The P&O management’s monstrous decision to summarily sack 800 of its employees, in order simply – and expressly – to replace them by cheaper foreign labour, has caused huge distress here in Hull. Hull is of course – or perhaps now was – one of P&O’s main ports, for travel to Rotterdam and back (they used to sail to Zeebrugge too, but no longer), with the result that scores of my fellow Hullites have been put cruelly out of work in a matter of minutes. I’ve sailed overnight on the Pride of Hull several times, without any complaints; it’s a pleasant voyage, and gets you to the Continent refreshed and relatively carbon-free. But I doubt whether I ever will again. It’s not as if the company can’t find the labour – sailors, engineers, cabin-cleaners, stewards, etc; only that they reckon that the staff they have are too well paid. Hence their recruitment of workers who will undercut them; who will of course now have to be specially and hurriedly trained to run ships that very few of them will have been familiar with before. I wouldn’t like to sail with them in a storm.
I’m wondering whether this moral crime – a bishop has called it a ‘sin’ – was in any way enabled by Britain’s leaving the jurisdiction of the EU? I’ve not yet been able to find this out. It may well contravene British labour laws too. But even if not, the decision is certainly consistent with one of the principles espoused by the leaders and the financiers of the Brexit movement: to do away with ‘restraints on trade’ that they then blamed on the EU. ‘Neoliberals’ were in the vanguard of UKIP and of the other pro-Brexit movements. Labour legislation went against their understanding of what constituted ‘freedom’: which included the freedom of employers to hire and fire.
It’s not at all clear that those who voted for Brexit – including a majority of Hullites – fully understood this; having been seduced by the argument that Brexit would free Britons from ‘foreigners’. The foreign (Dubai) owned P&O management, and the scores of foreign ‘scabs’ being brought in to run ferries like the Pride of Hull – no longer much for Hull to be proud of – should disillusion them about this; and maybe about the beneficence of the capitalism ‘red in tooth and claw’ that we seem to be headed towards today.
My adoptive city has been through a lot over the past century: depression, German bombs, the destruction of its fishing industry, more depression, and the mockery of Southerners. It doesn’t deserve this.