Unite policy conference delegates backed a statement on Europe from the union’s executive council yesterday (July 14), which demanded trade union input into the ‘Brexit’ negotiations.
Warning that workers must not pay the price for Brexit the statement said that Unite would, “Oppose a ‘Brexit’ that reduces trade union rights, excludes Britain from the EU single market and fails to deal fairly with the difficult issue of the free movement of labour, which requires further debate in the trade union movement.
“We further need to ensure that the British and Irish governments do not launch a race to the bottom in terms of social protection, workers’ rights, and corporate tax – and do not allow multi-national capital to play one government off against the other.”
Recognising the concerns felt by Unite members and millions of other working people expressed in the referendum over austerity and other issues such as the abuse of the free movement, the statement went on to say, “The referendum result was as much a rebuke to an out of touch political and economic elite as it was about the EU itself.
“However, those who led the ‘Leave’ campaign clearly have no idea as to how to give effect to its result or cope with the economic consequences of the decision.”
Carrying the statement delegates asked Unite to focus on the three key priorities of defending Unite members’ jobs, the protection of employment rights and opposing the racist backlash unleashed by the vote to leave the European Union.
Concluding the statement went on to say, “Working people must be given the chance to choose their path out of the crisis.
“This will demand new policy responses, not least to the deprivation and alienation caused by six years of austerity and thirty years of deindustrialisation, and we look to Labour to give a lead on meeting those challenges in the interests of working people.”
Moving the statement Unite assistant general secretary Steve Turner said, “While we’re clear that there should be no rush into ‘Brexit’ discussions or the triggering of Article 50, we will demand a seat at any ‘Brexit’ table.
“We have a voice, role and demands to make during any negotiations on behalf of millions of working people. We’re ready to work constructively where we can with employers and the government to confront job losses and secure future investment – to retain skills and campaign for new work.
“The cost of ‘Brexit’ will not be paid by working people and we will oppose a ‘Brexit’ that reduces trade union rights or excludes us from the single market.”
During the debate many speakers expressed disgust and concern about racist attacks on EU workers.
Conference heard from London and Eastern region’s Alexandra Tomczak. She told delegates, “My workplace is as diverse as all of London is. I’ve been here 11 years. I’ve always felt welcome – until June 24.
“It was a shock. I was sad, tearful, confused then angry. I’ve spent over a third of my life here. Some are blaming us for failures of government and the system.
“We have no guarantee that we can stay. There’s loads of paper work. Your application can be refused without reason and you will lose your money. Some people seem to think it is fine to be racist. It’s not fine to blame immigration. Don’t let hate divide. But now when I see the executive council statement, I trust my union to do the right thing.”
Also from London and Eastern was Francesco Testa. He said, “On June 24 I woke up to find that the world I knew had changed.
“I was so upset about Brexit winning that for first time in 30 years I felt unwelcome in the place I call home. I know the UK is not a racist country and many people who voted Brexit are not racist. But it felt that way. Unite must be actively involved before article 50 is signed.”
Steve Turner reassured delegates, saying, “There are many thousands of EU nationals working here. We must be clear – we will fight to secure the right to remain for every single one of them.
“We will always stand in solidarity with all communities against the disgusting upsurge of racism that’s been unleashed by gutter politics.”
Members facing the prospects of border controls being enforced again also expressed their concerns.
Wendy Clouter from Gibraltar supported the executive council statement. She said, “I need to explain the reality of Brexit for Gibraltar where 96 per cent voted to remain.
“Everybody in Gibraltar knew the seriousness of this decision and now what the outcome means. There will be pressure from the Spanish government; we will have to queue for hours on the frontier; there will be the continuous harassment of not recognizing our British citizenship. What else can we expect now?”
Liam Gallagher from Ireland told conference what the realities would mean for members throughout the island of Ireland.
He believed it would, “Deeply divide whole families. Northern Ireland voted to remain. Ireland is in Europe and is happy to be there. It has a frontier with Northern Ireland.
“Northern Ireland has gained enormously from EU peace settlement funding. There have been huge subsidies in agriculture. All that now remains in doubt – especially with a Tory government. Our hard pressed economy now faces challenges. We must convince companies not to move to Europe. It’s critical for our economy.”
John Murphy also from Ireland region joined the debate. He said, “Over 400,000 people born in Ireland live in the UK. While many people will have UK passports their right of residency might come into question.
“Creating a hard border could re-ignite tension and go back to the Troubles. No one wants to see those days again.
He urged delegates to, “Trust our union to do the right thing and support the statement.”
In his reply to the debate Steve Turner said, “The EC statement is very clear. We will never allow the scapegoating of migrants or refugees. We are incredibly proud of the diversity of our union.
“Your executive will continue to respond to events as they unfold. But now we have immediate challenges to defend jobs and our economy.”