Employers must not use Conservative in-fighting and the challenge of Brexit to let a shadow descend over the future of UK workplaces, the leader of the UK’s biggest union, Unite warned today (Sunday 11 September 2016).
Stating that ‘out of Europe must not mean out of work’, Len McCluskey urged trade unions and their members to seize the opportunity of the ensuing Brexit negotiations to reconnect with working communities and address the issues which caused so many to feel `left behind’ in modern Britain.
He also called for stronger action against the vile racist backlash which has taken hold since the June EU exit vote, proclaiming that this movement stands shoulder-to-shoulder with migrant workers.
Addressing the Trades Union Congress as it gathers in Brighton, Len McCluskey said: “This is not a debate most of us wanted to be having. We took the case for EU membership up and down the country, and fought for the voice of working people to be heard in a campaign dominated on both sides by Tories, but we did not prevail.
“Now this movement has to pick up the pieces to protect workers’ rights, to defend jobs against the background of an unsympathetic government and growing economic uncertainty.
“We also need to recognise why we lost – above all, why so many industrial communities voted to leave.
“It shouldn’t be a mystery. Far too much of Britain has been left behind by globalisation. Whole industries have disappeared, leaving communities derelict and generations without hope.
“Pile on austerity and cuts in services on top, with relentless downward pressure on wages, an elite that has passed the burdens of the crisis onto the less fortunate and it is not surprising that millions of people, including significant numbers of our members, voted to give the establishment a kicking.
“Now while this movement has to accept the democratic decision of the people, one thing has become very clear: No-one knows what Brexit means. Not Theresa May apparently – and certainly not Boris Johnson and their ilk.
“Our basic demands are no reduction in workers’ rights, no loss of jobs and an immediate end to the shameful racist backlash which has taken hold since the referendum.
“We need to say loud and clear – migrant workers in Britain are our brothers and sisters and we stand shoulder-to-shoulder with them against the racists. It is greedy bosses who are to blame here for driving down wages, not migrant workers.
“Nor must Brexit be used as an excuse by big business to cut jobs and investment in Britain. A shadow hangs over too many workplaces today – productive factories like Ford at Bridgend now have their future thrown into doubt.
“We are ready to work with employers to overcome any genuine problems that may exist. But we are not prepared to see Brexit used as a smokescreen for further disinvestment from Britain. Out of the EU must not mean out of work.”
Calling upon unions to seize the challenge of Brexit, Len McCluskey added: “This is an opportunity to reconnect with our members in abandoned communities, an opportunity to break with failed economics and to start the debate as to what sort of country we want Britain to be.
“It was Ernie Bevin who said: ‘When the time comes, if it ever does, for a great struggle between Capital and Labour, I want it to be for something bigger than a penny an hour … I want it to have a very definite object – that of achieving for those who toil, the mastery of their own lives.’
“Brexit is now that struggle. We want a Britain beyond austerity and fear, shaped not by the dismal insularity of the Brexit camp, but by the optimism and generosity of working people.”