COMPARED with its 2010 general election manifesto, Ukip’s manifestos for the recent Euro and local elections were remarkably light on detail but long on saloon bar, right-wing sentiment.
They were laced with talk of open borders/immigration, leaving the EU, allowing smoking in pubs and the sort of petty nationalism that allows us to see some similarities, but not exact comparisons, between Ukip and the Poujadism that flourished very brightly, but very briefly, in France in the 1950s.
Pierre Poujade was the leader of a right-wing populist movement of the lower middle class and self-employed who railed against big business and public administration and, of course, the unions.
Poujadists shot to prominence in France in the 1956 election with 53 deputies (MPs), but, lacking a clear policy other than what it was against, Poujadism collapsed within two years.
Remarkably for a party that is big on its support for small and medium enterprises, neither of Ukip’s 2014 manifestos had much to say on employment and more particularly employment law.
In a 2012 blog by the then — and soon to be expelled — Ukip MEP Godfrey Bloom, entitled Eu Employment Law Stupidity Holding Back Growth, the only concrete references to employment law are the phrases “impossible EU and UK employment legislation” and “horrible employment legislation so nobody wants to take on new workers” — just assertions with no explanation at all.
Even backtracking to 2010, the only employment rights issues discernable from the Ukip manifesto is a commitment to “repeal … the Temporary Workers’ Directive” and “withdraw from the European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms.”
To find out what Ukip is really up to, we have to lift the stone off its small business manifesto published on January 24 2013, work that has been initiated by Narmada Thiranagama in her 2013 blog for the Institute of Employment Rights, Ukip In The Workplace.
The manifesto may be difficult to find, however, as Ukip has removed all trace of it from its website.
Hardly surprising. It may become something of a liability for a party trying to attract workers’ votes to be seen to be opposed to workers’ rights — a trick that Thatcher pulled off with remarkable regularity, however.
We get a flavour of how repeal of workers’ rights is top of Ukip’s agenda when in the opening paragraph of the section entitled The Burden Of European Regulation On SMEs, the party says: “An example of the costly new application of a regulation is … asbestos regulations.”
Try telling the surviving relatives of a mesothelioma victim that there is excessive regulation of asbestos.
Ukip lists its five “most damaging or costly regulations,” two of which are concerned with employment rights — the Working Time Regulations and the Temporary and Agency Work Directive.
In a remarkable example of the world turned upside-down, Ukip suggests that permanent workers enjoy job security and paid holidays at the cost of lower wages than they would otherwise receive, but those on short-term contracts who forgo the benefits of a permanent contact enjoy higher pay.
This happy arrangement is, according to Ukip, under threat from the Temporary Agency Work Directive.
Ukip would “put an end to most legislation regarding matters such as weekly working hours, holidays and holiday, overtime, redundancy or sick pay, etc.”
Particularly in Ukip’s sights are rights to maternity and paternity leave. In Ukipland, “it would be up to each employer to decide whether to offer parental leave.”
In a world where money trumps rights every time, Ukip suggests that small and medium enterprises that do not offer parental leave will have to offer young women — not men — higher wages or recruit from a smaller pool of willing labour.
Ukip is also unhappy with the equal opportunities cases being heard by employment tribunals, applicants to which are already reeling from the attacks made by the Cable-Beecroft alliance.
Echoing Cable and Beecroft, Ukip supports the two-year qualifying period before a worker is entitled to bring a case to tribunal.
It’s not just equal opportunities cases that annoy Ukip. Workers being awarded “unlimited compensation” in cases of “‘dismissal on heath and safety grounds’ … is unjust and excessive.”
To sum up, Ukip would “scrap most ‘equality and discrimination’ legislation, cap all compensation payments and allow common sense to prevail.”
So far, City wide-boy Nigel Farage has ruled out an alliance with Marine le Pen and the Front National, fascist winners of the Euro poll in France, (interestingly, Jean Marie le Pen, Marine’s father and founder of the FN is a graduate of the Poujadist movement) but he has been spotted in talks with Beppe Grillo, leader of Italy’s populist 5 Star Movement and second in the Euro election there. Grillo has posted a flattering piece about Farage on his website.
The emergence of a right-wing populist bloc in the European Parliament, although not powerful enough to rewrite existing Euro legislation that unions have found useful — for example, Euro works councils and information and consultation — probably has enough strength to ensure that the brakes are applied to the creation of the European supra-state and the development of social Europe.
Adrian Weir is assistant secretary of the Campaign for Trade Union Freedom. This article was first published as a blog on its website.
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