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A Tale of Two Unions - Industry and the EU

17/06/2016 17:03 | Updated 20 June 2016
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young voter

Like most people, when I get a text, I feel popular, "Who's messaging me? What do they want?" - It's all very exciting. Normally, it ends up being Domino's latest offer, my bank texting me I've hit my overdraft or a message that my local gym is missing me - life's three ways of reminding you you're fat, skint and addicted to pizza.

Last week I received a text from my union, Unite.

"The EU helps your Union fight for better jobs and rights." At least that's what the message said anyway.

After overcoming my disappointment that it wasn't 50% off any large pizza, I felt the need to vent my frustration on twitter - ".@UniteTheUnion; The EU undercuts wages, increases prices, and has crushed heavy industry. I'm voting Leave, mate." I also added that I was considering leaving Unite because they were pressuring me to vote Remain but as expected, I didn't get a reply.

I work in the Chemical Industry on Teesside and the next day I mentioned it to one of my colleagues.

Upon doing so, I discovered I wasn't the only person who had received this text and, to Unite's disappointment, I wasn't the only one voting to Leave.

The text had achieved one thing. It had started a big discussion around the plant. Almost everyone was voting to Leave and were passionate about expressing their reasons for doing so.

For many, they had seen what had happened over the last two years with a local power plant that was being built. The company building the plant had hired unskilled European workers, refused to pay them the going rate and used them for work that should really be done by skilled tradesmen. In the North East we have some of the highest unemployment levels in the country, and for months we had lads lining up the gates, picketing the site to allow local, skilled workers to do those jobs.

For others, it was our contributions to the EU. Whether it's £361million a week, £350million a week, or £276million a week - it's a heck of a lot of money. Given that when the Redcar steel works closed, the government only allocated an £80million support package; the fact that we give more than three times that in one week to the EU is shambolic.

Some people mentioned how the EU's green taxes were harming industry, like ours, in the UK. Both SSI and Tata attribute pulling out of UK steel operations to energy costs and high taxes. And in standing up to Chinese steel dumping the US employed a tariff of over 250%, whereas the EU opted for a measly 25%.

Redcar is a coastal town, so many pointed to the fishing policy of the EU and how it has destroyed fishing towns all around our coast. Like many aspects of the EU it favours big industrial trawlers, while penalising smaller fishermen and fishing communities.

Then it came to me to say why I was voting Leave; and for me their arguments mattered - but for different reasons.

The way I see it, this whole debate boils down to a question of sovereignty and democracy.

I am voting Leave because I believe our policy on immigration should be set by our national parliament, not by Brussels. I think immigration works best when the opportunity to come live and work here is open to all nations based on our needs and their skills, without regard for geography. An Indian doctor should find it just as easy - if not easier! - to come here, than an unskilled Polish worker.

I am voting Leave because no matter what figures you believe, we give at least £276million to the EU per week. Regardless of how much they hand out in various subsidies for different EU projects, we hand over control of that money - and don't get a great deal back. Surely it should be up to our national parliament to decide how to spend that money, not down to Brussels.

I am voting Leave because I want out national parliament to set our fishing policy, our agricultural policy, our carbon emissions policies - I want our national parliament to be able to decide whether or not to charge VAT on tampons!

And here's the crux of it all - I want our national parliament to be able to decide all of these things, because at the heart of it, is democracy. Every 5 years, we choose who sits on our green benches and who gets the boot. Last year I was honoured to stand for parliament - unfortunately I didn't win - but had the good people of Redcar wished it so, I could've been representing them.

We don't get to vote on who represents us in the EU commission, we don't get to vote on who the Presidents of the EU Commission, the EU Parliament or the EU Council are, we have no feasible way of removing these people from their positions of power and as such - we do not live in a democracy!

So, in response to Unite's text, the EU has done nothing to protect the jobs of the local lads lining the gate, the steel workers at SSI and the fisherman across our coast. It has undermined democracy and skirted accountability. I believe one of the most important rights in any society is the right to vote on who governs you (and for that vote to count).

And so, to put it as one Geordie did to me; I'm voting to gan!

HuffPost UK Young Voices is running a month-long focus on the EU Referendum, examining what is at stake for Britain's young people on 23 June and why it's imperative you register to vote and have your say. If you want to have your say and blog on our platform around this topic, email ukblogteam@huffingtonpost.com. Register to vote here.

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