UK, ITALY: Italian business body hits at Brown

Publisher Name: 
Financial Times

Gordon Brown comes under fire on Tuesday
from an Italian business organisation for appearing to "go wobbly" by
giving wildcat strikers "licence to roll back the years" to a
pre-Thatcherite age of British protectionism.

In an article in
Tuesday's Financial Times, Emma Marcegaglia, chairman of Confindustria,
Italy's equivalent of the CBI, laments the "protectionist tendencies
and raw nationalistic instincts" evident in the dispute over the
employment of non-British workers at the Lindsey oil refinery,
Lincolnshire.

The article reflects widespread business alarm at
the government's initial failure to condemn the illegal strikes, and
its endorsement of a deal requiring an Italian subcontractor to earmark
jobs for British workers.

In a damning critique that will cause
significant political embarrassment to Mr Brown - a self-proclaimed
scourge of protectionism - Ms Marcegaglia contrasts the government's
position unfavourably with Margaret Thatcher's robust defence of free
and open markets.

"Lindsey is an example of precisely what we
need to avoid - each country folding in upon itself and forgetting that
the freedoms of the single market are key to ending this recession," Ms
Marcegaglia says. "A contract fairly competed and fairly won should be
binding and upheld - if necessary by a firm show of support from the
national government. In Mrs Thatcher's words, 'this is no time to go
wobbly'."

The Italian business group sides with the Tories'
verbal assault on Mr Brown's 2007 pledge of "British jobs for British
workers", which featured widely on strikers' banners. Ms Marcegaglia
says the protesters "can be forgiven for thinking" the prime
ministerial promise "gave them licence to roll back the years" to a
pre-1980s protectionist era.

The article suggests Mr Brown could
face some business resistance to his plans to use April's G20 summit of
leading economies in London to showcase his global leadership on
economic issues. Ms Marcegaglia writes that the Lindsey dispute is an
"early warning signal to all the leaders" "that incipient
protectionism . . . will damage us all if it is not nipped in the bud".

She also warns of potential damage to Britain from retaliatory action by companies elsewhere in Europe.

"Lindsey
is a reminder that a large chunk of British industry is foreign-owned
and financed and provides precious employment for British workers," Ms
Marcegaglia says. "But demands to employ only British workers might
lead those foreign employers to take their jobs elsewhere in search of
the same flexibility upon which Britain built its prosperity."

She
points out that at the same time as "Italian workers are being heckled
for taking 'British jobs'," Gruppo Marcegaglia, her family's steel
company, intends to buy a Corus business "that will bring hope to
hundreds of steel workers on Teesside".

The report by Acas, the
arbitration service, on its government-commissioned inquiry into union
allegations surrounding the Lindsey dispute is expected this week.

AMP Section Name:Labor
  • 104 Globalization
  • 107 Energy