Unions must act on immigration
Last week Ed Milliband made a thoughtful contribution to discussions about migration and communities in Britain. Read beyond the headline reporting and this was a speech that eschewed the old certainties of liberal leftie versus illiberal racist.
It was recognised that the vibrancy of an economy can often be measured by its ability to attract a new, skilled and energetic labour force. One of our problems in many parts ofWales is that our local economies are not attractive to migrants. As a result the population becomes older, less productive and less economically active. There is less spending in the local economy, local firms produce less and jobs are fewer; the population and the local economy declines.
Equally the speech recognised that immigration can exacerbate the problems of weak economies and a labour force lacking skills, confidence and organisation. Wages are cut, conditions worsen and low skill local workers are displaced by higher skilled migrant labour.
Milliband in large part argued for more positive government action to control borders and regulate labour markets, determining wage levels and recruitment quotas. All this may have positive effect.
Nevertheless I would argue that we would do better to legislate for more empowered trades unions who can gain representation on company boards, negotiate wages and conditions for all workers and ensure high quality training. When employers are less able to hire cheap and fire with ease then the attractiveness of desperate migrant labour is much lessened.
Of course this is a very different response to our economic crisis than that which is now being rehearsed by part of the ’right’ of British politics which seeks salvation in disempowered workers scrambling in a market of lower wages and even less certainty. It will require trades unions who always espouse the principles of equality over the protection of faction.
Tensions over migration exist in Scandanavia as elsewhere but there is good evidence that the negative impact on labour markets has been diminished by the integration of trades unions into the organisation of business and the economy.
Paul Griffiths is a consultant on public services and a councillor at Rhondda Cynon Taff County Borough Council.
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