Workers have nothing to gain from Brexit

Submitted by Matthew on 25 May, 2016 - 1:00 Author: Matt Wrack, General Secretary, Fire Brigades Union

This debate is between one set of people who want to exploit us in Europe, and one who want to exploit us out of Europe.

It is about two people battling for the leadership of the Tory Party. If there is a big vote to leave the most likely outcome is that Boris Johnson will replace Cameron as Prime Minister. There is absolutely nothing to gain for working people from a vote to leave.

The FBU argues that the trade union movement needs a completely independent position. We should have nothing to do with any of the official campaigns. I was appalled to read the joint letter by Brendan Barber and David Cameron the other week and I complained to the TUC over that. This is a government that is attacking us on every single front and we should not line up with them on this issue.

But we can’t stand aside. Millions of people are grappling with this; there are difficult and complicated issues involved.

There is a phrase that is used on the left about the EU. That the EU is a “bosses’ club”. Yes. It shouldn’t come as any surprise. We live in a capitalist world! It is a bosses’ club. But so is UK plc. The British state is a long-standing capitalist club where the rules of the game have been set to support big business, and to mobilise forces against our people, as we try to organise.

We don’t defend the status quo in the EU. We are well aware of what happened in Greece; austerity and the role of the EU institutions against Greek workers. In the FBU have tried to build practical solidarity with Greek workers.

But the one thing that is missed in this discussion is the history of the British establishment in driving, austerity, privatisation, attacks on workers. In the history of those ideas two figures stand out —Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher. The people who argue this is all about the EU neglect the central role of Thatcher, Blair and Brown in establishing the neoliberal agenda.

The problem of privatisation in the UK has been down to decisions made by UK governments, going far beyond anything the EU has ever demanded.

Another thing never seriously addressed by those campaigning for a left exit is the question of an alternative trade model. What are the implications of negotiating new trade deals? It is not surprising that those unions which have a base in manufacturing, like Unite, have a real and practical concern about the effect of a Brexit on jobs. There is a real threat here.

I don’t prettify the situation in the EU, but it does provide rights for workers and this has very real impact on people’s lives, such as limits on the length of the working day.

Because this debate is not on our agenda, it has been dominated by the question of immigration. The left has to come out clearly and challenge the lies and distortions that are being fed by the right wing. It wasn’t migrants who caused the economic crisis, it was the failings in the capitalist system. It isn’t migrants who are stretching public services, it is a lack of investment. It is not migrants that are stopping young people in London from getting somewhere to live, it is a complete failure of the housing market.

If we do leave Europe, the debate in British politics for two years or more will be entirely focussed on the question of migration. The idea that this opens up opportunities for the left is just not credible.
We have come through an appalling economic crisis. It is an international economic crisis. If we are going build resistance then that has to be international resistance. We’ve already not done enough. The unions, the left haven’t done enough.

Leaving will put more obstacles in the way of us building unity between workers in Europe. That is why I am for voting to remain on 23 June.