Hilary Benn was out and about yesterday urging people to “buy British” when choosing their food and drink. This made me vaguely wonder whether to expect calls for a more general campaign to help UK industry during the recession. Unions, bishops, Labour MPs, UKIP; that sort of thing.
And then I spotted this story in the Telegraph this morning about US Democrats insisting on a “Buy American” clause in Barack Obama’s $750bn fiscal package; the obvious implication being a lurch towards protectionism by the world’s biggest economy.
Unite, Britain’s biggest union, is taking a measured approach to the idea. A spokesman points out that in a global economy it’s not so easy to know what is or isn’t made in the UK. Do you count a Japanese-branded car produced in Britain? Or what if some of the components are British and others are not?
Instead Unite is more focused right now about British jobs. Specifically, the use of overseas workers by the energy industry. There is a gathering of union delegates in London tomorrow to discuss the possibility of action over Staythorpe, a new power station in Nottinghamshire, where French construction firm Alstom (hired by Germany’s RWE) is lining up some workers – via subcontractors - from outside the UK.
Jerry Hicks, who is challenging Derek Simpson to become joint head of Unite, says the situation is “outrageous”. “The union needs to confront the employers and regain control by organising a national campaign for industrial action,” he says.