Unite shop stewards representing over 100,000 manufacturing workers travelled from across the UK today (July 17) to lobby Tory MPs for a sensible Brexit that supports key industries and jobs.
Before meeting MPs, Unite general secretary Len McCluskey joined shop stewards and Labour MPs outside Parliament where they gathered in front of a giant roulette wheel to warn that the government’s Brexit chaos is gambling away jobs.
Slamming the Tories’ squabbling over Theresa May’s Chequers’ deal as well as the prime minister’s recent Brexit white paper, McCluskey said that “every single one of our manufacturing companies, every CEO I’ve spoken to has said that they need this confusion done away with.
“They need to plan for investment which of course is key not only for our jobs but for the future of apprenticeships and our kids,” he noted. “We want friction-less trade and tariff-free access to the single market and a customs union – it’s absolutely essential if we are to continue having investment to protect jobs.”
Reps from across industries in manufacturing – from automotive to steel to aerospace and more – explained just how crucial a jobs- and investment-first Brexit is for their livelihoods and the future of their families and communities.
Unite convenor for British Steel in Scunthorpe Martin Foster said his biggest fear is the UK having to pay tariffs “as most of our customers are in the EU.
“If we have to pay tariffs it’s going to hurt and it could jeopardise our industry, particularly our company,” he said. “British Steel is a very young company – we’ve only been established two years. We’re still finding our feet and we really can’t afford the impact that Brexit could have on us.”
Unite Rolls-Royce convenor and executive council member Tam Mitchell explained how vital it was for the UK to be part of the single market and have access to a customs union.
“The aerospace industry in particular is integrated with our European partners,” he said. “If we don’t have seamless transactions through the supply chain, it could massively affect all aerospace companies throughout the UK.”
Like Foster, Mitchell expressed concern over tariffs, which he said could “slow work down and increase costs as well which doesn’t help productivity for our members and the companies they work for.”
Unite BMW convenor Steve Sargeant said his biggest fear over Brexit is lack of investment because of continued uncertainty.
“Companies aren’t going to invest when we’re in this dilemma,” he said. “The government isn’t coming up with any clarity – it changes from day to day. It’s not even month to month or week to week – it’s day to day.
“Companies don’t know what to do,” he added. “Unless these companies are given something certain, they can’t plan for anything. It’s just causing huge concerns for all of our workplaces – we’re desperate for investment and it’s being held back by what the government is doing.”
For Unite Airbus shop steward Darren Reynolds, Brexit is about more than just the present moment – he urged the government to think of future generations.
“We’ve got thousands and thousands of orders on the back log – which is good – however what we need is to be looking at the future,” he said. “These jobs are not only our jobs – we are custodians of these jobs for future generations.
“We’ve got a highly skilled workforce and a highly successful apprenticeship programme on both Airbus sites. Going forward for the youth of tomorrow, they have to know whether they have a job for the future and security. Unfortunately, this government isn’t giving us any answers.”
Unite assistant general secretary Tony Burke said the union shop stewards came to Parliament today to demand those answers.
“We want to demonstrate to this government that we’ve had enough of this Brexit chaos,” he said. “This is damaging decent jobs in manufacturing; it’s going to damage jobs in the supply chain and will damage investment as well. What we’re here to do today is demonstrate to the government that they need to get a grip on Brexit – so far it’s been a disaster.”
“We want a government that speaks with authority and clarity – and if we haven’t got that, which we clearly haven’t at the moment, our call is for them to step aside and go back to a general election, go back to the people and ask what they want,” he said. “That’s because the British people are in the exact same position as our manufacturing companies. They don’t know what’s happening.”
He went on to say that no matter what happens with Brexit, Unite will always put jobs first as he warned companies that they must not use Brexit as an excuse to cut jobs and investment.
“I’ve got a message for those companies – if they think for one minute that we’re going to lie down and allow them to exit the UK, no matter what happens, they’ve got a shock coming,” he said. “Unite will defend our jobs, whatever the decision here is in Parliament.
“In the meantime we’re hoping we can drill some sense in this government or ask them to step aside so that we have a government that can conclude an agreement that is protecting jobs and protecting investment.”