Community has today backed a people’s vote on the final Brexit deal negotiated by the government. Roy Rickhuss, Community’s General Secretary, led a debate at the union’s national executive council, and proposed a comprehensive policy on the issue which was then agreed.
Speaking after the meeting, Roy Rickhuss said: “It is a basic principle of trade unionism that once a deal has been negotiated, the people it affects have the right to vote on it. Theresa May is currently negotiating on behalf of us all, and by the looks of it we could be heading for a very bad deal indeed. If that is the case, Community members and their families stand to lose a lot. A people’s vote would give us all the chance to decide if the deal is good enough, and if we reject it then all options should be back on the table.”
The full policy agreed by Community’s NEC is below.
Community and its predecessor unions have represented working people for centuries. As the world has changed around us, we have always sought to shape that change in the interest of our members. Politics matters to our members, their families, and the industries in which they work and we are proud of our record as a politically active, campaigning trade union.
There is no greater political challenge facing the UK than Brexit. Whether someone voted remain or leave and whether they think the process of leaving is going well or badly, no one can deny that the UK leaving the European Union will have a profound effect on all our lives.
During the referendum campaign, Community supported remaining in the EU. This was a position democratically decided by our conference and one that was supported by the vast majority of the trade union movement. However, when the country voted by 52% to leave, we accepted that outcome.
Academics and political commentators will undoubtedly continue to study the reasons for the 2016 result for many years to come. As a trade union, our role is simply to serve the interests of our members and their communities. Although there is no way of knowing how each Community member voted, we know that in many traditional working class communities, trade union members voted to leave.
Much has been written in the past two years about the reasons why people voted the way they did, with stories of people feeling ‘left behind’ by the pace of economic change and a sense that a traditional British identity had been eroded by the growing economic and political union of European states. Whatever way our members voted, we can say for sure that no one believed they were voting against their own interests. People voted on the basis of the information and arguments presented at the time. No one voted to be poorer or to lose their job. No one voted to harm British manufacturing or to make food more expensive.
Yet the approach taken by the Conservative government now makes all that more likely than when the country voted to leave. Since the referendum, Theresa May could have sought to work pragmatically with all UK political parties, and with other European leaders, to deliver the best deal for Britain. Instead, the Prime Minister has spent the past two years trying to hold her own party together as it tears itself apart over Europe. The Labour Party has equally failed in its duty as an opposition to hold the government to account, and has yet to clearly set out its own policy on Brexit.
There is now a very real possibility of the UK actually leaving the European Union with ‘no deal’, or with one that does not allow for the same frictionless trade that the single market and customs union currently provides. The effects of this would potentially be catastrophic for Community’s members and the industries in which they work.
Community, and the whole trade union movement, is led by its members. It is the responsibility of union officials to negotiate the best deal they can with employers, but ultimately, it is our members who will decide if that deal is acceptable. In this instance it is the government, rather than Community negotiating on our members behalf, but the same principle remains. There is perhaps no deal which will have a greater impact on our members jobs than the one our government is currently seeking to negotiate.
The UK now has one of the worst performing economies in the G7, having been the best performing in the year prior to the referendum. A slow economy, combined with the fact that around half of all our manufacturing exports go to the EU, presents a real threat to Community’s members working in heavy manufacturing. Any deal that makes trade with the rest of the EU more difficult will surely see those exports decline. Meanwhile, the sluggish economy will hit sectors such as construction particularly hard, which in turn will hurt foundation industries such as steel.
Those workers working in light manufacturing and consumer goods are also set to lose out, with estimates suggesting that textiles, clothing and footwear production will see the largest decline post-Brexit. Indeed, across the whole of UK manufacturing, it is the footwear sector that is most dependent on trade with the EU.
The slide towards a ‘no deal’ Brexit threatens jobs in the finance sector. Under a ‘no deal’ scenario, businesses would lose their ‘passporting rights’, which allow them to sell their services across the EU without having to obtain licences in each individual country. Meanwhile charity workers are set to lose out with UK charities losing over a quarter of a billion pounds in EU funds.
The uncertainty caused by the government’s approach to Brexit is impacting workers right across the economy. Big firms in the UK’s logistics sector have been clear that they already expect significant disruption, regardless of what is achieved in the final deal. At the same time, self-employed workers now see Brexit as the single biggest threat to the future of their business. While the direct impact of a bad Brexit will be more profound for some than others, Community’s members and their families will all feel the effect in some way, with estimates suggesting that by June 2017, Brexit was already costing the average UK household over £404 a year.
Community’s position now
The referendum of 2016 cannot and should not be rerun. The country and its voters have moved on, and we can now only face the facts and choices before us today. Those facts are profoundly different to those presented in 2016. The promise of £350m a week for the NHS has been proved worthless. The guarantee that our trading relationship with the EU would not be harmed was at best a mistake, and at worst a deliberate lie.
The 2016 referendum allowed the government to negotiate our withdrawal from the European Union. The majority of people, including many Community members, voted to ‘take back control’ and it is now in their best interests to take control of what our future relationship with Europe looks like. Community supports the ‘People’s Vote’ initiative, which would give the British people a final say on the deal, or lack of one, negotiated by their government.
The evidence before us means that Community members must have the right to vote on whether the final deal, or indeed no deal, is an acceptable outcome. If that outcome is rejected, then all options should be on the table, including staying in a reformed Europe with all the benefits that being a member of the customs union and single market will bring. It would be an abdication of responsibility for our union not to support this position. Community would not shy away from asking our members to vote on important or difficult issues in the workplace; our politicians must do the right thing and give the people a vote on their future.