British bullshit for British voters
06 Feb 2009 - Bruno Prior
The latest spate of humbug surrounded the "British Jobs for British Workers" strikes.
Even the application of the term "strike" was a piece of humbug. The protesters didn't work there, so how could they go on strike? This was secondary picketing, but no one dared to call it by its real name.
Why has there been no comment on whether there were issues over foreign workers at the sites where sympathy action was taken? If so, were these contracts excluding local workers suddenly awarded in a spate at power stations around the country? Or had no action been taken at these sites previously because (a) there weren't many foreign workers there, and (b) people didn't have a problem with the foreign workers at those sites until they were prompted by the protest at Lindsay? Unless there was a very strange set of coincidences going on, weren't the sympathy actions entirely illegitimate secondary action, against companies unrelated to the Lindsay strike, by people with no previous inclination to protest against those companies, with no obvious achievable objective at those locations?
And what about the original letting of the contract to the foreign firm? Several contractors bid for the work. Labour costs would have been a major component of their bids. Cost and expectations of quality of work would have been major factors in Total's decision. The foreign firm was able to put in a winning bid because, by employing foreign workers, it was able credibly to promise a decent-quality job at lower cost than the British contractors who priced in the costs of using British workers. Should we be surprised about this? Should we criticise Total for taking the obvious business decision? Or should British contractors and British workers be asking themselves if they aren't overpricing themselves? If most of the politicians, commentators and businessmen involved hadn't been so feeble in failing to point about this fundamental reality, this could have been a painful but useful lesson in the realities of the labour market in an economic contraction. Instead, our "leaders" behaved as though they believed the protests to be justified, and allowed it to become a debate about how much and what type of action should be taken to try to buck the market.
All the same, I have sympathy with the protesters and the vast majority of British people struggling to make ends meet: not because there is an iota of sense in the claims that we should somehow try to ring-fence jobs and rates for British workers at a time when the economy is collapsing (the fastest way to repeat the 1930s experience in America, which seems to be the direction of policy in most countries anyway); but because they have been slowly trapped, by 15 years or more of lousy policy and hopeless management of the economy, into a situation where the average British worker can barely afford to live on the average British wage. Many of them were, of course, complicit in this development, not only because they voted for the idiots who mismanaged our affairs, but also because they happily racked up the debts, luxuriated in the bloated public services, and developed a sense of entitlement from the vast amount of over-protection provided to the under-deserving by the state. But whether or not they were complicit (and those who were not are in no better a position than their profligate compatriots), their situation is almost untenable now, and that is not anything you would wish on anybody, let alone a whole nation.
Just consider one component of the economic choice of the contractors. Look at the barge that the foreign workers are living on, and compare it with the typical cost of rent or mortgage to live in a British house. Of course the foreign workers can afford to bid a lower price for their labour. We have created a situation where we can't afford to work at wages that would be competitive even against other developed nations, let alone developing nations. We can't afford to take lower wages, but we can't compete at the wages that we need for even the most menial quality of life.
No wonder the pound has collapsed, and thank goodness it has and that we have a currency that allows that adjustment. Without realising it, every Briton has in the past year effectively taken a 40% pay cut, in international terms. And the value of all our assets, including our homes, have been similarly cut, even before we take into account the falls in prices. Yet, even now, we are not competitive. Does that give some idea how fat, complacent and lazy we had got? And of the pain we are in for if (as looks likely) the pound now strenthens again, and with it the costs of our labour and assets increase?
I won't go in to the stupidity of Gordon's use of the term "British Jobs for British Workers", and the disingenuity of his claim that the phrase was intended to be interpreted as referring solely to the question of training. Nor will I discuss the absurdity of the internal debate within the Labour party and parts of the media about whether European law is to blame, is right or wrong, and ought to be changed, knowing full well that there is not a hope of changing it, and that plenty of Britons have been on the other side of this fence and taken advantage of these freedoms. These true but somewhat facile points have been well-dissected by our commentariat.
But I am tempted briefly to point out that this yet again demonstrates that the supposed "far-right nationalists", to whom our struggling working classes are supposedly attracted by this sort of problem, are actually far-left nationalists. Lefties are always amazed that it is their voters who most easily cross over to the BNP. Like Billy Bragg on tonight's -This Week-, they claim that these people have leapt across the political spectrum, from Labour on the left to the BNP on the right, for some reason not pausing en route to consider the LibDems and Conservatives who supposedly lie in between.
Of course, to those of an Austrian persuasion, who define the left-right political spectrum as being from more (on the left) to less (on the right) bureaucracy, authoritarianism, and expectation that the state is all-seeing, all-knowing and will make everything right, the step from Labour to BNP is an easily explicable, small progression for people to make. By voting Labour, they expressed the hope that government could solve all their problems. When government fails to do so, they look for other parties who claim that still more draconian government action is needed. They take for granted that their travails are other people's fault and other people's job to put right. If other people (i.e. the government) try but fail to put things right, it must be because some evil forces are preventing the government's interventions from working. It has nothing to do with the unsuitability of the government's measures, the impossibility of achieving these ends by these means, or the individual's failure to help himself. It is all down to powerful, mysterious, external forces. And who are more mysterious, external, and easy to blame than people who are different to us?
The far-right extreme is not fascism, it is anarchism. Fascism and communism sit side-by-side on the authoritarian, socialistic extreme left (remember, the Nazis were National Socialists). They are distinguished mainly by their emphasis on a nationalist or internationalist scope to their ambitions, not by any fundamental differences of philosophy. But our intellectuals (in the Hayekian sense) persist in placing them at opposite ends of the spectrum, and then create all sorts of convoluted arguments and analogies (perhaps the spectrum isn't a straight line, it's a circle or a cross) to try to explain away the repeated anomalies thrown up by their failed paradigm. Some do it from simple intellectual laziness, others do it to justify their socialistic bias (after all, anything that is opposite to fascism must be right, mustn't it?). But whatever their motivations, it is pure humbug.
Between the points that the media have picked up on, and those that they never would, the analysis of this dispute was a real pick-and-mix of glistening, tooth-rotting, bloating, nutritionless confectionery.