Alex Massie

British jobs are not just for British workers. That’s a good thing.

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It's just like old times isn't it? A Labour government, economic catastrophe and now, wildcat strikes across the country. It serves the Prime Minister right too. His demagogic promise of "British jobs for British workers" has come back to bite him. And deservedly so.

Now, as it happens, I have

some

plenty of sympathy for the British contractors who have failed to win contracts at Total's Lincolnshire refinery, but their anger would be more profitably directed at their own management. After all, it's their own companies that have failed to win the work - presumably because they either can't perform the work to the same standard or because it's cheaper to bring in hundreds of workers from other EU countries even when those workers, we are told, are being paid the same as what British workers would have received for the work. Instead of striking they should be asking why this is the case.

In any case, in the larger scheme of things, the free movement of people within the EU has been one of the "European project's" greatest, if still, for sure, incomplete, achievements. Free markets are a good thing, so too is the free movement of labour and, for that matter, capital. That's something to be celebrated, not abandoned merely because the economy is in a tough spot. As I say, the concerns of local workers are understandable and one should have sympathy for them, but if one criticises American moves towards protectionism, then one's duty bound to be concerned by any suggestion that we should act in a comparable fashion - in terms of either goods or labour. 

UPDATE: In the comments, Harry O writes, "A very complacent and patronising attitude, I suspect Alex would be singing a different tune if Alexis Massiiviech was to replace him as a journalist tomorrow." Though that's not an entirely unfair criticism, a couple of points deserve to be made. First, the workers brought in to the Total plant are, one gathers, from Italy and, secondly, we are told, being paid no less than comparable British workers would be making. This isn't, as far as we know, some kind of on-the-cheap quasi-scab eastern european labour. (Of course I think workers from Poland and other EU countries have every right to sell their labour at their own prices, even while I acknowledge this can cause other problems in other communities.) 

Secondly, and more significantly, it is true that many journalists are more sanguine about the impact of these kinds of labour-market developments than many people. In part that's because our work is, generally speaking, portable. But it's also because there's no such thing as tenure in journalism. You can be fired at any moment and your employer, generally speaking, doesn't need to give any reason for their decision. This is especially true, of course, for freelance journalists whose face may suddenly no longer fit or who may be victim of forces outwith their control. (Indeed, this week one publication I regularly write for went bust.) All you can do is suck it up and try and find someone else to take your stuff. Now clearly this is easier to do in some jobs - such as journalism - than others. But there's no doubt, I suspect, that there are, if you like, certain institutional or subconscious biases at play when one considers this sort of matter.

To repeat: I feel sorry for the British workers in this case, but their beef ought to be with their own managers, not the foreign workers doing the jobs their own companies couldn't win.

Written byAlex Massie

Alex Massie is Scotland Editor of The Spectator. He also writes a column for The Times and is a regular contributor to the Scottish Daily Mail, The Scotsman and other publications.

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