Ed Miliband’s simply trying to end “brutish jobs for British workers”

by Kevin Meagher

Every mention of immigration is pored over for what the person raising it really means.

Ed Miliband’s piece in yesterday’s Independent on Sunday is pretty clear. A Labour government will close the loophole in the EU’s Agency Workers Directive that allows some companies to undercut British workers by employing agency staff on less favourable terms. This is particularly an issue in sectors like food production and hospitality which use a lot of foreign workers, resulting in 300,000 people being paid less than the minimum wage.

Miliband’s is firmly a critique of neo-liberalism, not immigration per se. His ire is reserved for the excessive effects of labour market deregulation on people in the foothills of the economy. He isn’t saying British jobs for British workers in a chauvinistic way, he’s saying that for too many it’s a case of “brutish jobs for British workers” as a race to the bottom in terms of pay and conditions for the least protected undermines everything Labour should stand for.

As he put it yesterday:

“What chance of rising living standards for all when unscrupulous firms can exploit workers from abroad to get around the minimum wage?

What chance of giving everyone a fair shot when recruitment agencies are allowed to recruit only from overseas, excluding locals from even hearing about jobs?

What chance of skills for the next generation when too many employers can just import them without having to train people here? Who would have predicted that just 14 years into the 21st century IT apprenticeships would be falling? Not because we don’t need IT skills but because they are too often just brought in from overseas.”

It’s an argument that will be music to the ears of many; particularly those, as Miliband points out, who are at “the sharp end” of unfair competition. This is still new territory for Labour. Throughout its period in office, New Labour ministers made a point of prefacing every remark on the economy with starry-eyed talk about the inevitability of globalisation. Its attractions were more obvious in the freewheeling consumerist days of the noughties when jobs were plentiful and a rising tide did indeed raise most boats. It’s a different story today.

For many, globalisation now means greater insecurity and more unfair competition, particularly if you’re among the 50 per cent of young Britons who don’t go on to university. They are probably the most overlooked group in British society and the liberal-left has offered them too little for too long; dismissing their pleas for a level-playing field in our deregulated labour market as little more than racism.

Yet why should companies employ them fairly when they can bring in cheaper foreign workers for less? All the more so given barely a third of British companies actually pay anything for training. This is why we call for a compulsory training levy in our book ‘Labour’s Manifesto Uncut: How to win in 2015 and why,’ creating a level-playing field for employers too; rewarding the good ones that invest in their employees and forcing those that don’t to raise their game.

Ultimately, what those who call for a “rational debate” about immigrant labour fail to understand is that many people are already making a rational choice about who will stand up for them in the face of external competition for what are often already insecure, prospectless jobs. The illusory attractiveness of UKIP’s tough line is a risk for Labour too; and Miliband’s intervention today is a necessary piece of positioning to reassure millions of hard-working people that Labour is on their side.

Kevin Meagher is associate editor of Labour Uncut

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4 Responses to “Ed Miliband’s simply trying to end “brutish jobs for British workers””

  1. swatantra says:

    Gordon’s cry was pure protectionism and we all know that protection rackets(tariffs) don’t really work in the long run. What does work is imposing min/living wages on workers here, so that even potato pickers are paid the fair rate. The downside is a bit more ethical shopping from consumers; gone will be the cheap stuff from abroad; gone is the cheap cut throat supermarket wars; gone is the cheap fuel that this country has been getting away with for years. Every product has a value in human labour, and consumers will just have to pay more in future, and not take cheap cuts for granted. Either that or reduce their consumption by one half.

  2. Ex-Labour says:

    One again Miliband tinkers around the edges without tackling the real issue of mass immigration.


    “cheap fuel this country has been getting away with for years” . Have you been drinking ? If you have let me know what it is as I need some.

    The UK has some of the highest enegery and fuel costs in the world.

  3. Madasafish says:

    The major problem with the UK employment situation is that the world has changed irrevocably from the 1970s and before. Automation – and cheaper and cheaper automation – have made mass manufacturing cheaper than before – and outsourcing to East Asia has cut production costs further. These changes are likely to continue with large scale metal printing machinery taking automation a significant stage further.

    So to compete we need a motivated and educated workforce, flexible to adapt to changes and willing to retrain. Whilst a large part of the existing workforce is doing just that, there are significant areas where resistance to change is still evident.

    And there are large parts of the country where attitudes to education and flexible working are still stuck in the past…

    It’s all very well to call for an increased minimum wage – and better working conditions – but the end result is that costs of food and healthcare and care for the elderly will increase – significantly. If you then further increase the Minimum Wage to cope, you start an inflationary spiral..

    But given the fact that food production is international, the net result will be that many of the UK’s marginal farmers will go bust and we will rely further on imports – and 50% of our food is imported. Not strategically sensible when food security is likely to become even more important as our population rises.

    The Labour Party has to grasp these issues as have the Trade Unions. Many are still acting as if the world owes us a living .. and the supply of money is infinite.

    There is an obvious solution to two of our pressing issues: care for the elderly and youth unemployment and the poor state of insulation of our housing stock. It’s blindingly obvious. Join the dots.

  4. Tafia says:

    “The UK has some of the highest enegery and fuel costs in the world.”

    As an expenditure of personal income it has fallen.

    A household in the 1970’s for example used far less electricity than a household today does (despite energy efficient devices), yet the bills represented a greater proportion of their income. And choosing between buying coal or buying food was quite normal for working people in fairly decent jobs.

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