Unite’s policy conference in July received a large number of motions on Brexit, the vast majority of which were hostile to “no deal”, one (from North West/Automotive RISC) called for “continued participation in and access to the European single market”, several called for a second referendum and one (from West Midlands/Automotive RISC) called upon the union to:
- Campaign against any Brexit deal that would harm UK jobs and economy by the introduction of trade barriers.
- Campaign against any terms that would have a detrimental impact on UK workers’ rights.
- Campaign to ensure that the UK public has a binding vote to accept the terms of the UK exit from the EU or reject the terms of the UK exit from the EU and remain in the EU.
- In the absence of a public vote on the final Brexit terms, campaign to re-join the EU if the UK leaves the EU with trade barriers that have a detrimental impact on UK workers.
- Ensure the union remains fully committed to all EU trade union federations, alliances and organisations.
There was just one motion (London & Eastern / 1228 Waltham Forest Council Branch) calling for a “socialist Brexit”.
Inevitably, in the compositing process, the motions were combined, generalised and (in the case of the West Midlands Automotive motion), the more outspoken anti-Brexit sentiments were omitted.
This resulted in an executive statement that began by accepting the result of the 2016 referendum, but which did not rule out a second referendum (“popular vote”) on Brexit: “We are also open to the possibility of a popular vote being held on any deal, depending on political circumstances.” It’s not the main thrust of the statement (which is to force an early general election), but it’s there in black and white as a “possibility”.
But anyone foolish enough to have depended upon the Morning Star for information on Unite’s policy emerging from the conference would have got the impression that (to quote the M Star) “the union said No to a second referendum on Brexit.”
Fast-forward to last week’s Labour Party conference: over 150 constituency parties submitted motions on Brexit – by far the highest number of motions on one topic ever submitted into Labour’s complex ‘contemporary resolutions’ process, the overwhelming majority hostile to a “Tory Brexit” and most calling for a “people’s vote”/second referendum.
The final motion passed says:
“Should Parliament vote down a Tory Brexit deal or the talks end in no deal, Conference believes this would constitute a loss of confidence in the Government. In these circumstances, the best outcome for the country is an immediate general election that can sweep the Tories from power. If we cannot get a general election, Labour must support all options remaining on the table, including campaigning for a public vote.”
This text originally said the vote should be on the deal only, but crucially that line was deleted – specifically in order to leave open the option of a new referendum including an option to Remain. Shadow Brexit secretary Keir Starmer confirmed this, including in the debate on the motion. Jeremy Corbyn himself agreed that the motion allows for the possibility of Remain.
But immediately after Starmer’s speech, up jumped Unite assistant general secretary Steve Turner, attacking Starmer for leaving open the option to remain: “And conference that [“public vote”] is not a second referendum. Despite what Keir might have said earlier, it’s a public vote on the terms of our departure. We need to heal the wounds of Brexit, not reopen them”.
In fairness, it should be pointed out that although what Turner said was in clear and obvious breach of Unite policy, he was only repeating what his boss Len McCluskey had said the previous Sunday, to the joy of Brexiteers, on the Pienaar’s Politics show on BBC Radio 5Live: “The referendum shouldn’t be on, ‘Do you want to go back in the European Union’.
“The people have already decided on that. We very rarely have referendums in this country, the people have decided against my wishes and my union’s wishes, but they have decided”.
Just a few days later, Marvin Cooke, managing director of Toyota UK, said that the impact of any border delays in the “unprecedented” scenario of a no-deal Brexit would be hugely damaging for a firm that sources parts from all across Europe and ships them to Britain for assembly. Toyota’s factories rely on the smooth delivery of parts from Europe, from where 1,000 lorries a day cross the channel with parts for car manufacturers in Oxford, the Midlands, the north and the north-east.
Cooke said he was concerned for the Burnaston (Derby) plant’s future, despite recent investment. Burnaston is one of Toyota’s nine manufacturing sites in the EU.
Every time there is a new project, the different locations compete for the work.
Cooke said: “In the longer term the burden of import and export costs would add permanent costs to our business, it would reduce our competitiveness. Sadly that would reduce the number of cars made in the UK and that would cost jobs.”
Peter Tsouvallaris, the Unite union convenor at the Burnaston plant says his members are increasingly concerned: “What we have here are high-value, well-paid jobs.
“And in my experience once these jobs go they never come back. And that’s why we have to do everything possible to keep these jobs in the area.”
Toyota employs around 3,000 people in the UK at two main sites – the vehicle assembly plant in Burnaston, Derbyshire, and an engine site in north Wales.
It is just the latest car manufacturer to warn of the impact of a hard Brexit on the sector, following Jaguar Land Rover, BMW and Honda.
The previous week, Honda said it would look to stockpile some components as a contingency measure. Last month (September), JLR announced 2,000 staff would move to a three-day week at its Castle Bromwich plant – hours after the company was accused of “scaremongering” by moronic Brexiteer Bernard Jenkin.
BMW announced it was planning to shut its Oxfordshire plant for a month to minimise the impact of a no-deal Brexit that it fears would cause a shortage of parts.
Toyota employs 2,500 people at the Burnaston plant
Unlike their Burnaston convenor Peter Tsouvallaris, McCluskey and Turner have so far had nothing to say about the threat to their members’ jobs at Toyota and neither has the Morning Star. The pro-Brexit rag did, however, carry an incoherent sub-Daily Mail rant against Starmer and the EU (“the most unscrupulous, unelected, neoliberal power bloc in the world”) on Thursday of last week from one Jenny Pearson (“an NHS bio-medical scientist and activist in Unite and its predecessor unions”), concluding thus:
In fact it is the craven and uncritical penchant for the EU in many union circles for so long that has almost completely ejected any sense of solidarity with European trade unionists at their moments of need. We even turned away from the crisis torn in our nearest English speaking neighbour, Ireland, as the EU bubble burst on its shores.
As John McDonnell and Len McCLuskey have made plain, a remain option is no longer an option in either an election or a referendum.
Starmer needs to step aside and let some serious politicians and negotiators take over. The job title by the way is shadow minister for exiting the European Union.
No, I don’t understand what that’s supposed to mean, either: but it sure as hell offers no hope and no way forward for Unite’s automotive members now staring into the abyss at Toyota, BMW, Honda and JLR: presumably, they must be sacrificed to satisfy the pro-Brexit predilictions of McCluskey, Turner and the Morning Star.