Unite general secretary Len McCluskey has warned that working class communities face the `fight of their lifetimes’ to fend off a ‘hard’ exit from the European Union.
He issued the warning today (February 2) as he addressed over 200 Unite workplace representatives and shop stewards at a special conference on the impact of Brexit convened by the union in Liverpool.
As the government reveals its white paper setting out its priorities for Brexit, McCluskey reiterated his union’s determination to fight to retain tariff-free access to the single market.
And he warned that trade deals drawn up in the ‘top floor of Trump Tower’ can only spell harm for the working class communities of the UK.
“There is no doubt that this government’s approach to Brexit risks jobs and risks investment in our economy,” McCluskey said, addressing the conference. “In setting her face against single market access, prime minister Theresa May is not just refusing to listen to workers, she is deaf to the concerns of the manufacturing industry too.
“We are on tenterhooks waiting for the next wave of investment in major companies,” he added.
“And Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn, despite private guarantees from the government, has warned that companies will want to see the results of talks between the UK and the European Union before decisions are made to invest.
“In the north west alone, over 300,000 are employed in manufacturing, the highest for any region,” McCluskey explained. “So we need to hear that the markets upon which these jobs and hundreds of thousands like them depend will not be closed off.
“Those who claim ‘No deal is better than a bad deal’ simply do not live in the real world. They certainly don’t live in the world of Unite’s members anxious to know that they will still have a job at the end of this process.
“I say again, people may have voted to be out of the EU, but they did not vote to be poorer or to be out of work,” he highlighted. “We are now, then, in the fight of our lifetime to defend working class communities from the ‘hard’ Brexit zealots.”
McCluskey also warned that a hasty trade deal with the US is not in the interests of the UK people.
“Consider what an America-first president would demand from the United Kingdom in return for a trade deal – open access to our National Health Service for US private healthcare; the side-lining of trade union rights; the destruction of our food and farming standards,” he said.
“Be in no doubt – he may give us a few crumbs from his trade table, but president Donald Trump will want our soul in return.”
“In Liverpool we are still rebuilding our city from the effects of the last great Anglo-American romance,” he added. “We know all too painfully what that did to our communities, this waterfront, and our children’s aspirations that time.
“It’s families and communities in cities like these – and across the rust belt in America – that always pay the price for the free-wheeling, winner takes all capitalism that Thatcher and Reagan revered in their day – and Theresa May and Donald Trump pursue today.
“So while we accept the decision to leave the EU, we will never accept a Brexit that will be paid for by working class communities cobbled together on the top floor of Trump Tower.”
McCluskey promised that Unite will lead the fight to resist a ‘hard’ Brexit.
“Our union – the biggest organisation of working people across this country – has a responsibility to build alliances to defend the decent jobs upon which our communities rely,” he said.
“We will not shy away from engaging in this, the most important recasting of our economy since the second world war, because anything less would be a gross dereliction of the duty we have to defend working people.”
Attending the conference were over 200 representatives and shop stewards from across manufacturing sectors, including aerospace, automotive, chemicals and print, joined by those from the finance, construction and public sector.
The conference can be followed on Unite’s liveblog here.