The EU and workers’ rights

The constant narrative in the Brexit debate, be it in Ireland or Britain, from politicians, especially those elected who are supposedly of a progressive slant, is how they are opposed to Brexit because “the EU protects workers’ rights.” These views are also expressed by leading figures in the NGO sector.

This is incorrect, as the “four pillars” of the EU Treaty are: (1) freedom of movement of capital, (2) freedom of movement of labour, (3) freedom for a business in one EU country to establish in another country, and (4) freedom for a business in one EU country to provide services in another.

In 2007 the EU Court of Justice, in the Viking and Laval cases, held that the third and fourth pillars—freedom of establishment and freedom to provide services—have superiority (subject to certain conditions) over the fundamental trade union rights to collectively bargain and to strike.

In the 26-county state, as usual, the Government at the time was well ahead of EU laws regarding repressive legislation against the proletariat. The anti-worker Industrial Relation Act (1990), brought in with the support of the major “social partners,” including most of the trade union movement, saw some of the most draconian laws enacted within the EU and Europe.

The case proposed at a packed fringe meeting hosted by the Trade Union Left Forum during the ICTU biennial conference in July 2019 for the 1990 act to be abolished was enthusiastically welcomed by all at that meeting; and many trade union activists since the July meeting have joined the TULF.

I would encourage all progressives to assist the TULF in breaking the social-democratic ideology that has made the wider union movement apathetic until recently. There are encouraging signs that this is changing; and at a public meeting in Wynn’s Hotel in Dublin in late October concerning low pay in the hospitality and retail sector that was clear to all.

Young people, mainly women, are not willing to sit back and be abused, mentally or physically, by employers, and I commend them for their strength.

Today trade unionists need to consider how to highlight the undemocratic and one-sided character of the EU. Are there lessons to be learnt from the various people’s struggles over the last decade or so? I refer to the water charges campaign and the constant battles being fought by parents for better educational facilities, new schools, and local sports facilities, and the many other local battles taking place, which the media fail to highlight.

We have seen how the EU has ratified the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) with Canada, which gives major companies the right to sue governments for loss of income. One has not seen a similar agreement for people whose communities have been severely damaged by major corporations that are constantly damaging local communities by their plunder!

The EU has used its extensive toolbox of economic controls over national governments as a matter of European policy to limit trade unions’ influence over our terms and conditions of employment. We must fight back, and show the fallacy of the EU as a component of monopoly capitalism and harbinger of poverty and death by its laws.