The TUC and labour movement should embrace Brexit or become irrelevant

The TUC and labour movement should embrace Brexit or become irrelevant

The TUC is in real danger of losing credibility and influence – and if its leadership continues to attempt to subvert the result of the EU referendum, it will become irrelevant to the political discourse, as irrelevant as the Lib Dems have become. The same applies to the 49 Labour MPs who voted for that amendment to the Queen’s Speech before the summer recess, seeking to keep the UK as a member of the single market.

Having failed to convince workers to vote remain in the EU referendum, the TUC now hopes through the camouflage of ‘making jobs and prosperity a priority’, to keep the UK’s continued membership of the single market an option in the negotiations with the EU and effectively negate the result of the referendum. But ‘making jobs and prosperity a priority’ only makes sense in the context of leaving the single market and negotiating access to it. Then and only then could we talk of making anything a priority in negotiations because, if we were to remain in the single market, we’d have its rules and regulations including the freedom of movement of labour, capital, services and goods imposed on us: there’d be no opportunity to make anything a priority, be that jobs, prosperity or living standards. The whole exercise is a sleight of hand by the TUC to renege on the outcome of the EU referendum.

This debate has been had. The TUC was one among many including the IMF, the World Bank, NATO, the OECD, the CBI, the Bank of England and the Treasury – not to mention David Cameron and his Government – who warned us of the ‘economic Armageddon’, the ‘calamitous job losses’ and – the TUC’s favourite – the ‘bonfire of workers’ rights’ that leaving the EU would bring. With these warnings ringing in their ears, a majority, 17.4 million, voted to leave the EU. To attempt to resurrect that debate again under the guise of ‘making jobs and prosperity a priority’ is disingenuous and in doing the TUC places itself at odds with the majority of trade union members who voted to leave and even a greater majority who demand we get on with it.

The position of the TUC and the 49 MPs who supported the Umunna amendment is untenable since staying in the single market drives a coach and horses through the Labour manifesto which the TUC claims to support and on which those 49 MPs were elected. Measures such as bringing the railways back into public ownership, supporting British industry, changing procurement rules to benefit British contractors and halting the creeping privatisation of the NHS – measures that the TUC has championed and all Labour MPs were elected to promote – will not be possible if we remain a member of the single market.

The support Labour received at the general election was not a lucky accident. It could not have been possible had Labour not fully embraced Brexit with a promise to leave the single market and end the freedom of movement. In fact, the moment when the Labour manifesto was amended to include ‘the freedom of movement of labour will end as we leave the European Union’ was the moment when Labour’s fortunes began to turn and Theresa May’s campaign began to unravel. This change committed Labour not just to leaving the single market, but to leaving the customs union as well, both of which demand the free movement of labour. This allowed Labour to put forward an industrial strategy that defies EU rules and regulations, without being accused of hypocrisy and deception.

With both main parties coalescing on leaving the single market and ending the free movement of labour, attention quickly moved to the economy where Labour offered hope and the Tories offered despair. Hope got traction, especially with the younger generation.

The political elite à la Guardian et al claim that the younger generation voted for Labour thinking it stood for ‘soft Brexit’ and that’s the reason, they argue, for Labour to keep open the option of remaining in the single market. But that sits awkwardly with the very same political elite commending the very same younger generation for their intelligence and knowledge when they reportedly voted to remain in the EU. What happened in the space of twelve months to turn those thoughtful young people into ignoramuses when it came to the general election? What riles the political elite is the fact that voters understand the issues and vote accordingly.

At the TUC conference in Brighton next week, the TUC has a chance to redeem itself; it may be its final chance to do so before workers turn their back on it altogether. Trade unions must decide if they are serious about pursuing the policies they argued for, congress after congress, for the past two or three decades; serious about an industrial strategy that represents the views and reflects the interests of their members. If they are, they must reject the TUC’s attempt to derail Brexit through its prevarication about the single market and freedom of movement. Nothing short of resetting TUC policy on Brexit will suffice.

Trade Unionists Against the EU are holding a fringe meeting entitled “Is Socialist planning compatible with the single market?” during the TUC conference at 12.45pm on Monday 11th September 2017 at the Old Ship Hotel, King’s Road, Brighton, BN1 1NR with speakers Kelvin Hopkins MP, Mick Whelan (ASLEF), Paul Embery (TUAEU) and Jacqui Johnson (former President, UCU).