Labour shortages highlight exploitation at the heart of the EU

News of labour shortages have flooded the media in recent weeks and many have called for relaxed rules on migration to enable European workers to fill these posts.

Peter Stoddart, is the YCL’s Student Officer

Such is the power of neoliberal forces, liberal media outlets perceive a return to EU superexploitation as the only solution to labour shortages here in Britain. So warped is the liberal mind that this is the simple answer rather than improving pay and terms and conditions.

EU migrants have propped up our economy in recent decades, particularly in agriculture, transport and hospitality, all of which are facing shortages just now. 

Covid-19 has of course had an effect on labour shortages currently, but following Brexit, many of these sectors became increasingly precarious. Terms and conditions for many of these sectors are so poor that the majority of native workers refused to work in them. Instead, recruitment agencies toured parts of Eastern Europe offering abysmal, and often illegal, rates, with even poorer conditions. 

This is not a criticism of migrant workers, themselves forced into such precarious positions as a result of domestic and international neoliberal forces, the adoption of the Euro being a crucial one, decimating workers’ purchasing power.

In recent months we have seen wages increase substantially as a result of shortages and workers have been given an upper hand. In a Bank of England report published last month, wages were found to have increased substantially in recent months: “Recent calculations by the ONS gave a range of 3.2% to 4.4% for underlying wage growth in the three months to May.” 

Where these increases take place is crucial, but wage rises of this level in such a short period of time are positive for workers if inflationary pressures do not take hold. Rather than celebrating these victories, the liberal left would rather run out the #FBPE Brigade to drag us back to the super-exploitation of migrant workers propped up by the EU.

Hiding behind the guise of caring about the economy, employers and agencies are desperate for a return to the past and we cannot allow this to happen. 

Rather than being sucked back into the arguments of 2016, we need to be fighting for workers in the here and now campaigning in their unions and making big wins. We are in a crucial position to increase job security and demand improved wages. We have seen victories across all sectors in recent months, from hospitality, to social care, to transport.

We cannot allow the liberal media to take control of this crisis, demanding European migrants return to the same over-exploited position they were in before. Whether people voted for Brexit is irrelevant now, what matters is that workers are supported and the conditions for development are maintained.

Peter Stoddart

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