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We Cannot Fight for a Better European Union If We Are Out of It

03/09/2016 07:54 pm 19:54:06

This blog is an edited transcript of the address delivered by Unite general secretary Len McCluskey to the German Embassy on Wednesday 9 March

When I vote for Britain to remain in the EU in June, and when I argue for the members of my union and others to do likewise in the months ahead, I will not be voting for the status quo - let me be clear about that.

I will not be voting for the EU which has sought to impose eye-watering austerity, at the expense of the ordinary citizen not the rich, on Ireland, Greece, Spain, Portugal and elsewhere.

I will not be voting for the EU which is seeking to stitch-up a pro-big business trade deal - TTIP - behind the backs of the people of Europe.

And if people don't wake up to this deeply undemocratic stitch-up, we will be condemned by history.

So, I won't be voting for the EU which takes a cavalier view of democracy and the rights of nations to make their own political choices.

And I will, above all, not be voting for David Cameron's renegotiation package - a deal designed to protect the financial interests in the City of London which control the Conservative Party and to pander to anti-migrant and anti-welfare sentiment.

And let me just note in passing that it's disappointing to see how eager European governments were to accommodate him, in stark contrast to the reception given Tsipras of Greece last year.

So what will I be voting for? I will be voting for hope, for solidarity, and for a more democratic Europe. Three tightly connected ideas.

The Trades Union Congress - of which Unite is the biggest affiliate - has rightly not allied itself to the official Remain campaign, dominated as it is by the government.

The role of the trade union movement will be vital in this referendum campaign. I read that some Tories are belatedly waking up to the fact that to defeat their own rebels in the "out" camp they will need the support of tens of thousands of Labour voters.

It's tempting to say - how dare they?

Since their election they have introduced one proposal after another - too many to trouble you with here tonight - to further weaken and undermine the trade unions, and to starve the Labour Party of its traditional source of funding.

So now they need assistance from the movement they wish to destroy.

Well, I'm a professional negotiator, and I would be tempted to make the most of a situation like this.

But it falls to us to behave in a more statesmanlike way, and to look at the bigger issues. Nevertheless, make no mistake, persuading Unite members to vote for a campaign led by such an overtly hostile and anti-democratic government will be a challenge.

Let me, first of all, take hope. The "Remain" campaign is expecting to prevail through Project Fear - terrifying people of the consequences for their jobs, and for migration, if Britain leaves.

Some of that may be justified - I know that many jobs, particularly in manufacturing, WILL be at risk outside the vast market of the EU. But is it not enough. To win, we need hope too.

For eight years now Europe has been in a tunnel marked austerity. Everything has been subordinated to righting the finance-first system that capsized in 2008.

It's time to show people a way out. For Europe to speak as one voice for growth, for investment, for protection for the weakest.

For a Europe that says it's more important for young people to get their future back than it is for bankers to get their money back. Where are the politicians of such vision in Europe today, who can make Europe seem like a cause, rather than a cash register?

But because I believe such a Europe is possible, and that it is the sort of Europe millions of people want, I will argue that Britain needs to be in the EU to help bring it about.

David Cameron says he wants to stay in the EU, but it's his own calls in recent years for UK exclusion from the full range of EU employment and social laws that have created the belief among ordinary people that the European Union is a big business club for the corporate elite.

Cameron's Europe will never make the British heart beat faster.

No. A Europe freed from the rule of the accountant, that can speak to the hope of a better life for all - now, that's a Europe worth voting for.

In the end, the outcome of this referendum will come down to the gut feeling of the British people, when they ask themselves the question: are they better off inside the EU or outside of it?

Let's talk about solidarity. Can we rediscover a European Union of mutual assistance?

After the second world war, billions in US 'Marshall' aid, European economic reconstruction and debt forgiveness all benefited Britain and Germany; and were all key to the re-integration of West Germany with the international community; and were all key to kick-starting a European economic and trade renaissance. Indeed, the Federal Republic had its debt substantially written off in the early 1950s, a gesture of generosity which should not be forgotten.

Nor can we forget how EU transfers have helped some of what were deeply impoverished regions of Europe a generation or two ago to develop and build more prosperous societies.

Given the chance, I believe the peoples of today's European Union would again choose that same ethos of investment, of modern economic reconstruction that holds to account the global corporations and banks that have wreaked so much havoc in recent years.

But the Greek crisis last year showed a very different and less attractive face of Europe. The threat of 'Grexit', the imposition of punishing austerity and the effective subjugation of the national democratic will, showed the EU and Germany's leadership of it in a very unattractive light indeed.

What principle is being upheld when Greece's health service is pushed into ruin, when a generation is reduced to beggary in order to ensure that banks - yes, British as well as German - are repaid on time? It certainly isn't solidarity.

Greece may have, indeed, been in financial crisis due to its own political leadership - but as journalist Paul Mason has said "It may [have been] at the bottom of the economic pecking order, but Europe was supposed to be more than [just] an economy".

Likewise, can any European - any human indeed - be happy at Europe's handling of the refugee crisis. Here I do think it's appropriate to congratulate Angela Merkel for having showed far more humanitarian consideration than most EU governments, including our own. But leaving wretched people to drown, or be gassed by police as we have seen at Calais last week, betrays every ideal for which Europe is supposed to stand.

It should have higher ideals, and solidarity is perhaps the most important.

And I understand full well that leaving the European Union will develop solidarity not one bit - rather it will speed up the rush to beggar-my-neighbour economics and anti-refugee brutality.

So I look forward to the EU referendum campaign as an opportunity to make the case for a broader and deeper solidarity across our continent.

Without solidarity, Europe can only fragment. When Michael speaks, he reminds me how different the situation is between our two countries.

He has co-determination in industry and partnership in governance. We in Britain have domination by the City at the expense of industry, and an adversarial industrial and political culture.

Our Prime Minister regards trade unions as the enemy within. Angela Merkel sees trade unions as a positive partner in German prosperity.

In Britain, working people depend on the EU for a degree of social protection which German workers could probably assume whether or not the Union existed.

Every day UK workers rely on the Social Charter for a range of employment and social rights. For fair treatment in the workplace, paid holiday, maternity leave, the protections afforded through the workers' time directive.

The EU does at least offer British workers these bare minimum of protections.

I want to keep the Social Charter and I want to see it re-established and renewed fit for the 21st century.

But I know that if the "out" campaign were to prevail, many of those rights would be torn up by the triumphant Tory right faster than you could say "Milton Friedman".

However, it's not good enough to look at Europe as simply providing the lowest common denominator of employment rights on elected governments whether they like it or not, while also accommodating every wish of the army of corporate lobbyists stalking the corridors of Brussels.

Your suggestion of a summit, Michael, seems a great idea and we would certainly support it.

There needs to be far stronger democratic mechanisms for allowing the people of Europe to themselves control what is done in their name by the institutions of the EU.

Putting the people in charge is the only lasting way to solve the big problems, like the 'social dumping' - the practice of importing low-wage workers to dilute pay and conditions - which has been allowed to undermine the European labour market to the advantage of the unscrupulous employer.

Given real protection against such abuses would go a long way towards mitigating the concerns about the free movement of labour which we will hear a lot about in the weeks to come.

That's just one issue where a people's Europe would come to a very different conclusion than a bankers, bureaucrats and lobbyists' Europe, of that I'm sure.

So I have a vision of a different Europe to the one on the ballot paper in June. Some of my friends will call me utopian. But I know that the better Europe I hope for will move from being a vision to an impossibility if we follow the Tory right into the "no" camp.

We cannot fight for a better European Union if we are out of it. So I will be voting for the future on 23 June.

Len McCluskey is the general secretary of Unite

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