Unite launches Brexit strategy for public services

Unite has launched its new Brexit strategy to defend public services, calling for a deal that doesn’t prevent constructive economic reform, lead to continued austerity or risk jobs and workers’ rights.

The strategy focuses on creating a post-Brexit economy that provides secure, well paid jobs through a dedication to properly funded and publicly run services, and public investment in key sectors and industries.

Reiterating Unite’s opposition to a hard Brexit, which would cause massive damage to all sectors in the economy and public services, worsen the cost of living crisis and unmoor the legal basis for many of the UK’s workers’ rights, the document calls for barrier-free access to the single market and a customs union.

While some have argued that the EU prevents the utilisation of state aid and positive procurement to support industries or services, the document points out that other European countries have far more interventionist economic strategies than the UK.

Report author, Gail Cartmail, Unite assistant general secretary, said: “The truth is that successive UK governments have implemented far more rabid agendas of privatisation and austerity. The EU’s limits on state aid and procurement are tame in comparison.

“In fact the government would have to commit to a substantial re-nationalisation programme, covering rail, utilities and parts of the health and social care system, simply to reach parity with what is common today across Europe.”

A recent front page of the Telegraph claimed that Brussels is as concerned about the nationalisation programme of a left-wing Corbyn Government, as they are the de-regulation agenda favoured by Tory Brexiteers. In reality the primary concern in Brussels is simply maintaining the integrity of the European Model, which would be threatened by either a bonfire of regulations in London or an interventionist government which operated outside of State Aid regulations if there was a knock-on impact to Europe.

The Unite report shows that the ability of the UK Government to achieve the barrier-free access to the single market while embracing a progressive procurement and re-nationalisation agenda could have been a feasible aim of the negotiations. However, it is being made all but impossible by Tories’ mishandling of the Brexit talks.

In order to maintain full access to the Single Market the UK would need to commit to maintaining regulatory parity. As the EU has made clear, any bonfire of regulations would result in restricted access. However, achieving greater flexibility of State Aid would be possible were it demonstrated that any planned intervention in the UK economy would not distort the Single Market..

Meanwhile, single market procurement rules already allow public bodies – such as local authorities and NHS trusts – to set a “social value” criteria that allows then to make decisions based on the good of the local community.

All this shows goes to show that it is the Tory Government’s negotiating red lines, based only on their internal political infighting, which have made a Brexit deal which maintains the current benefits of full membership all but impossible.

All of the possible trade deals with the EU available to the UK present varying access to the single market and a form of customs union and present their own advantages and disadvantages in terms of  procurement, state aid and other issues related to public services.

However trade deals with outside nations, such as the US, also pose direct risks to UK public services.

The document is clear that any trade deals with nations outside the EU enshrine workers’ rights and include tough trade defence mechanisms that prevent “dumping” of subsidised goods.

Additionally, the report calls for the exclusion from any trade deal of ISDS “secret courts” that prioritise the rights of investors and corporations over democratic governments, which would allow private companies to sue the government if a public service they had acquired had been taken back into public ownership.

ISDS clauses, containing in trade deals such TTIP, would lead to the very real danger of Britain’s public services being permanently taken over by private for-profit firms.

Cartmail said: “In light of Brexit it falls on the trade union movement to consider if and how trade deals can fit with our ambition for radical social change in the UK and abroad, including the need to defend services, advance the principle of democratic public ownership and end austerity.”

As well as calling for the government to retain and enhance current worker protections derived from the EU, the report highlights the need for like-for-like replacement of EU funding and investment – vital for sectors such as higher education, health, not-for-profit and social work – after the UK leaves the EU.

Brexit must also not mean an end to international cooperation and collaboration, evidenced in vital initiatives like European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control and the European Atomic Agency Community.

Finally, the report calls for the right to remain for EU citizens living in the UK, many of who are vital for the functioning of public services services such as the NHS, and for a fair migration policy.

Unite general secretary Len McCluskey said: “It is as a point of principle and a commitment to internationalism that we support the right to remain for European workers and their families in the UK. This must be reciprocated for UK workers across the European Union.

“Tied to that, Unite is demanding fair labour market regulation which prevents employers from dividing workers on national lines and replaces the ‘race to the bottom’ with a ‘rate for the job’ culture.

“The Tories’ mishandling of the Brexit talks has taken this country to the edge of the precipice and caused no end of uncertainty. Nobody knows for certain what the final outcome will be. One thing is certain. Unite will defend our members and campaign for policies to protect jobs, pay and conditions.”

Download Unite’s Brexit strategy to defend public services here.