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Working People Are Crucial to the EU Referendum Result - Their Voices Need to Be Heard

06/04/2016 11:16 | Updated 06 April 2016

Polling released this week by the Fabian Society shows that the arguments of Remain campaigners aren't enthusing working class voters to turn out, let alone vote to stay part of the European Union.

Many feel they have been excluded from the referendum debate, which thus far has been dominated by Tory splits and warnings from the City.

This poll provides ample evidence that the trade union movement can be far more than bit players in the drama unfolding between now and polling day on 23 June. Unions are the most trusted voice for the blue collar workers (categorised in the poll as C2DE voters) whose turnout will be crucial to the result.

The issues that matter to these voters most are jobs, immigration, the NHS and rights at work.

The Remain campaign has, so far, won the jobs argument. But they have done so by concentrating on the impact of Brexit on business, and that isn't going to mobilise many working people to vote.

It's worth remembering that, while business should absolutely have its say in the debate, business leaders have few votes, and popular elections are won around the kitchen table rather than in the board room.

On immigration, the polling found that the Leave campaigns are winning the argument so far. Again, the Remain campaign has focussed on the benefits of migration for business and for the economy as a whole, whereas past TUC research has shown that what working people want to hear is that policymakers are stopping bad bosses from undercutting local workforces.

Leave campaigners have also been successful in arguing that the cash-strapped NHS would be bailed out by leaving the EU, and beds unblocked if Eastern European migration was reduced. Here, the Remain campaigners have been all too silent - unions know that the people leading the Leave campaign are, predominantly, hostile to the values of a publicly-run National Health Service, and certainly don't have its best interests at heart.

The financial pressures on the NHS are wholly down to the actions of the present government, and UKIP's business backers are just as committed as the Eurosceptic Tory right to privatising the NHS. And the suggestion that migration is putting pressure on the NHS, when it is in fact the Government and US-fuelled private health interests, ignores the vital work that migrants do in keeping the NHS and social care functioning.

But it is on rights at work that the silence is most deafening. TUC analysis last month showed how many of the workplace rights we now take for granted are guaranteed by EU law, following years of trade union campaigning.

Unions know that the supporters of Brexit, including many unscrupulous businesses, would relish the chance to rip up workers' rights if they had the chance, so it's not surprising that the Leave campaign are refusing to admit which rights they would take away if we left the EU. But would you trust Nigel Farage with maternity rights? Or Boris Johnson with equal rights for everyone to paid holidays?

Polling shows that people value the workplace rights that unions across Europe have won from the European Union. They don't, at first glance, think they would be under threat if we left. But remind them of the attitudes of the ministers who would be running the country after 23 June, and the proportion of C2DE voters who think their rights would in fact be at risk leaps from 38% to 59%.

TUC General Secretary Frances O'Grady has rightfully warned that David Cameron that he is in great danger of losing the referendum if he doesn't start telling working people what's in it for them. And given that this report shows that trade unions can play a crucial role in mobilising for a Remain vote, it's time he stopped his unnecessary and divisive attacks on unions.

We are needed now more than ever.

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