Unions must fight for Brexit that put jobs and workers first, Unite’s Steve Turner tells TUC

We must fight for a Brexit that puts jobs and workers first, argued Unite assistant general secretary Steve Turner on the first day of the TUC conference in Brighton yesterday (September 10).

Moving General Council Statement 1 in his capacity as a TUC general council spokesperson, Turner said that as trade unionists, “it is our job, our duty to ensure that on leaving the European Union, we do all we can to protect jobs, fair trade and workers’ rights.”

He highlighted the importance of decent, safe, well-paid unionised jobs, as well as a level playing field on workers’ rights and ongoing access to our largest market, which would protect millions of jobs dependent on barrier-free, tariff-free trade.

Turner said we must also protect “long-fought for consumer, citizen, environmental and human rights, alongside fair migration rights for UK and European citizens.”

He reminded Congress that while trade unions alongside the Labour party campaigned on a platform of remain and reform, people voted for Brexit to “reject Tory austerity as much Brussels bureaucracy”. This austerity continues to “attack wages, close local services, underfund our NHS, attack our welfare state and drain people of hope,” Turner said.

He added that the hard Brexit the Tory government is now pursuing “would lead to a growing economic and investment crisis, on-going attacks on our rights and undermining of good, secure jobs” which he said “will do nothing to address genuine fears and concerns.”

As the Tory party is at war with itself and the cabinet is more interested in self-preservation and divided by leadership ambitions than securing a deal with Europe that protects the interests of ordinary people, Turner explained just how dangerous the government’s Brexit strategy is.

He outlined how this strategy is “putting at risk the good Friday agreement and peace in Ireland” and “fueling the language of hatred and far right activity in our workplaces and communities.”

Pointing out how trade unions had “won the narrative for a transition period,” Turner said that trade unions now must continue in their demands as they fight for a “negotiated settlement that provides longer term tariff-free, barrier-free fair trade with our largest market” and “trade that maintains millions of good jobs, in industries that allow us to fund the decent public services we rightly demand.”

Turner praised the General Council Statement for “tackling the hard questions that government won’t” and for laying out trade unions’ “vision, aspiration and intent” on Brexit.

As he concluded, Turner reminded Congress, “We’re natural-born negotiators — we know that you keep all options on the table until the deal’s done.”