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Speech by Doug Nicholls, General Secretary, Community & Youth Workers' Union
to the Third Congress for Democracy
Friday 10 December 1999
The Euro: Bad for Trade Unions

First lines are always the most difficult. My opening line is usually brothers and sisters!

Actually, I have been thinking about the cultural and language and political differences in this alliance and what we agreed about this matter at the very first Congress. There was a recognition that the Congress had to be broadly representative and that the trade union movement played a particularly pivotal role on the question of the single currency. We recognised explicitly that many of our organisational and cultural differences had to be tolerated and understood in order to concentrate on the main question of the single currency. Just to prove that we have taken this matter seriously I was commissioned to write a pamphlet on the trade union case against the single currency and publish it in our new corporate, non- partisan colours!

More seriously though, we do still have difficulty convincing some that there is an urgent political need to focus our energies as a cross-party political umbrella group on the most important referendum the British people will have ever faced. I am intrigued to have received letters this week from anti single currency campaign groups saying that they wish us well but find the Congress too anti-European Union. I have also received letters from some saying that they find the Congress insufficiently anti-European! I think there is a need to focus the identity of the Congress and peopleís minds clearly. The statement agreed at the first Congress is very clear indeed:

The Congress for Democracy, representing a wide range of groups and individuals, resolves:

  • That the European Single Currency is designed to bring about political as well as economic union in Europe.
  • That abolishing the pound would mean that interest rates, exchange rates and, ultimately, tax rates would be set by institutions that were not accountable to the British people.
  • That Britainís growth depends upon her ability to set economic policy according to her own needs.
  • That Economic and Monetary Union would jeopardise both Britainís democracy and her prosperity.
  • That the individuals and groups represented at this Congress will support a national campaign in defence of sterling, open to all except racist or anti-democratic organisations.
All those who support that statement should be here. The Congress does not supplant or take the sovereignty from any other organisation. It seeks merely to focus a concerted understanding that the Single European Currency would be a disaster for our country. If you are pro Europe but anti single currency or anti Euro federalism and therefore obviously anti single currency, you should be part of this Congress, because a great concentration of forces and unity of purpose will be necessary to ensure a no vote for Britain. In my language the Congress is a single issue campaign group. Such a no vote would benefit the people of Europe and for those of an anti federal disposition, would not exactly aid the federal project.

The unity of purpose that we have already achieved on this issue has perplexed the normally superficial pundits. Despite the eminence of this building I am glad that God did not give us the gift to see ourselves as others see us because if he had done I would have an identity crisis. As a trade unionist speaking exclusively to a strongly held national mandate in my union that the single currency is a bad thing and should be opposed and with no wider union mandate on federalism or the current shape of the EU, the pundits have, if I collect the press clippings together, put me in every political party in Britain and probably beyond. For the record, I am a member of the Woodland Trust and speak on this matter only on behalf of my Union. The issue of Britainís sovereignty and self-determination is bigger than any one group or political party can handle.

At a time of referendum, the forces waged against us on this question will be galvanised, disciplined and united, highly focused on selling huge lies about the majesty of the euro. We will need to be more focused and more united and concentrate energies on achieving the fairest referendum framework and most articulate and massive no vote. To the extent that this Congress is tainted with any smaller agenda will be the measure of our likely failure. For those wanting withdrawal from the EU there are many of organisations to join, for those supporting the EU but not the single currency there are plenty of organisations, for businesses big and small, for trade unions and campaign groups there are several reputable national organisations to join. But for all those who have as part of their programme opposition to the single currency, the Congress must become an increasingly active and vocal home.

I also get an identity crisis, by the way, when colleagues here say "Wouldnít it be nice to have a really good trade unionist on the platform, a real star"! In my view this shows little awareness of how the unions work. Big stars are figureheads for policies. Small unions like my own, which form the majority of trade unions in Britain, often afford their members a greater say and democratic voice on big issues.

I do not intend to go through the arguments deployed in the pamphlet The Euro: Bad for Trade Unions launched today. I would encourage you not just to buy single copies on sale here, but to think about ways you could get some multiple copies for circulation amongst various workforces. We were right at the first Congress, the trade union movement is the main battleground for this issue. In fact, the European Commission and the ETUC have clearly recognised that winning the hearts and minds of the British trade union movement is the main political prize over the next two years. Leading pro euro trade unionists have said that the number one campaigning priority in the trade union movement is to win the argument in favour of the single currency. The battle is on and those of us seeking an alternative position frankly need all the support we can get and the widely representative body Trade Unions Against a Single Currency will be strengthened. The trade unions are the prize on this question because in many ways they are the key to around 8 million yes votes. Despite the fortunes of the trade unions over the last twenty years they remain a very significant and influential voice on questions like this, with members paying great attention to the positions their unions take.

Letís put the matter straight on a couple of issues. Try as many might, the TUC does not have a mandate to explicitly argue for early entry into the euro. Nor are trade unionists generally in favour of the single currency. Our poll undertaken jointly with Business for Sterling revealed in April 1999 61% of trade unionists opposed to joining the euro and in September 67% against. Everywhere I go where you can have reasoned and thoughtful discussion, particularly with manual workers, about this issue, the dangers are readily grasped. With more truth being told to trade unionists in their workplace relating their concerns to the impact of the euro, I am convinced that we can significantly increase the no voters. But no one here should underestimate the scale of the campaign that will be intensified in favour of the euro over the coming months.

Bearing in mind the great unity of our purpose here, I would nevertheless remind you that the largely anti European Union trade union movement changed its mind in 1988 when Jacques Delors played on the, letís say politely, lack of hospitality in Downing Street and said that if Westminster would not listen, Brussels would. Many fell for this, duped by the siren song of sweet rhetoric masking mass unemployment and deindustrialisation. Remember, 18 million unemployed in the eurozone represents the equivalent of the entire populations of Denmark, Ireland and Belgium lying idle. Is it any wonder the euro is tumbling? Strangely, the trade unions fail to recognise that the single currency heralds no mechanism to deal with this. The traditional trade union concern for jobs takes a sinister rest when the alleged advantages of the single currency are promoted.

So too does the traditional trade union concern for peaceful co-operation between independent nations, know as peace. There is little piecing together of the link between a single currency and an ominous single foreign and security policy which it requires.

For a trade union movement born originally out of the bravery of agricultural workers, the lack of concern for the use of land under the Common Agricultural Policy, such a bulwark of the single currency drive, is also astounding, as is the lowering of the guard on environmental issues affected by the corporatism of the multi nationals operating the Central Bank.

To me it is beyond belief that at this time in our history as a trade union movement we could on the one hand correctly condemn the Bank of England for its anti-growth obsession with fighting inflation by means of high interest rates and a high pound, while suggesting incorrectly on the other hand that we may be prepared to ultimately give over these fundamental levers of our economy to a European Central Bank, run by 21 unelected bankers who will meet under the terms of the Amsterdam Treaty Ďin secretí and who will be specifically forbidden from heeding any influence from their national Parliaments. This would be a hostile take-over indeed. If Eddie George is difficult to persuade beyond his one line job description now, how much more difficult to influence the ECB as a trade union movement in the future?

I am concerned that the success of the campaigning against the euro and its failure as a currency is leading to new tactics which are the single currency in all but name. The adherence to spending convergence criteria is one. But I am worried about the financial and psychological impact of the costly changeover plan. This almost assumes the referendum has been held. It is also concerning that the industrial landscape of Britain continues to be reshaped along the lines desired by the Central Bank. A single currency cannot tolerate diverse economies based on a healthy variety of industrial products capable of maintaining relatively high levels of self-sufficiency. I believe the euro without euro preparations will entail a further demise of our staple and traditional industries - clothing, textiles, agriculture, ceramics, engineering. Under the Commissionís plans as I understand them, Britain is to focus on pharmaceutical and financial services. Many of the staple manufacturing areas necessary to sustain independence will, I predict, be further eroded. I have to say that the transformation of public spending patterns through the Private Finance Initiative and reshaping of local and regional democracy resemble more the Britain of economic zones envisaged by the Central Bank than the worsted fabric of cultures and interrelating democratically controlled real economies I would like to see. I am increasingly of the view that in order to prevent the euro by stealth and default, we should more loudly demand an early referendum.

I think also that considering the impeccable record of probity, prudence and transparency within the Commission that is driving for majority voting and the euro, we should think hard about some of the likely military exploits. With Commissioner Prodi the new anti national privatiser kid on the block, with business scandals still snapping at his heels, we should be very wary about EU jingoism and expansionism. Apart from anything else, this would not exactly bolster the value of the euro and when the Chairman of the Central European Bank says its falling value is because of Germanyís concern to support an ailing company and its unemployed millions we should get a true impression of in whose interests the currency will be run. Prodi seeks to expand to potentially 28 EU countries the racist Schengen Agreement and Lome Conventions which distort the economies of Commonwealth and developing countries. Everyone will be taxed to subsidise the poor while creating wholesale poverty. And refugees are a thing of the future.

Remember, if Prodi gets his way, our taxes will go towards rebuilding many places the EU has kept down in the past. They will also go potentially to paying the huge pensions debt in Europe. Remember too that without consulting the British people, prudent Gordon Brown created the independent Bank of England ironically to enslave it within the European Union and he has started to sell our gold reserves. This is because the European Union demands a central bank composed of independent central banks and the complete control of all member nationsí financial reserves. In our case, about £22 billion. Goodbye the British national reserve. No more solace for a rainy day. Never bother again voting in a local or national general election. Goodbye all controls on taxation, and exchange and interest rates and capital flows. Even the European TUC is calling for tax harmonisation, and never forget the style and burden of taxes in Europe is higher than ours.

It is not enough, of course, to be against the single currency. We need to be for the realisable aspiration of a strong industrially pioneering, high tech, high wage, full employment economy, mindful of its ecology, the quality of its health and education, trading on a world market and eradicating the scourge of poverty as one united nation governed at all levels by those its own people elect. We must have high ambitions.

Trade unionists above all stand for the unity of Britain and the creation of an independent democracy. That is our history. After all, we fought for extensions of the franchise till a reasonably representative Parliament was created with votes for all over the age of 18. The EU seeks to sink this parliamentary franchise.

In closing let me cite something that represents the meeting of minds across countries and timespans in Europe to assert the importance of national independence. Our greatest living dramatist Francis Warner has written the following lines in a play about Goethe, and spot the significant words:

"Decent, fulfilled, humaneness, yes, for all,
Must be the art and whole aim of our race;
For if we fail, or slack our education,
Uncultured, brutish bestiality
Rides out to conquer. Every country must,
In its own different way, and style, strive for
The immortality Athens achieved.
It must be national: literature, the State,
Religion, politics, conventions, art,
All must have these two aims: a humane outlook
Based on democratic self definition,
Exchanging honour with far different nations;
Harmonious music of a world at peace."

Published by www.congressfordemocracy.org.uk

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