It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue

Mrs. Duffy

Mrs. Duffy, Labour's Delphic Oracle

When Blue Labour talks about immigration as a way to reconnect with Labour’s core voters, they are very clever in skirting the real issue. They prefer the Phil Woolas style of competing with the far right. They avoid getting into the argument of immigration being used to hold down wages. If they did then they would get dragged into the pros and cons of the  ‘free movement of labour’ in the EU, something I suspect they would rather avoid.

Not sure? Let’s see what our own Delphic Oracle, Gillian Duffy had to say to Gordon Brown.

“You can’t say anything about the immigrants because you’re saying that you’re … but all these eastern European what are coming in, where are they flocking from?”

Many in the working class, both white and from other ethnic groups, would have some sympathy with Mrs. Duffy. This is because immigration was used quite cynically to build growth on the back of low wages. While rest of the world immigration may have supplied the London-centric political and business class with cheap maids, tarts, toy-boys and restaurant staff, from the EU immigration did something far worse for the skilled working class. It drove down skilled and semi-skilled wage levels to minimum wage levels. Every electrician, plumber and bus driver coming in from the likes of Poland was giving the British working class the same feeling of being under attack that we must have given German workers on a much lesser scale during the Thatcher years. Yes that’s right, the Auf Wiedersehen, Pet years.

You see, what Blue Labour will not want to remind us of is that the European Union was never an act of faith inside the party. I certainly remember campaigning against it alongside many Labour people before the 1975 referendum. Not that I think it’s something we could easily walk away from, but that shouldn’t blind us to things done in the EU’s name which are basically pro neo-liberal policies. That’s why anti-EU right-wing Tories like Daniel Hannan will sing the praises of free movement of labour inside the EU.

So is the  only answer to walk away from the EU in order to cut off Mrs. Duffy’s hordes of East Europeans? Actually no. A principled way would be to set minimum wage levels for certain skilled and semi-skilled jobs, much as how the skilled unions used to do it. The Joint Industrial Board in the building trade for example used to do this for electricians with negotiations between the old ETU and the employers. If we did this again at least Poles would not be employed just because they are cheaper as they would get paid the same new increased rate as British electricians. Maybe even some of young apprentices would be learning how to be a sparks or a plumber rather than how to serve hamburgers at McDonalds.

But this isn’t what Blue Labour is all about. They attach themselves to policies they think may garner votes, not policies they believe in or think are right. How long before their law and order plans include the return of capital punishment I wonder? All Blue Labour really shows is the cynicism of our new political class.

  • swatantra

    Some good thoughts there Les.
    I’d say the the EU concept is a bit more than just about jobs. Its more about security, and I quite like the idea of free movement across Europe Schengan wise; after all we have much in common with or European partners. We’ve moved on quite a bit since the EEC.
    Your idea of a minimum rate for the job sounds great, but bear in mind there is also a black economy running parallel to the normal economy. So what is to prevent the E Europeans undercutting British workers?
    However, if we here build up a highly trained and skilled efficient and reliable workforce then that might help us to compete better.

    • LesAbbey

      As in Auf Wiedersehen, Pet there was a time we were the poor men of Europe and free movement of labour allowed Thatcher to export some of our skilled unemployed to Germany.

      Under Blair we reversed this by employing skilled workers from Eastern Europe. What we need to do is figure how we can allow a flow of labour without forcing down wages and killing off skills in Britain. If we don’t sort out this problem we will end up with a British labour force consisting of office workers, service sector workers and the unemployed.

      So far we haven’t had a policy idea from Labour, blue, red or purple on this problem. My main point is that Blue Labour in particular is a fraud which hopes to gain power by pandering to the worse, not the best, of working class ideas.

      • treborc

        Interesting.

  • treborc

    Gosh Labour home, it looks more like a home for retired politicians at the moment silent with so much going on conferences all over the place re-founding or floundering Labour and here it’s silence

  • treborc

    It’s conference time but conference is a bit boring with labour telling us they know what to do to save the country, bit late now mind you they are out of power.

    Interesting bit today was Miliband and Balls walking down the road chatting as you do with a BBC cameras.

    Balls says to Ed they only want to know one thing Ya said Miliband, they only want to know? are we going to the left or the right, ya came Milibands reply, very educated chap, Balls then says we are going down the middle.

    Camera watching them go down the road with laughter .

    But of course what happens when your in the middle of the road, well this bloody big Tory Lorry runs you down.

  • Russ12189

    I find this peice patronising. Labour was set up for working people and not the ultra liberals who often occupy the senior positions in the party, who generally are white middle class, well educated and well connected. Imergration is a real issue for the low skilled and semi skilled workers, in terms or reducing wages and opportunitys in work and before the race card is played one section effected more than others is non white British 2nd and 3rd generation non whites. Supply of immigrants is often seen as the only problem with eu workers migrating to the better paid and better provision of public services. This is an imbalance that was seen by Germany who put up temporary barriers to polish workers and the conservative party who avicated barriers. There is also demand issues eastern Europeans are percived as hard working, high skill and good value. This is where labour missed the point in education focusing on higher education rather than increasing the value to employers of vocational and work based skills courses. Soft skills such as planning, comunicating, negotiating and low level management of people and resources. The second set of skills surely English

    • Russ12189

      Native speakers have a almost born advantage?
      It’s time that the honnest hard working worker is recognised by those is power
      The britsh public and may be even the British labour party which was created to serve them.