Sunday, February 01, 2009

Make work pay and you'll see a drop in foreign workers

The recent strikes and the illegal secondary action sympathy striking that broke out across the country on Friday has led me to recall a discussion I had with a lecturer at University when I was an undergraduate. The lecturer in question was a member of the Socilaist Workers Party, he was also a former Labour Party man but I had been expelled for being in Militant. He was the classic purist type socialist who despised capitalism in all its forms and he was a regular apologist for the Soviet Union.

The discussion got on to the subject of striking and specifcally the "right to strike". Thatcher was cast as pure evil whilst the workers were cast as angels collectively bargaining by withdrawing their labour. For this lecturer the 1970s and the manner in which the system was collapsed by the Unions was actually a good thing, the bad thing for him was that Thatcher took on the Unions and reformed the ability of people to strike at a whim, and even worse, had brought about an end to secondary action.

Our discussion ended up being an argument because I upset him, and some of the other students somewhat. You see I sat there and said, yes, you can have the right to strike, but only so long as it is accompanied by the employers right to fire. After all, the business of business, is business. Now that doesn't mean that an employer should always fire, but if they want to they should have the right and they should not be villified for doing so. After all, if your workforce ups and leaves because you're not paying them enough, then the obvious thing to do is to go out and find a woirkforce that will work for that money happily.

This is why I don't agree with my good friend, Peter Whittle from the New Culture Forum when he argues that we should support the opil refinaries strikes. I certainly could never support secondary action, and as I said in a Tweet on Friday, those taking secondary action should be fired in my view, and the law on this matter should certainly be enforced. It is illegal to strike in sympathy at other strikers elsewhere, and quite right too.

I do not agree that we have an underclass of under-trained Brits out there because we have free movement of Labour and get foreign workers to do the jobs cheaper. The problem we have in Britain is that we have an underclass of under-trained Brits who are so because they have been made so by becoming clients of a welfare state that encourages them to sit on their arses. Then we have the younger generation being told they are geniuses by an education system that has lowered the bar for excellence, with the consequent attitude that certain jobs are too low for them to go for.

The bottom line of these strikes is that the workforce of the Italian company that Total chose after tendering are being paid like for like against British counterparts. That means that when you add in the extra expense of accomodating this workforce, and transporting them, the deal will inevitably cost Total more. This makes their argument that the Italian company won the contract because they were best placed in sills terms to carry out the work a powerful one. Why would a business go for the less skilled cheaper option, than get the job done right?

Of course, politically speaking it is amusing that Gordon Brown's own words have come back to haunt him. However, that does not mean the striking workforce have a strong arguyment because they don't. There is nothing wrong with businesses using foreign workers. If it wasn't for foriegn workers this country would be a very dirty and smelly place. It is the foreign workers that clean our offices, it is the foriegn workers that sweep our streets, it is the foreign workers that serve us coffee in Starbucks, and you know what, I'm glad they do. They are providing a service and taking jobs that Brits won't - why should they when they get handouts constantly from the state?

One of the keys planks of Labour in Opposition prior to 1997, and then in the first few years, was a mantra called "making work pay". It was led by Frank Field and wanted to end the idiotic situation whereby people earned more on beneifts than they could working. It never came about because it was blocked by the Chancellor, now the Prime Minister. This has led to unemployment worklessness in Britain exceeding 5 million. You will not solve the problem of "jobs for Brits" until you solve the problem of the "can work but can't afford to work" culture. Until that is done, foreign workers will continue to come to Britain and be employed and that's just tough - stop whinging, build a bridge and get over it.

And please, don't lets start talking about how its impossible to live on the money that these lower jobs get. Foreign workers do it, they even send some of it home, fair play to them I say. They're the ones willing to take on the night shift security roles, the office catering jobs, the office toilet cleaning jobs, and they have no shame in doing so because they have strong work ethics. Compared to the lazy Brit stuck in welfarism who says "I;m not cleaning toilets" they are worth more as a citizen in my view.

You do not need a policy that says "British workers should get a preference" because the British worker isn't working half the time, or even applying for these jobs. What you need a welfare system that makes sure that whilst you can live, it is not a very nice existance, and therefore makes getting a job, whatever it might be, a desirable option. Do that and there won't be any jobs for foreigners and they won;t bloody come here looking.

The Wlefare State should be a safety net from destitution, it should not be a means of existance. It should not be something that you can remain on for life quite happily. British jobs for British workers cannot be brought about by positive deiscrimination and labour market manipulation if the target group can't be arsed to work because they'll lose benefits worth more. I know HR people in high street stores who have seen staff turn down extra hours because they will lose more in benefits than they can earn in overtime. That is the real problem, not because some Polish person is "coming over here and stealing our jobs".


Mitch said...

Nail on head.

You will be redundant under labours new order.

Andy said...

I'm with you on this, but in your next post you talk about letting people keep breeding, when everyone knows that if you don't fancy doing any work then you get preganant and never need to go to work again...

Craig said...

fully agree with you on this one dizzy... What I'm not sure is who will have the political guts to do something serious about it, rather that just tinkering with the existing system. Somehow, I can't see the Tories making this a manifesto commitment! :-) (although they'd certainly get my vote if they did!)

captainff said...

I could not have expressed it so eloquently. Spot on.

Anonymous said...

Here here!

Frangler said...

Cor bloody rect

Benedict White said...

Dizzy, whilst I agree with most of what you say, I take issue with "And please, don't lets start talking about how its impossible to live on the money that these lower jobs get. "

The problem is that foreign workers are prepared to put up with much tougher living conditions that people over here are (and that includes immigrants who have been here for a while). You do get situations where adults who are unrelated share rooms. Fine when you are young and starting off, less so when you are in your late 20's and trying to start a family.

Anonymous said...

Socialist Worker - the prime example of an oxymoron.

Lord Salisbury said...

I dissent, look, this particular case isn't an example of people 'sitting on their arses' addicted to welfare - this is a case of skilled workers being undermined --not by a bunch of slavish people from the Orient-- but by a European immigration system that allows people with skills, in this country, to be, as it were, shafted. This is the unfair side of the free market, which is what Cameron has decided to challenge, and I'm all for it. We can't make this a socialist issue, this should be a conservative one.

However, you are totally right on your basic premise that the underclass is addicted to the welfare state -- but take that away from them, change the culture and we'll soon see who's fighting for those jobs that British people apparently don't want to do. It's only that they get more money not doing work than they do doing it that's the main problem.

Forlornehope said...

Great-grandad lost his leg in a mining accident; he got a job cleaning public toilets. I had a successful professional career but he was a better man than I am. But that was a long time ago.

Notory said...

How do you know it is costing the company more. They may recoup by charging an excessive rent from the workers.

Anonymous said...

I think what is important here, and not really examined in this diatribe, is not the level of benefits and the level of lower wages, but the difference between the two. And that is ultimately the motivator between staying on your backside at home, or getting off it and going to work.

Are there any statistics or research that indicate what this gap has to be for people to feel the effort is worthwhile? £50 a week? £100? Until we know what this is, we can't start to reform the system.

Otherwise the comments on foreign workers are irrelevant. The reason they send money home is because exchange rates (used to?) mean that a pittance in the UK was a small fortune in Poland etc. Again, as this differential narrows, expect to see a lot fewer foreign workers.

And none of this has anything to do with the refinery strikes, which are about skilled workers being sidelined for mere reasons of corporate convenience. Nothing to do with the benefits system.

rallies said...

I have to disagree with you on this. The secondary strikes, if is by contractors can not be defined as secondary strikes as they will mostly be self employed. Secondly the dispute is about EU workers being employed by an EU firm, discriminating against a single EU nationality. This firm is not saying that they will only employ Italian and Portuguese workers which would be illegal and easy to prosecute, but they are saying that they will not employ British workers. I would imaging that policy would also be illegal and racist, unless of course the British are no longer a race?

Deadbeat Dad said...

My last girlfriend was a single mother, for whom unemployment was a lifestyle choice.

She had a comfortable, fully maintained housing association flat in a very smart area of Bristol, and enough disposable income to live reasonably well and pursue her interests (she trousered the all the child-related benefits, even though the kid spent half the week with his father).

She was smart, university educated, and more than capable of finding gainful employment. But she was quite happy to game the system for years on end.

Her shameless malingering was one of the reasons I finished with her in the end.

Barnacle Bill said...

Whilst I agree fully with the main thrust of your argument Dizzy that we should try to make it more attractive to work than live off the State on benefits, I do think the Lindsey dispute is not a very good example to pick.
How would you feel in the current economic climate if you suddenly found all your IT work being done by skilled Indian workers, living half a dozen to a room, paid the minimum wage appearing on your doorstep?
How far would you be prepared to cut your standard of living to win that work back?

dizzy said...

As it happens, in a previous job,, I actually went to Bangalore and trained my replacements. As too as my other half. We built the bridge and got over it.

Barnacle Bill said...

You want to try the Merchant Navy, I've now had it happen to me five times, the last time the crew and I were given thirty minutes to get off the ship.
Our replacements were sitting around the corner in a coach!

Anonymous said...

"those taking secondary action should be fired in my view"

That comment shows how little you know about the situation. Do you think a company could sack hundreds of skilled workers and carry on next week as if nothing had happened? They won't be sacked because it would be impossible to find and train up replacements for a long period of time.

This is a issue about well paid skilled jobs and has nothing to do with an underclass.

And if you'd read about the story you'd know that it Total didn't give the contract to an Italian company, they gave it to an American one who sub-contracted it.

T England said...

So, bottom line, you don’t want to stand by British men who are losing their jobs to European men? Fair enough but I hope you never need my help, because you will see me turning my back on you!
I believe by me being prepared to stick with those British men it will help bring about the change we need to stop these problems occurring in the future.

I won’t say anymore as I take it you’ve read the post’s in the link & have seen my view anyhow!

Goodness! Good job were not at war!!!!!

Anonymous said...

Isn't the Total involved here the same company whose negligence led to the largest explosion in British history - which it then tried to deny in a lengthy courtcase.

Atlas Shrugged said...

As an employer I could not care less where they come from as long as they work reasonably hard, don't nick anything, and turn up more or less sober and on time.


70% of our schools should be closed down until they can sort out a workable method of actually educating people into useful employment. As things are, many kids would simply be better off, not bothering to go to school at all. No, seriously, they really would be better employees if they had never gone to school at all.

It is not as if they have not had enough time to work out how to educate kids into the workplace. My mother left school at 14. Yet she can do a Times cross word in 20 mins and I am still asking her how to spell words.

My local Homebase is inhabited by workers well over retirement age, while the streets are full of unemployable young drugs dealers.

This country is as sick as a terminally ill parrot, living on borrowed time.

But there again; what do we expect when this countries social and educational policies have been run by socialists, and their politics of envy, since 1945 at least?

Either these excuses for intelligent life forms are just plane dumb, or plane evil, or both.

As a highly successful self made British manufacturer, I would like to state this for the record.

My order book has NEVER EVER been so overwhelmingly full, this very much in spite of 30 years of successive British governments doing their best to destroy my entire company from birth. My company desperately needs several new employees. They dont even need to be trained as we prefer to do our own training.

What our education system has long since lacked, is the will to train our youth to actually want to do any real work at all. Even getting up in the morning, and being able to communicate in anything more then grunts and mumbles would be a great start.

I dont think the general public could possibly understand what a pointless hiding to nothing employing a young British born lad or lass is like. An employer has to virtually start from scratch.

Almost as if the young individual had been educated by wolves in a jungle all of their lives. Whats worse they seem to have been indoctrinated into believing that actually working for one of their fellow citizens is by definition exploitation, and therefore should always be avoided at all costs.

Yet a young Pole or in fact anyone other then someone educated in a British school, even if they can hardly speak any English at all, is infinitely more worthwhile making the simply enormous effort, and investment for. If for only the reason that they do not have a natural inclination to hate their employer with an irrational passion.

SOCIALISM has condemned now at least two generations to a life time of crime and or living entirely on benefits, which is not really LIVING AT ALL.

Quite frankly, ALL of our politicians since the last WW, should be publicly flogged for what they have collectively done to our youth.

Although it has to be said. I long since stopped really caring what the f..k happens to them or this perfectly and permanently f...ed up excuse for a nation, many years ago. About 11 to be more precise.

Old Fashioned Tory said...

I’m sorry Dizzy, but I think you’re wrong on this one. As Benedict White points out, foreign workers will put up with worse living conditions on a long term basis. I live in a working class area of Bristol and 4 doors up from me, in a 2 bed house we have about 15 East European workers. They sleep several to a room, an hot bed. Much of the money they earn they send back to their own countries - how that’s supposed to help the British economy I don’t know. As a result of this, their water bills and council tax bills are very low when shared out - do you think that working class people should spend their lives living like this to provide an economical source of labour for multinational companies who often don’t even pay tax here in the UK?

Yes, you’re right to say that our young people have been convinced (wrongly) that they are all geniuses, and should all get meeja jobs, you are also right to slag off the welfare system and the way in which it rewards slackers. These wildcat strikes and blockades are not about this though. They are about British workers, who are able and willing to work, who are not being employed because the companies concerned can use foreign labour instead.

I suppose though that issues like this highlight the differences between real conservatives who have a sense of patriotism and nation, and the free marketeer Hayekian whigs who entered the Conservative Party in the 60’s.

Jabba the Cat said...

Spot on Dizzy and Atlas.

It does make me laugh listening to those who, gosh, raise their hands in horror that foreign workers are prepared to share accommodation and associated costs, and thereby keep their overhead down, and be able to exist and also send money home.

Until the "great" British worker is prepared to get down and compete on the same terms, he will be left on the side of the road throwing his toys out of the pram and screaming "unfair" at the top of his lungs.

From my personal business perspective, I have spent the last decade investing in automated machinery so that I can cut the need for human workers to the minimum...

Minekiller said...

Deadbeat Dad 1st Feb 1700,

I too had a girlfriend many years ago pulling the same stunt, except that she took on a nice little earner during school hours cleaning houses....and trousered the lot.

...and she openly mocked those that worked...had to bin her in the end.

Deadbeat Dad said...

Mine was quite an accomplished ceramicist, Minekiller. She used to earn a bit on the side working the craft fairs, when she could be arsed (she freely admitted that it was too much like hard work to pursue as a full-time livelihood).