Sunday, 1 February 2009

Team Work

The trouble over foreign skilled labour has deeper import than just concern about damage to English workers from European regulation or the use of imported labour to undercut wages and conditions.

Skill is about more than an apprenticeship served and work experience gained. There are skills held within the team of workers that belong only to the team, not to the individual worker. The culture of this higher order of skill is very strong in Italy, and is strongly encouraged from earliest school on through post-school professional and technical training, to specific preparation for a range of skilled work undertakings. The team is not concerned with where it works, it will have little interaction with the place where an installation, building, plant, process is being put in place. All of that aspect is dealt with by management - housing, catering, health care, entertainment will be provided at an agreed standard, as will equipment including clothing and all tools, as well as intensive prior training on any special requirements of a particular job. Social interactions, the world of family, friendships, private life arrangements remain at home, as do all the politics and negotiating of terms of work.

Labour is homogenised, packaged, honed and delivered. It cannot be surprising that there are economies both external and of scale that undercut any heterogeneous, undirected, disorganised labour offer, no matter how individually skilled, without any undercutting of local wages and conditions rates.

Labour delivered 'all'Italiana' undermines so many values and practices embodied in labour relations and their interweaving with local life and locally based industry. It also lays bare the irrelevance of much New Labour policy - educational, work and training, and as for social policies - where do you start?


Caronte said...

Sure, HG. But why are Italian workers not marching, protesting or complaining at the hundreds of British workers employed in the oil industry in Italy, all in places like Ancona and Taranto and Ragusa, where unemployment is rampant. Why is nobody claiming "Italian jobs for Italian workers". I cannot believe that this is because British workers are exceptionally and universally attractive and loved. Any offers?

Anonymous said...

Good post, HG, and from experience in technical teams I have worked on, I would say you are perfectly correct.

Unfortunately as recession bites, people will look for any way to blame "the other" for their misfortunes. It could get unpleasant.

Caronte's question is an interesting one. Are there really hundreds of Brits employed in Taranto and Ragusa? I would have expected various local "interests" would have made that impossible, but I speak from ignorance perhaps.

Sue said...

No, this runs deeper.

This is not just about jobs.

This is about ID cards, general uncontrolled immigration, no smoking pubs/working man clubs,crap schools, diseased hospitals, spying on bins, emails and phones, rising taxes, greedy bankers and politicians....

It's merely the straw that broke the camels back...

John East said...

Caronte is making a common mistake which the evil Brown and his useless government are trying to hide behind.

The apparent paradox between the incidence of UK demonstrations, and a lack of mirror protests in Europe against British immigrant workers is easy to explain. Brits who go abroad and apply for jobs generally do so in a free market, competing against locals and other immigrants for individual jobs.

The foreign workers shipped into the Total oil refinery did not compete with local workers for the jobs. Local workers were excluded.

Can you not appreciate the difference?

Furthermore, idiot Brown, or was it idiot Mandelson?, announced today that the Italian and Portuguese workers were not on lower rates of pay than local workers, therefore this arrangement is OK. Which begs the question, "Why are the employers providing a floating hotel for the Italians and the Portuguese, and bearing the cost of their airfares to bring them over here when presumably employing local workers must have been cheaper if the foreigners are on the same pay rates?

Is it generosity, or is Gordon lying yet again?

hatfield girl said...

There is a poor reaction to the aggression expressed towards Italian workers by some English people, in Italy. This is not being widely reported here but it isn't doing any favours to those foreigners with jobs in Italy.

Apart from that, it is shaming that some Italian work teams are now expecting to be compensated for working in, shall we say 'unfriendly' conditions. That kind of premium is usually paid in the developing world, not western Europe.

But my post is exploring the delivery of labour as a pre-packaged input rather than one side of a negotiated arrangement with capital by individual owners of their labour, even if organised into unions. And labour delivered wholly disengaged from locality, or external, non-labour factors like family or social consumption. ( Part of the bitterness during the closing of the mines was the destruction of the mining communities. The Northern Rock Foundation has as a major purpose the preservation of the mining community culture.)

This kind of relation between labour and other factors of production, that is being contested by English workers, carries implications for the way we make both governments and large firms, often as big as some states, answerable to pluralist democracy.

To play the nationalist card, as has been done by Brown and in truth by Mandelson, despite his pretence that he is condemning the behaviour which he has fitted narrowly onto a nationalist explanation, is anti-democratic, authoritariaan opportunism posing as being communitaire.

Caronte said...

I never expected I would miss old-style, internationalist socialism, as opposed to today's corporatist and chauvinist variety. But I do now. Come back Tony Cliff, all is forgiven.

Caronte said...

JE, competing in teams is just as much competition as competing individually. There is no difference in EU law. Simply not enough team spirit in Britain.

hatfield girl said...

Corporatist and chauvinist socialism is fascism. That's what is so objectionable about Brown and Mandelson.
(Well, among other, personal, characteristics that make most of us feel sick).

John East said...

Caronte, I'll beg to differ, but even if my distinction between individuals and teams is irrelevent, it's a mute point.

This is because, as the coming depression unfolds, I am sure that the rather modern concepts of free movement of labour and Eu harmony, promoted by the chattering classes during a period of plenty, are unlikely to survive in a climate of mass unemployment and deprivation.

You and I might object to the racial aspects involved in this debate, but you cannot deny reality which always has a nasty habit of contradicting liberal ideology and social engineering.

Anonymous said...

"...anti-democratic, authoritariaan opportunism..."

From the Labour Party?

You don't say.

And John East, that would be moot point. Mute is something quite different.

Caronte said...

It turns out that IREM, the Syracuse company hiring Italian workers at Grimsby, is also employing over a hundred British workers at Porto Viro, in the province of Rovigo in the North-East of Italy.

The company vice-President Mr Nello Messina, interviewed in today's Repubblica, declares that the company never had any trouble over them.

John East said...

Thanks anon. I'm glad this debate wasn't focused on my opinions concerning the decline in educational standards under NewLab