The Original Sin, Two Mistakes and a Misdiagnosis – All out war (1997 to 2016)

The Context –  “The major recession of the early 1980s, which destroyed much of Britain’s ‘smokestack’ manufacturing and heavy industry, had been exacerbated by purist market ‘monetarist’ policies and unemployment rose to over 3million. The privatisation of the major utilities (coal, gas, electricity and water) had also led to much unionised job-shedding. Union membership had contracted from its 1970s peak of over 13 million to 7-8 million and collective bargaining was on the retreat across British industry. The process of ‘reforming’ (i.e., abolishing or severely restricting), traditional union activities and practices with three separate pieces of legislation (1980-84), was pressed home with the far more legalistic Employment Act 1988. This was after the defeat of the union ‘shock troop’ miners and printers’ in bitter and protracted disputes. In this polarised situation, the TUC were being marginalised by a government who had abandoned the last vestiges of the consensual ‘corporatist’ tradition of all post-war administrations (‘no more beer and sandwiches at Downing Street’). It was in this context that the unions’ and TUC, sharp pro-European turning of 1988 must be understood. It was also a sign of their recognition that unions and their members now needed a European ‘social dimension’ to face the profound industrial changes occurring.”


A story told in quotes on the Labour Party & Trade Union movement role in Brexit:

The Original Sin – “Delors’ address to the TUC, as President of the European Commission, that autumn, finally sealed the deal. His theme was that the trade unions across Europe should regard the completion of the Single European Market in 1992 as an opportunity to give it a social dimension, rather than as a threat to members’ jobs and conditions, as they had traditionally viewed the “capitalists’ club”. He sought to bring the still highly respected British trade union movement on board to strengthen his own social democratic efforts to incorporate an enhanced social dimension in that legislation. He assured the delegates that by preserving the European model of society, which had always included an emphasis on ‘close co-operation and solidarity as well as competition’, they would be able regulate the new single European market. He urged them to support him as an architect of social policies which would tackle the difficulties which the single market might give rise. He promised to initiate a wider ‘social dialogue at the European level’. The only card game in town is in a town called Brussels”

Getting the EU to do for you by way of public policy on social and employment law that you could not achieve at the ballot box.

The First Mistake – “Former Conservative prime minister John Major secured an “opt-out” from the EU social chapter in 1993 — covering employment and social laws — but that opt-out was abandoned by former Labour premier Tony Blair in 1998.”

The point at which Ever-Closer-Union achieved the treaty basis necessary  to reach fruition, with Britain safely exempted…

The Second Mistake – “Johnson’s key phone call was to Len McCluskey, the boss of Unite, Britain’s biggest Union and Labour’s biggest donor. Unite would eventually contribute around a quareter of the campaign’s £4 million budget. One reason why most of the unions got on board is that a secret operation had been under way over the summer to to esnure David Cameron dropped from his renegotiation any attempt to repatriate control of social or employment legislation. In January there had been reports that the prime minister intended to demand an opt-out from EU employment social protection laws such as the working time directive and agency workers’ directive. By august the idea was dead.”

…but hey! The trade union movement only agreed to this gig in the first place on the condition that Delors’ would usher in the workers paradise. Double or quit!

Why It Matters – “The government has been remarkably tight-lipped about its plans for Social Europe, but we know from the occasional slip, the lobbying employers are doing, and feedback from colleagues in governments and unions across the European Union, that the government has three objectives, which it may deploy with greater publicity later in the negotiations when it is a bit late to mobilise opposition:
* at its worst, the government has advocated returning competence for rights at work to national governments, or just to the United Kingdom (sometimes described as opting out of the Social Chapter, not that it exists any more in a single form, or ‘allowing national governments to determine employment laws in line with the national context’);
* introducing a moratorium on any further EU-level employment rights (because there have not been many new EU directives for a decade or so, this could be portrayed as continuing the current freeze); or,
* unpicking a few of the most totemic EU laws, such as the Working Time Directive and the Temporary Agency Workers’ Directive – or in some cases overturning European Court of Justice rulings on the Working Time Directive which have interpreted the directive to the advantage of working people. This was confirmed as a government objective by Europe minister David Lidington in a letter to the TUC in September.
Sometimes, ministers talk about ensuring that future employment laws should be determined at national level, which, although it looks like a mix of the first two, is actually just the second expressed differently: as the national minimum wage showed, EU law has never stopped governments providing workers with rights that go beyond EU requirements.”

In the words of one D. Cameron: It is neither right nor necessary to claim that the integrity of the single market, or full membership of the European Union requires the working hours of British hospital doctors to be set in Brussels irrespective of the views of British parliamentarians and practitioners.

To Hear the Problem – “One, it costs a bloody fortune, Two, immigration. Three, it meddles in our lives in ways which we didn’t have before. The first two were much more important than the third. But here was the kicker, the real punch in the guts for a pro-European like Cooper: Then you say, ‘OK, that’s what you don’t like. What are the positives?’ And you’d usually get silence.

Hold on a minute here, you have a nation that practically defines itself in the terms of small “c” conservatism, individual liberty and a distrust of the authority, i think you skipped over number three a little quickly…

But Not To Listen – “By 15 April Cooper had found six attitudinally similar groups, given them names and constructed a profile of each one, complete with a picture of a typical member. He found that two groups – ‘Ardent Internationalists’ and ‘Comfortable Europhiles’ – accounting for 29 per cent of the population, were almost certain to vote to stay. A third, much smaller group, ‘Engaged Metropolitans’, was also overwhelmingly for Remain, and was very active on social media. Cooper identified two resolutely ‘Out’ groups. ‘Strong Sceptics’ were almost entirely white, likely to be aged over fifty-five, from the C2DE social bracket and with only a secondary education. They were often Labour voters flirting with Ukip, and made up 21 per cent of the population. The ‘EU Hostiles’ were typically retired, living mortgage-free on a private pension, and supporters of Ukip who got their news from the Daily Mail. They made up 11 per cent.
For Cooper, the battleground would be over the other two groups. The ‘Disengaged Middle’ were typically in their thirties, relatively well-educated, middle-class, but not at all interested in politics. They knew almost nothing about the EU, and did not feel it had much to do with their lives. Seven out of ten in this group got their news from Facebook. The final group, who encapsulated the rhetorical challenge the campaign faced, were christened ‘Hearts v Heads’. They were two-thirds female, more likely to be in late middle-age, married or divorced with children, working in a low-paid job or part-time. They were disproportionately likely to have left school aged sixteen, and to be struggling to make ends meet. They read newspapers and were interested in the issue of Europe, but found it very confusing, and felt conflicted. Over 80 per cent of them agreed with the statement ‘My heart says we should leave the EU, but my head says it’s not a good idea.’ In the Scottish referendum, Cooper had had an identical segment which had helped Better Together to victory. In his April 2015 survey, ‘Yes’ led ‘No’ 55–45 among the two groups of key target voters. From that point on ‘we only did focus groups among those two groups,’ Cooper explained. Success depended on holding on to that lead.”

… and as a result you built a segmentation model of the electorate that didn’t really look for those who resented the meddling, and certainly seemed not to identify them. 

The Result – “As Isaiah Berlin noted, there must be a dividing line between individual liberty and public authority and that it is a matter for debate, within society, as to where that line should be drawn. However, to draw parallels between what is done in this country and what is done in another is not at all helpful because a peoples conception of what constitutes liberty is the result of its cultural history. An appeal to consensus among the polities of europe does nothing but suppress the best compromise for your polity.

English Common Law with its roots in the concept of Natural Law has led to a presumption of negative liberty; I am free to do anything that which is not specifically proscribed by the law. Rights are defined as being against interference by the sovereign in the liberty of individual on matters of religion, speech, press, assembly, and free markets. If you haven’t opted in for state management, then it stays out!

Continental Civil Law with its closer association with Legal Positivism has led to a presumption of positive liberty. It is my right, as codified in the system of laws, to be able to act in this manner. Rights are defined as things you are allowed to do by the sovereign such as freedom of religion, speech, press, and assembly. You are enabled to do these things, with the general expectation that the state should manage compliance.”

We’ve certainly become more european in the last fifty years (the trend more pronounced in Scotland and Wales than England), but every incremental move to the collectivism that would seem normal elsewhere is a battle. To everyone’s surprise the Remain campaign failed, and i’d suggest that much of this failure can be attributed to the Social Chapter. The weeping sore of British politics.

Does the parliamentary Labour Party now believe the trade union movement threw out the baby with the bathwater?

One response to “The Original Sin, Two Mistakes and a Misdiagnosis – All out war (1997 to 2016)

  1. Pingback: Twitter threads – Scattered thoughts on 2020 | Jedibeeftrix's Blog

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