On Stephen Kinnock and regulation of labour markets

A 40-tonne articulated lorry pulled by a red Mercedes-Benz Actros tractor unit with a Serbian number plate and identity oval, a red curtain side and a white door with the name of the former owner 'Magazin Transport' still apparent. Four men are running after it so as to board from the back, where one of the doors appears to be partly opened.Earlier today I saw a Twitter thread posted by the Labour MP Stephen Kinnock (son of Neil) who is a member of the Brexit select committee in Parliament (starting here, ending here, claiming among other things:

As a progressive democratic socialist I know that markets fail when they are not regulated properly. From banking to construction to energy have seen what happens when markets are left to own devices. Why shld labour market be any diff? It’s not possible to regulate labour market unless it is possible to regulate supply, and FoM makes supply-side regulation impossible

He does not seem to understand that there are other ways of regulating the Labour market without simply “cutting off the supply” by ending freedom of movement within the EU. One of them is to incentivise businesses, especially large ones, to invest in new talent rather than relying on immigrant populations which can supply experience on tap — and to penalise companies which refuse to do this.

I’m a truck driver, and I passed my class 2 test (for single trucks) in November 2013 and my class 1 test (for articulated trucks) in September 2014. I’ve been quite lucky in that agencies I’ve been working for have been able to get me a fair bit of experience in both types of work, and a large variety, but it’s been nothing like full-time. A fair number of companies will not take on a driver who has not been ‘entitled’ for two years or more, especially at class 1; some (like a major contractor in the Colnbrook area, near Heathrow airport) will even refuse to take someone on who has not had two actual years of experience. This is because insurance companies offer reduced premiums to companies that agree only to take on experienced drivers because they are, as you might expect, less likely to cause accidents. But where do you get that experience if you have not been given the chance? It’s just not their problem, and it seems to be no barrier to filling driving positions because there is a ready supply of experienced drivers from the Continent. Even if British hauliers do not deliver loads, they may still get delivered by eastern European drivers under EU ‘cabotage’ rules.

I contribute to a trucking forum regularly and it does appear that there is a strong pro-Brexit tendency among them. They blame east European immigration for keeping down wages and keeping them out of work, especially foreign work. This is not wholly justified; fuel prices rose dramatically in the years after the accession, and at times in the early 2010s a litre of unleaded petrol didn’t sell for less than £1.40 in some places. Companies had to compete on price and to avoid passing costs onto customers, they passed them onto staff. Many hauliers do not want to deal with the migrants at Calais, and the huge fines the government levies for stowaways found on trucks; they would gladly leave that to the foreign hauliers. But academics lecture them with “lump of labour fallacy!” whenever these complaints are made, claiming that immigration means more work done, which means more money made and thus more work to be done; but that is no guarantee that it will go to native workers, particularly if bosses become used to foreign workers or networks build up which allow new recruits to be taken on without advertising them in mainstream jobs pages or sites, or at all.

The solution is for the state to offer positive encouragement to firms to invest in and train workers who grew up here (in case it doesn’t go without saying: I mean regardless of their colour, or their parents’ origin) rather than moved here as adults, and to penalise those who refuse to do so and leave it to everyone else to train up new workers, and leave a lot of new workers out of work they are qualified to do. In the case of driving, there are certain jobs that someone who’s just passed their test could not do safely or reliably; nobody is suggesting that brand new drivers be taken on for heavy digger haulage, for example, but for many of them, they could, especially if they were given a bit of guidance in the first few weeks. Some companies do not care about this; they only want to get their work done, and while some are perhaps too small and not financially secure enough to take risks, others are quite big enough and plenty of companies in this category take the “not my problem” line.

So, an unregulated labour market with a government in thrall to an ideology that says you cannot interfere with the market in combination with unrestricted immigration from a group of countries with plenty of educated or trained workers and lower costs of living and average earnings than ours will result in wages being depressed and people finding themselves unable to get the work they have trained themselves for. But there are other ways besides pulling ourselves out of the EU, which deprives our workers of free movement as well as others of the right to come here; we have to make the EU work for people, not just for business, which has been the whole problem with the way Britain engages with Europe.

He concludes:

For too long c-left (sic) has brushed this debate under carpet & accused anyone making the case for reform of being anti-immigrant, or worse. This opened door to UKIP, the FN, the AfD, and Wilders etc. We need less anger & emotion

As I’m sure he knows, there are other reasons why these far-right parties have prospered in the last twenty years or so. Much of it has been because of ‘fears’, many of them stoked by biased or malicious reporting in the popular press, about Islam or Muslims. Much of their rhetoric has been targeted as much at Muslims as at the EU or eastern European migrant workers. In fact, some of these parties have polled better in their own countries than the BNP or UKIP ever have, when they did not immediately allow eastern Europeans to settle and work there. It may come as a disappointment to a ‘socialist’ who is content to hustle for white working-class votes in old coal-mining areas by pandering to tabloid readers’ prejudices (rather than commit to investing in industry and jobs for said areas), but we do not get social justice or racial harmony by just giving in to the demands of racists and the racist media. We have to fight and expose it.

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