A very interesting and, dare I say it, brave piece by Larry Elliott in the Guardian today.
His basic point is that increased immigration from the new EU member states has not been the unqualified win-win situation that has been portrayed by many in the debate. When a ministerial source announced that there would not be an immediate opening up of the UK labour market to citizens from Bulgaria and Romania, it was couched in terms of being a “political” rather than “economic” decision.
However, Larry Elliott three points about how immigration from the Accession 10 has not been all good for poor indigenous working class people.
- Firstly, although growth has probably risen due to the low-wage high productivity the increase isn’t reaching everyone. In particularly due to the reduction in quality of life that can come from stretching of public resources. This is also the case in the housing market, where a big difference between general inflation rates (where low-wages from lower cost labour keep the rate down), and house price inflation, which is still strong.
- Secondly, he argues, the wage depression is only likely to hit certain parts of the economy. Lawyers, business directors or journalists are less likely to suffer, while tradesmen and domestic servants are. This is likely to further exaggerate the already large gap between the most wealthy and the poorest.
- Finally, and related to points 1 and 2, there is a class dimention to the whole debate. If you are wealthy, you’re more likely to reap the benefits of the new immigration. If you’re poor then “it means downward pressure on wages, deeper indebtedness and an unobtainable mortgage”.
I think that there’s a more general point to be made about the EU and the welfare of working class people in its member states. While the EU has clearly done positive things such as the working time directive (although the EU will not end the blanket opt-out in the UK), there are also negatives.
It’s not just that business is better organised at an EU level than unions and NGOs. The rules of the game within, for example ,competition policyare skewed against collective action. A liberalisation process is written into the EU’s treaties, that makes it much harder for governments to intervene, either through direct ownership, or through certain types of targeted investment in industry.
The debate on the EU Constitution and the Directive on Services went some way to improve the quality of UK-based debate on the EU, but it has to go further. We need to move to a position where we are all able to debate not, EU-Good vs. EU-Bad, but which policies the left likes and even which direction further EU integration should take.