Archive article from The Socialist Issue 350
Bosses Want Deregulation - Workers Need Organisation
SINCE THE Thatcher era it has been common for Britain's trade union leaders to uphold the European "social market" economy against the American deregulated economy, (abandoning any concept of socialism, even as an ideal, at the same time).
Roger Bannister, UNISON national executive council, personal capacity
In the pages of the socialist and elsewhere we warned against this false dichotomy, arguing that recession in the European Union (EU) countries would give rise to neo-liberal policies including deregulation in the EU itself.
This has already been shown to be the case in Germany, where Schroeder's SPD/Green government has launched major attacks on pensions, benefits and employment rights. The European Commission is currently consulting on a Draft Directive on Services Within the Internal Market that proposes to take deregulation further than ever before, across the EU and beyond.
This Directive would cover a range of services, and crucially includes health and social care, clearly lining such services up for largely deregulated privatisation. The Commission is concerned that although services account for 70% of the EU's economy, they only account for 20% of internal trade. It is therefore the Commission's aim to increase this trade, thus increasing privatisation.
The "Country of Origin Principle" is the most important feature of the Directive. It means that it is the responsibility of the "host" country, (the country where an enterprise is based), to regulate its operations in any other country, under the laws of the host country.
An aggrieved customer of a Belgian based company operating in the UK would therefore have to seek legal redress in Belgium, under Belgium's laws! Service Providers would not even have to maintain an office or even have an agent in the country in which it was operating.
Although Belgium is used to illustrate this example, in reality the Country of Origin Principle is intended to take advantage of the largely unregulated economies in some of the accession countries that joined the EU on 1 May this year. Clearly under this directive Service Providers would locate in countries like Poland, Slovakia or Malta, wherever regulation was weakest, (and taxation lowest).
Consumer protection, public health, environmental protection and labour legislation could all be by-passed on this basis. Much documentation only has to be provided to the government agencies of countries of operation after two years, and even then in the language of the host country.
THIS MEANS that for two years it would be impossible for the Inland Revenue to check on whether the minimum wage was being paid, and even after two years would have to translate contracts of employment from Polish, Slovakian, Greek, Maltese or whatever before it could verify conditions.
Despite the recent horrific deaths of Chinese cockle pickers in Morecambe Bay, this Directive will institutionalise the gangmaster system of casual, super-exploited labour.
This is because a Service Provider could post non-EU nationals in another EU country as long as they are legally resident in the host country. Thus a Polish company could recruit Ukrainian workers and post them to another EU country without the necessity for work permits. Labour will be shipped around the world to EU countries in horrendous conditions with no effective protection under this system.
If, or when, this Directive is introduced, (the Commission wish to see it implemented by the end of 2005), the trade unions must act to protect foreign workers from exploitation. Affected worksites and workplaces must be visited, workers recruited and organised to take action to defend their rights and get decent pay and conditions of service.
Campaigns to prevent foreign workers from being used as cheap labour will help combat bigoted ideas amongst workers in the countries of operation. The working class answer to deregulation has to be organisation.
Over 100,000 union mmbers, who work in the two French state-owned power companies EDF and GDF, staged a 24-hour strike last week over plans to 'liberalise' energy markets ie privatisation.