Letter: Workers lack protection against Maastricht policies

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Sir: The Government's claim that the changes to be brought about by Maastricht are not new, given our earlier adherence to the Treaty of Rome, resembles a claim that there is no essential difference between a first toe into the ocean and a step taking one out of one's depth (report, 8 June).

Unconditional federalists regard the relative decline of Westminster's powers as the essential reason for supporting Maastricht; but many democratic socialists do not and will favour a referendum for reasons different from Baroness Thatcher's. For them the central question is whether this irreversible process is so demonstrably in the interests of the people that their consent need not now be sought in a referendum (having been given no opportunity to refuse it at the last general election).

The Maastricht policies of 'convergence', from which Britain could not in practice escape, create a danger of our being locked in to restrictive policies decreasing public spending for social purposes - a process already begun in many member states.

This is why many democratic socialists would support Maastricht only if the Social Chapter (the Social Protocol and Agreement) were attached as part of the Community's 'social dimension' to protect workers at a time of restructuring and high unemployment.

The social dimension is now in general frail and even the Social Chapter's protection would be limited. For example, while, under it, a qualified majority of member states could adopt Community laws over a wider social area, including 'working conditions', the agreement specifically prohibits measures on freedom of association, the right to strike, or even 'pay'.

Similarly, a 'declaration' attached to it declares that there is 'no obligation' at all on member states to implement European-level collective agreements, or even 'to amend national legislation in force to facilitate their implementation'. Even measures promoted through European collective bargaining - on which many bravely pin their faith - could therefore remain

ineffectual.

Two questions arise: first, how can those who demand that we adhere to the Social Chapter support Maastricht without it? Second, should not those who are going to be most affected in any event be asked their opinion by way of a referendum on this irreversible change?

Workers in Britain look as if they will have neither a vote nor social protection. The elite (in all parties), who currently scoff at the ability of ordinary people to understand these Maastricht issues, should put their beliefs to the the test.

Yours sincerely,

WEDDERBURN OF CHARLTON

London, N6

8 June

The writer is Emeritus Professor of Law, London School of Economics.

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