Why Trade Unions should oppose the euro

Trades Unions Against the single currency was established four years ago with the specific purpose of raising the level of debate on the single currency within the official democratic bodies of the trade union movement. 67% of trade unionists when polled by ICM supported our case. You wouldn’t think this when you see some of the trade union leaders and in particular the General Secretary of the TUC on the television. Several of these have campaigned for complete European integration for years, believing very much like Leon Trotsky in a United States of Europe as a bulwark against the United States of America. A layer of more genuine support for the European project within the trade unions related to the fact that some saw the European courts delivering more on some aspects of employment legislation than the British government between 1979 and 1997, which, let’s be frank had seen trade unions as the enemy within while signing up to Maastricht and Amsterdam and enslaving Britain to the enemy without.

Another source of support for the euro comes paradoxically from manufacturing unions hardest hit by the preparations for the euro and the previous Exchange Rate Mechanism fiasco. These unions say that the euro and a lower pound are the only saviours, forgetting that you can’t do the latter if you do the former. They also forget that Britain’s long term interest rates, so vital for rebuilding the manufacturing sector and sustaining it, have long been lower than those in Europe where lower short term interest rates substantially reflect the lower levels of home ownership. In addition, these unions see globalisation very often as a god-like omnipotent force that they can do little about and they see European integration as inevitable. They conveniently forget that the Trans National Corporations putting their members out of work dominate the single currency agenda through the Roundtable of Industrialists.

Those unions which have debated the issue most openly and honestly and based on good research have concluded that the single currency would be a disaster. Such unions include the nation’s biggest UNISON for public sector workers, medium size unions like the Bakers and small ones like my own. Other large unions like the building workers’ union are against the euro and the politically powerful Transport and General Workers’ Union are at best luke warm and worried with whole sections of their membership against. I have tried to sum up the specifically trade union reasons to be against the euro in my pamphlet published by the Congress for Democracy, The Euro: bad for trade unions. Whatever the official national policies of unions, there is genuine and real concern at grass roots level reflected in the increasing invitations to TASC to address meetings and our launch in Scotland and Wales.

A lot of public sector opposition to the euro has been based on the relatively superficial problems associated with the convergence criteria and how they harm public spending. But many unions are deepening their debate on the euro and beginning to recognise the profound democratic implications. Many are seeking to set policies that will last them through the referendum idea in the Conferences this Spring and you can feel the debate turning to the key constitutional and democratic questions.

In this regard it is important that the whole anti single currency movement respects both the contribution trade unionists have made to British democracy and the reality of the situation that Europe’s labour laws, largely adopted here already, haven’t led to the cataclysm some promised. The cost to employers of decent, humane workplace rights based on sound industrial relations practice is negligible and if we are to build a genuine unity in the focused campaign against the euro come the referendum, both sides of industry should strive at that time to

In our trade union history we fought for the democratic right of free association and assembly. The trade unions fought to extend the franchise and reform the corrupt and landowning basis of the Parliamentary system in the nineteenth century. As trade unions grew they were able to win universal suffrage and the creation of an independent political party capable of winning General Elections. Trade unionists always played a large part in the formation of democratic local government and the welfare state, which democratised our political system even further and brought power closer to the individual at local level. More importantly our trade union culture led to the pervasive concepts of representative democracy, the individual voice was replaced by the collective concerns – who voted for you? who mandated you to say that ?

It is precisely against this democratic tradition that the rush to the European Union superstate and single currency has set its targets. This explains why when the only country to put the question of the single currency to its people in a referendum it gets a democratic no vote as in Denmark. No one else in Europe had the chance to vote for it. This undemocratic development reflects the origins of the single currency and superstate idea. All of the origins are dominated by the right and big business. The defeated Nazi Generals wrote a document called Winning the Peace in which they called for a single currency in Europe led by the Deutchschmark and a single agricultural and industrial policy. The international financiers and business leaders who formed the Bilderberg Group in the 1950s clearly saw European integration and a single currency as an ideal new force against the incursions of socialists and trade unionists.

The lack of democracy is reflected too in the mechanisms that are necessary for the single currency. It needs a European Central Bank and the Treaties require the bankers, all unelected, to meet in secret and to forfeit their positions only if they dare to try to represent their national interests in decisions. It is bad enough now with the EU interfering with Ireland’s domestic economic plans, with their recent stalling over government aid for BMW/Rover and their dislike of Gordon Brown’s plans to shift regional investment from south to north. Imagine what it would be like when, as required under the single currency, they completely control our interest rates and exchange rates and to cap it all take possession of our gold reserves entirely. Trade unionists are critical of the Bank of England’s Monetary Policy Committee’s inflation focussed bias, but as one trade union leader said, at least we know what Eddie George looks like.

A vast centralising concept of this sort is profoundly undemocratic and the trade unions as parents of key and crucial elements of British workplace and political democracy must address this deeply constitutional heart of the single currency question. Who controls Britain, our elected representatives, or those commissioned by the Trans National Corporations?. The fight against the single currency is the most profound political struggle for democracy Britain has faced since votes for women, but the stakes are far higher. A single currency would neutralise the power of the vote trade unionists have fought for so long and hard and distance the people of Britain generally from the machinery of social and economic reform. It is vital that resource and other support is given to our work in this sector.

Doug Nicholls is Secretary of Trade Unions Against the Single Currency, TASC, 301 The Argent Centre, 60 Frederick Street, Birmingham, B1 3HS, Tel: 0121 683 0283, Fax: 0121 683 0284, [email protected] www.tuasc.org.uk

The euro: bad for trade unions is available from Bread Books, PO Box 1806, Coventry.

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