent events have already undermined that option.

In the coming months in the run-up to the elections to the European Parliament we might yet see the emergence in Europe of a countervailing political agenda. That agenda would be one that would seek to recover a space and project for Europe, that of a "moralised social order" as envisioned by Jacques Delors and those who worked with him on that project more than twenty years ago. That would be the only counter to the fanatical pursuit of globalisation of the Commission and the European Court of Justice.

European Employers' Offensive

It looks like the labour dispute in Britain at the Total refinery in Lindsey, near Grimsby, Lincolnshire is over—for the moment. The dispute, over the hiring policies of an on-site Italian (actually Sicilian) contractor IREM, is simply the latest evidence of what has been a decades-long project by European business, to undo the post-war Western European social settlement, the 'European social model' as it came to be known, particularly during the years of the Delors Presidency of the European Community.

The employers' project, a grand and visionary one—if from their point of view—was not particularly hidden although it was not too loudly trumpeted either. Its culmination in a sense was the European law, the Posted Workers Directive, in force since December 1996. At the outset the significance of the Directive was perhaps not fully appreciated among the general public and ordinary Trade Unionists. Indeed the professed and purported rational for the law was to counter the possibility of 'social dumping' in a single labour market. With the passage of time, however, its importance and the oppositeness of the alleged intended effect has come to be appreciated—particularly after the eastward expansion of the EU from the mid 'noughties' and the associated opening up of the entire EU labour market under the free movement rules of the single market. Perhaps the vocal supporters of the European social model did not appreciate what was afoot either. What was under way was nothing less than, in the Irish and British contexts, the restoration of the Taff Vale decision of 1900-01 and in the wider western European context, the undermining of the complex of institutional arrangements, understandings and laws underpinning the systems of social cohesion, Union recognition and collective bargaining.

Essence of Taff Vale

In Taff Vale a British court upheld the appeal of an employer (the Taff Vale Railway Company), a private rail operator, against the actions of a Union (the Amalgamated Society of Railway Servants, ASRS) in dispute, that the act of striking and picketing was a conspiracy and an act of combination. The issue was Union recognition. So, under the Conspiracy and Protection of Property Act of 1875 it was held that a Union could be sued for damages caused by the actions of its officials in industrial disputes. The court's decision was upheld on appeal to the House of Lords. This decision put a coach and four through collective organisation and industrial action; significantly led to the growth of the British Labour Party; and to the action of a Liberal Government in overturning the effect of the decision through enacting the Trades Disputes Act, 1906, the basis for Trades Union action and collective bargaining for the rest of the century (although some aspects of the legislation were severely curtailed through the Thatcher years, especially as regards secondary action and picketing, balloting and so on).

The so-called 'voluntary' system, however, largely remained intact in both Britain and Ireland. What the 1906 Act did was to put Trade Union action beyond the law on combinations and conspiracy (as 'discovered' by the courts): 1906 was a pragmatic response by government from the societal point of view to the determination by the courts that collective worker behaviour was as much subject to the force of the law as any other act of combination or 'conspiracy'.

Thatcher's assault on the European Social Model

The idea that collective organisation and action by workers is—again from the societal point of view—different from other forms of combination became, particularly after WWII, a central plank in the organisation of both the economy and society throughout western Europe. In Britain it was one of the foundations of 'Butskellism' as it came to be called, in Germany a plank of the post-war social market model, and so on. It wasn't all plain sailing, not least in Britain where the Trade Unions contrasted 'voluntarism' and 'free collective bargaining' on the one hand with, on the other, what was implicit in the consensual system as it was evolving: the restrictions, as they argued, of a broad social model of collective functioning represented by 'social contracts', 'social compacts', 'prices and incomes policy', In Place of Strife, the Bullock proposals on industrial democracy and so on, on 'free' collective bargaining.

From the point of view of society in the round, Thatcher saw all of the ensuing chaos of Trade Union (and Labour Party) policy generated by such a perspective as destructive of stability and offering nothing useful in the alternative on offer. Imbued with the market ideology of the Institute of Economic Affairs, Sir Keith Joseph and ever more confident in her own instincts, she moved: the class stalemate inbuilt in the ideological stance of Unions and Labour simply had to be smashed and eggs broken.

There was no 'need' for what followed other than the necessity to deal with the refusal of the 'left' (whatever the term means and if you could call it that anyway) to deal with the reality of the exercise of power to which it had become party but refused to accept in its consequences: stability and progress, sense in place of unending and insoluble strife. None of this is to dispute or contest the rightness of many individual causes or disputes of the Thatcher and earlier years but in the round a game was thrown and lost.

Haughey's options

In Ireland things were moving in a different direction, if at times fitfully. From a much weaker position organised labour was moving towards a system of national collective bargaining with over time a widening of the scope, the agenda, of that bargaining: its culmination was in the shift towards Social Partnership that was proposed and secured by Haughey with the Congress in the midst of profound financial and economic crisis in the mid 1980s (yes, it's that long ago). Haughey talked with Helmut Schmidt to get at the bottom of the European "social model" as an alternative to the Thatcherite solution to the social and economic crisis of Britain. Congress took the offer and thus was born the system of Social Partnership.

Counter-Offensive: The European Round Table

In Europe, the continent, there was yet another story: the emergence in the 1980s of a new breed of business leader, who saw and decried 'euro-sclerosis'—slow if steady economic growth, improvement in general living standards, low unemployment, social advance, a stable rural society and economy (under the CAP) and periodic fiscal and currency crises (largely precipitated by US dollar crises, much to do with the consequences of the Vietnam War and its aftermath). They decried all of this, secretly in their quasi-masonic club, the European Round Table, and as they looked to Thatcher's Britain with its privatisations (BA, British Gas, BP, British Telecom and so on); to the likes of the Finnish head of Nokia Kari Kairamo as he led a lumber company into the telecommunications revolution and such as Carlo De Benedetti with his equally radical transformation of Olivetti.

These new gods of enterprise saw the holding back of the development of the Single Market (actually constitutionally enshrined in the Treaty of Rome) in favour of maintaining a socially cohesive, very much nationally-based system as 'sclerotic'—whether through the market's exclusion from vast National and Local government systems of public provision such as telecoms., utilities such as electricity, gas and water or in respect of wider public provision (such as health, transport and so on). They had their icons in the likes of De Benedetti and Kairamo—and others. And they had their inside supporters in the Commission—in the shape of Lord Cockfield, Leon Brittan and Peter Sutherland among others.

They had, and continue to have, their agenda and mission:

"European industry cannot flourish unless it can compete in a global economy. This capacity to compete cannot be determined solely by the efforts of individual companies. The prevailing economic and social policy framework is crucially important and must be flexible enough to adapt swiftly to changes in global conditions" (taken from the Round Table website).

Many of these people had, in today's terms and language, a globalist agenda. They had the mantra of 'growth' which they opposed to 'sclerosis'—which was an internal project or agenda, dealing with Europe, to break the consensus model. But there was a wider agenda, including a strong Atlanticist streak, evident in involvement in bodies such as the secretive Bilderberg Group and Trilateral Commission. This was the genesis of 'globalisation'.

The "Single Market" Project

What has this to do with Lindsey Oil Refinery? This much: first the single marketers set about putting the constitutional aspiration on a firm statutory footing through the Single European Act and the Single Market programme. This pushed agendas such as open public procurement—the idea that public services are not providers of such services in their own right but rather the purchasers of various components of provision from the private markets, or if they are not then in law they should be. This agenda has underpinned the pursuit both of outright privatisations and also outsourcing and sub-contracting by public providers of services. The distinction between public and private services has largely been dismantled in law and in fact. Thus companies, such as Violia of France, have taken over the job of public environmental services throughout much of Europe, as well as operating public transport systems (buses, trams and trains) and so on. Workforces disrupted by such tendering and contracting systems have been provided with the figment of 'transfer of engagement' rules—but these only cover the immediate transfer (from public to private employer). They do not secure Union recognition, collective bargaining rights or ongoing terms and conditions (beyond the immediate transfer period).

There is also the slowly-being-dismembered concept of 'services of general interest' (services covering such essential daily realities as energy, telecommunications, transport, radio and television, postal services, schools, health and socials services, etc). On the one hand the concept of service of general interest was supposed to professedly give comfort to old-fashioned believers in public provision, whereas in fact the agenda is one of the attrition of public provision through further outsourcing and 'procurement' and ultimately in alliance with the US, the extension of this entire model to the rest of the world, through the Doha (Free Trade) Round.

How Christian Democrats Held the Ground

To an extent people like Delors, Mitterand and Kohl (and Haughey) went along with much of this over an extended period, but on strictly defined terms. The counter to liberalisation (within the EU) would be the strengthening of the 'European social model', cohesion, and none of them seem to have believed in the rampant market system. Even the Christian Democrats (or rather, particularly the Christian Democrats) of the old school had little time at all for such an agenda—as evidenced in Eduard Balladur's remark during the 1990s (as an RPR prime Minister in cohabitation with Socialist Mitterand as President), "What is the market? It is the law of the jungle. And what is civilization? It is the struggle against nature".

There is a summation of Delors' mode of thought, contained in Jacques Delors And European Integration (George Ross, Polity Press, 1995):

"The 'Delorist' vision saw the market as an indispensable allocator of resources… and source of economic dynamism. The market by itself, could not, however, guarantee equity, a moralised social order, or full economic success. These things depended on 'dialogue' among different groups—employers and labor in particular—to reach clearer understandings of mutual needs about what had to be done and what could be shared. Labor had a stake in economic success and thus good reasons to accept certain responsibilities. Employers had a stake in the predictability which labor's acceptance of responsibilities would bring. 'Dynamic compromise' based on persistent discussion between different groups would be the secret of success. Finally, it was not the state's job to decide for others, but to facilitate negotiations among social partners."

All of this, however, is not what our other visionaries and harbingers of a future had in mind—not at all.

Trojan Horse: The European Court of Justice

And with the passing from power of Delors—and Mitterand, and Kohl, and indeed Haughey, what came was the market whirlwind those other visionaries sought and with the eastward expansion and the opening up of the labour market came the final push. The object was to further erode, through the Posted Workers Directive, the capacity of western European workers to collectively protect their pay and conditions, their standards of living and a "moralised social order". In true Orwellian fashion the express purport of the Directive was the opposite of the outcome in fact. Instead of being a bulwark against social dumping it has become a propagator of the phenomenon, being instrumental in the phenomenon of the 'race to the bottom'.

In the new regime, companies from wherever in the expanded EU (or from outside) could propose to, and bid for, work or contracts anywhere in the Union (under the free movement of capital rules) but also to populate these undertakings with imported workforces (from wherever they might and can find them, including their own countries of origin) with, as it has been 'discovered' by the European Court of Justice, no need and every right to ignore collective agreements and to do no more than respect minimum wage legislation—wherever that exists and at whatever level of impoverishment.

There are restrictions, such as they are, for example, that the work is seen as essentially of a temporary nature (whatever that means and which is why so many examples of the problems created turn up in construction projects). It is all in the name of, horrible term, 'flexibilisation' of the 'European labour market'. That is what Swedish Trade Unionists found when they tried to put a stop to it in Sweden in a case involving a Latvian company, Laval. Like the Welsh railway workers of over a century ago they found that the courts (in this case the European Court of Justice or ECJ) ruled against the actions of the Swedish Trade Unionists and upheld the employer's right to ignore Swedish collective agreements, even if legally contracted (unlike Irish and British agreements, which are normally negotiated within the 'voluntarist' system).

Myths of Anti-Protectionism

With Delors et al safely out of the way, the Commission and the ECJ have pursued a muscular contest: who is to be seen as the stalwart of 'free' markets and their unfettered power? There is little to choose between the two of them and the Council of Ministers—which might have been expected to do otherwise—has simply become an extension of the contest, with the European Parliament having very limited power and the system overall, consumed by the Globalisation agenda.

We are bombarded by the media and politicians with 'arguments' in favour of this great agenda. A cloth-eared, one-eyed Broon [British Prime Minister Gordon Brown] preaches it from his political pulpit, talking rubbish about a world without borders, without countries. John Lennon may have caught the Zeitgeist with his world without religion but Broon is no Lennon—and this is, now, the world of the new Great Depression. And, as Larry Elliot, Economics Editor of The Guardian, has pointed out to deaf political ears, the 1930s was not triggered by a flight to Protectionism, rather the opposite in fact. In the 4th February edition of the paper he pointed to how the Crash was triggered by a contraction in bank credit and the money supply (much as is now happening) and "no country since the dawning of the modern age has managed to industrialise successfully without protectionism". Britain, the US, the Asian Tigers all emerged through Protectionism, he points out. He might have added Germany—and indeed Ireland of the 1930s.

Guardian Raises Spectre of the "Mob"

And so, back to Grimsby: the media, not least The Guardian, have been full of photo coverage as well as the acres of newsprint. The photo journalism is interesting in its own right: pages of big pictures of 'rough looking', unshaven, uncouth-looking men in their hoodies, beanies and (on 4 February in The Guardian) a large photo of a man consumed by anger and wearing a Red Army winter hat. What is all this supposed to conjure up if not that great ruling- and middle-class dread, the mob?

The ECJ and EU institutions collectively have brought us to this. There might be an agenda that could find its place and space in the coming months in the run-up to the elections to the European Parliament. As stated at the outset, it is an agenda that could recover a space and project for Europe, that of a "moralised social order", as envisioned by Delors and those who worked with him on that project more than twenty years ago. That would certainly be a counter to the near-Tebbitite rants of Mandelson with his new version of 'get on yer bike', the pro-Lisbon mouthings of our political leaders and the phantasisms of the worst anti-Lisbonites, including the 'free' market Libertas cleverly playing to the phantasmagorical, and the lunatics of the Commission and the Court of Justice with their failed globalisation agenda.

The Protectionist, social Europe project will probably re-emerge in the European Elections in some form. But of it there is little in the way of a spectre in Ireland—except those 120,000 who marched in Dublin on 21st February demanding a restoration of Social Partnership. Is it not blindingly obvious to Fianna Fáil, or even to Eamon Gilmore, that this is a nettle that must be grasped?

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