Such alliances are like a spider and a fly having a jolly meeting—and it’s the bosses who have eight legs.
On Tuesday British and European trade unions and bosses’ organisations produced a joint statement ahead of this week’s EU summit pushing for more “pace and urgency” in the Brexit talks.
There was plenty to please businesses.
It insisted that “The UK government and the EU will need to agree on all aspects of regulatory alignment, which is of the utmost importance, without jeopardising the integrity of the single market.”
So it accepted without question the virtues of the single market, whose rules are used to restrict state aid and wholesale nationalisation of key industries.
The statement went on to call for “preserving value chains and avoiding non-tariff barriers to trade; finding a solution for intra-corporate transfer arrangements; barrier-free and frictionless trade in goods and services.”
All part of the bosses’ agenda. It’s easy to imagine the union reps patiently waiting for some scraps to be tossed their way and they were generously awarded a whole sun-clause supporting “a mechanism for agreeing a mutually acceptable level playing field for workers’ rights”.
Of course what level that should be was not mentioned, so long as it was level.
It’s a common theme from unions to pretend that collaboration and partnership work well for both business and workers.
But every day we see companies holding down pay, cutting jobs or squeezing conditions without a care for workers. Profits always come first.
And however many joint statements are produced, the government knows who calls the tune.
Theresa May promised this week that the government will “always” listen to the voice of business over Brexit and that she believed that business was the “backbone” of the economy.
“We have listened carefully to the voices of business throughout the process. We will always listen to your voice,” she said.
Unfortunately open collaboration between bosses and the TUC has a long history.
After the defeat of the general strike in 1926, the TUC turned away from the idea that industrial action could ever be a way forward and looked to sympathetic bosses to talk to.
George Hicks, a left-winger before the strike, used his speech at the TUC conference in 1927 to invite employers to join “in a common endeavour to improve the efficiency of industry and to raise the workers’ standard of life.”
The Mond-Turner talks which began in 1928 brought together Ben Turner, the general secretary of the TUC, and Sir Alfred Mond, a top industrialist and anti-socialist.
The only result was to blunt further the recovery of union militancy just at a time when the world economy was slipping into recession and then fearful slump.
Without sufficient struggle, workers were left powerless.
It was the same in the 1980s. After Labour’s election defeat of 1983, TUC leader Len Murray put forward what was called the “new realism”. This accepted that the world had changed and strikes were no longer the answer (not that Murray was ever wildly pro-strike).
Again the sole upshot was to weaken support for the miners in their great strike of 1984-5.
There is a terrible danger that Brexit can line up workers behind various groups of reactionaries. Instead of polishing up the bosses’ credentials, the TUC should campaign for a real, left wing alternative vision—one that promises nationalisation and a full defence of migrants’ and workers’ rights.