Ed Balls lunges for the GMB vote

Ed Balls’ Observer piece, in which he says Labour should look at the issue of migraiton within the EU with a view to tightening the rules, has caused a bit of a media flurry, as I’m sure it was meant to. But it was meant to do a bit more than that.

Crucially, Balls says that free movement of workers through the EU should not ve allowed to undermine terms and conditions of employment in this country:

“And it means debating what labour protections and restrictions on unskilled labour mobility are needed in an enlarging Europe, for the benefit of all European peoples. The Tory-Liberal government should be pushing to protect the pay, terms and conditions of British workers, not seeking to undermine them by taking Britain out of the social chapter. I make these arguments in the spirit of pro-European realism.”

This is exactly – and I mean exactly – what unions, notably the GMB and Unite, have been complaining about for years now, and what led to all those wildcat strikes at power station sites: that free movement of labour from the EU allows nationally agreed terms and conditions to be undermined. For the GMB it’s an article of faith that this is so. And sometimes it has been proven.

So it’s not altogether surprising that this article has appeared on the eve of the GMB congress, where they will tomorrow (Monday) be hosting Labour leadership hustings. Before GMB members vote in the Labour leadership election. Not that there’s anything wrong about this, or that I don’t think Balls is sincere. But it is a pro-union propaganda hit calculated to spike his opponents’ guns. And it could well work. Sam Coates at The Times reports that Unite is already backing Ball’s stance.

Incidentally, Balls isn’t attending the hustings due to other commitments. He will be at the congress on Tuesday though.

For the record, it was the government of which Ed Balls was a member which allowed Andrew Miller’s agency workers bill to be killed off in parliament, and as well as delaying implementation of the agency workers directive till 2011 – the “failure” he seems to refer to towards the end – it doubled the EU’s qualifying period from six weeks to 12.

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