Above: Unite’s Policy Conference, the “supreme policy making body of the union”
According to today’s Guardian, Len McCluskey told the Unite group of Labour MPs that a people’s vote (or second referendum) would be seen as a “betrayal” and that the party “has to take concerns about immigration into account and that if politicians had done so sooner we might have avoided the current situation.”
The Labour Campaign for Free Movement is coordinating a response letter from Unite members for free movement and workers’ unity. Hopefully we can use this as a springboard toward building a caucus of LCFM supporters within Unite.
We want to launch soon, tonight, with a set of starter signatories. Text of the open letter is below, and if you are a Unite member, please sign at this link: https://goo.gl/forms/zuASCkeYxwhKhxU53
As Unite members, we are concerned by recent reports that our union General Secretary, Len McCluskey, has privately told Labour MPs that we – his members – want them to vote for a Brexit that clamps down on immigration.
We are proud members of a diverse union that brings together workers of all origins to fight for our common interest. As Labour Party conference voted in September: “stagnant wages, crumbling services and the housing crisis are being exacerbated by the government and employers making the rich richer at working people’s expense, and not immigration.” The idea that free movement depresses wages or drives unemployment is a right-wing lie, disproven by the evidence and designed to set workers against one another. As trade unionists, we recognise when xenophobic sentiment is fuelled to divide us, and we expect our General Secretary to reject such harmful rhetoric and stand up for the rank and file members, many of whom are those same migrants!
Clamping down on our freedom to move, live and work across borders will not solve any of the problems we face, which are down to exploitative employers and the right-wing politicians who serve them. In truth, by leaving migrant workers precarious and at the mercy of unscrupulous bosses, it is anti-migrant policies that threaten to undermine all of us. Our union should work to tear down anti-migrant policies, not to build more.
We call on our General Secretary to clarify whether the reports of his comments are accurate. If so, we call on him to withdraw them and instead to stand up for defending and extending free movement and the rights of all his members [Ends]
Many people, not unreasonably, will assume that what Len is alleged to have said, is in line with Unite policy on Brexit.
In fact, the Unite Executive statement on Brexit, endorsed as policy by this July’s Unite Policy conference (the “supreme policy making body of the union“), says “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”. The statement closes with the following powerful words: “Unite will always reject malign and reactionary right-wing nationalism. We will resist any attempts to divide us. Instead we must recommit ourselves to this eternal truth: we are internationalists or we are nothing.”
This is the full text of the Unite Executive Statement (#2) on Brexit that was passed at Unite Policy Conference 2018 (covering Comp#1, Comp#2, Comp#3, Comp#4, Motion 8, Motion 9, Motion 13 + Amendment)
Unite policy agreed by the union’s 2016 policy conference made it clear that our union accepts the result of the 2016 referendum on membership of the European Union. It also set out our union’s priorities for dealing with the process of Brexit, which included protecting jobs, defending employment rights, and opposing the racist backlash that the referendum campaign unleashed. It also highlighted many potential dangers that a Tory led Brexit could bring.
Since that time our perspective has been vindicated. Riven by internal divisions the Conservative government lacks the political capital, the coherence of ideas or the basic competency to deliver a Brexit which answers the problems the referendum result exposed or to deal with the economic consequences.
Unite has been at the forefront of the UK labour movement in facing up to and addressing the challenges that the Brexit vote presented. This has included extensive political lobbying in the UK, Brussels and other European countries, detailed analysis of the impact of different scenarios, the publication of workplace and online material to give voice to our members’ interests, securing new collective agreements with employers, and hosting Brexit conferences for reps in every region of our union.
In line with the principles identified in our 2016 policy conference Unite remains clear that any Brexit deal must:
- Deliver barrier-free access to the Single Market to ensure ongoing exchange of the goods and services which thousands of our members’ jobs rely on.
- Secure a customs union with the European Union
- Enshrine and enhance working rights, social and environmental protections which are currently based in EU law. These must be transferred into UK law through primary legislation, open and democratically.
- Not undermine the Good Friday Agreement or the economic integrity of the island of Ireland. There must be no hard border between the Republic and the north.
- Protect the integrity of Gibraltar and the right for Gibraltarians to determine their own future.
- Grant the immediate and guaranteed right to remain for European citizens in the UK and their dependents and secure the rights of UK citizens working in other EU countries.
- Retain membership of beneficial European-level institutions or regulatory bodies which are vital to our industrial sectors such as the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA), ECHA (REACH) and Euratom
The current Tory’s government’s abysmal handling of the process has made the prospect of a cliff-edge, no deal, Brexit a genuine possibility.
From manufacturing to finance, services and transport, a cliff-edge Brexit would jeopardise the livelihood of millions of working people and must be avoided at all costs. Unite has lobbied for and welcomed amendments to the Withdrawal Bill which secured a meaningful vote for Parliament to avoid this outcome, and will continue to work for such a process.
However, it remains highly unlikely that the final EU-UK Brexit deal due to come to parliament in the autumn 2018 will satisfy the criteria that Unite and the wider labour movement, including the Labour front bench with its six tests which must be met, have set.
At such a moment Unite will mobilise against the deal. Our priority will be to force an early general election which can lead to the election of a Labour government which would, among other things, reach a better deal with the European Union and improved relations with Europe all round. We are also open to the possibility of a popular vote being held on any deal, depending on political circumstances. Within these principles, the Executive Council has authority to respond as it thinks best to a fast-changing political situation.
Unite acknowledges the concerns regarding the impact which freedom of movement for EU nationals has had on parts of the labour market and some communities, factors which contributed to the referendum vote. Any post-Brexit settlement must consider freedom of movement, which will formally end when the UK is no longer covered by European treaties. Any replacement migration system should focus on comprehensive labour market regulation, addressing the abuse of agency labour and stopping the “race to the bottom” in pay and conditions. Any UK employer wishing to recruit labour abroad should only be able to do so if those workers are covered by a genuine trade union agreement or by sectoral collective bargaining when they arrive in the UK.
Finally, both the cause and consequences of Brexit must be understood in their international context. Working people across Europe and the wider world have endured the decade-long failure of the elites and old political parties to deal with the fallout of the 2008 financial crisis, a failure in which the institutions of the European Union were often complicit.
The resulting alienation, deprivation and discontent has led to the re-emergence of nationalism as a potent political force, most recently seen in the electoral triumphs of Donald Trump in the US and neo-fascist parties in Austria, Italy and Turkey
The global trade union movement must respond to these historic challenges by renewing our fundamental principle of internationalism, while offering working people a genuine route for taking control of their own lives, in the workplace and beyond.
Unite will always reject malign and reactionary right-wing nationalism. We will resist any attempts to divide us. Instead we must recommit ourselves to this eternal truth: we are internationalists or we are nothing.