The recent disgraceful anti-immigration position taken by Labour leadership candidate Ed Balls is bad enough. Even more worrying is one union’s response to it.
Writing in the Observer, Balls claimed that immigration from Eastern Europe has had a “direct impact on the wages, terms and conditions of too many people across our country — in communities ill-prepared to deal with the reality of globalisation, including the one I represent.” He effectively called for the abolition of the free movement of labour that exists across the EU.
In the midst of the ongoing nationalist, anti-immigration orgy, the left must be very clear. No workers, from anywhere, are responsible for pushing down wages and conditions. Bosses are — aided by the cuts, privatisation and anti-union laws of governments like the one Balls served in. The only answer is for workers to organise together, across divisions of origin, race, religious background etc., and fight back.
The press has speculated that Balls was pitching for support from the unions. With the current crop of trade union leaders, a fight to change Labour Party policy on these issues is too much to hope for. But perhaps a joint statement repudiating Balls’ views?
Instead we get deafening silence — broken only by a short statement from Unite, in which assistant general secretary, and candidate for General Secretary in a forthcoming election, Les Bayliss begins: “Ed Balls is absolutely correct.”
Bayliss goes on: “The current situation of immigration from the EU combined with weak employment protection in this country has led to widespread exploitation of workers in the construction industry... We need to tighten up on regulations to protect domestic workers’ ability to get jobs and to earn a decent living, whilst at the same time allowing skilled workers from the EU to come here without fear of being cheated by unscrupulous employers.”
Skilled workers! Unite’s position as expressed by Bayliss is to oppose freedom of movement across the EU. Do other Unite members agree?