THE BLOG

We Face Uncharted Waters and a Country Divided

24/06/2016 11:40 | Updated 24 June 2016
Matt Cardy via Getty Images

I voted remain yesterday. It was not a gleeful, uncritical remain. It was an angry remain. As the results came in, it became clear that the electorate was angry too, but they didn't add the 'remain' part to that anger. And so we face uncharted waters and a country divided.

There will be the temptation in the coming days to re-run the arguments of the referendum. But that won't change the result. The people have spoken.

Over the last few months, I've debated the issue of the EU up and down the country, in supermarkets, care homes, power stations, in the pub and on Facebook and Twitter - the frustration was palpable.

People are frustrated with business as usual. They're frustrated with politics. They don't feel like they've been listened to for far too long and they don't feel like they're in control of their lives. The Leave campaign message honed in on that insecurity with precision.

GMB advocated an 'angry remain' vote. It was a pragmatic vote that said, on balance, we'd be better off in. It was based on the defence of the workplace rights we've fought for via the EU for decades. It recognised the problems with the EU and pledged to fight to fix them.

But the country did not agree - too many couldn't bring themselves to vote for what they saw as a failing status quo.

For example, many of the construction workers we represent - frustrated by years of their pay, terms and conditions being undercut by employers who want to make a few extra quid on the backs of low-paid migrant workers - often said they saw no choice but to opt out to preserve their own jobs and to get a better deal. We know the government could take action, we know those migrant workers are being exploited too, we know that it's the unscrupulous employers driving this race to the bottom; a race that results in social tension and risks community cohesion. But anyone trying to convince people that immigration isn't an issue when their day to day experience says it is (rightly or wrongly) is on a hiding to nothing.

And that's just one example, there are more. Warehouse jobs that are advertised abroad before here. Manufacturing jobs shipped overseas by employers who want cheaper labour than we would accept for British workers.

Simply put, too many people could not see and feel the benefits of remaining because they don't feel they have those benefits in their daily lives right now. The irony being that so many of those issues - like the current strain on public services and lack of housing - were sometimes blamed on the EU for convenience when they really laid at the doorstep of Number 10 Downing Street, the consequence of political choices made in Westminster.

In the coming hours, days and weeks we will see and feel the economic impact of the nation's decision. As I write, the pound is plummeting. There will be an economic shock.

What happens next cannot be the preserve of a government elected with 37% of the vote and a Prime Minister who has lost the referendum he personally committed to, or one who was never actually elected by the people at all. Many of the votes to leave cast yesterday were cast because people rejected the impacts of the flexible labour market and the pursuit of free trade above all else.

Our place in the world cannot be one based on a Tory Party free for all, free market philosophy.
A race to the bottom which prioritises the removal of so-called trade barriers and a flexible labour market above all else will fail working people and the very voters who made their decision to leave. With the prospect of having to accept free movement of labour in order to preserve free trade, there has to be a concerted effort to defend and improve people's protections at work, their pay and general lot in life - that's what GMB will be fighting for, as we always have.

In the immediate term, the Prime Minister must act now, on a cross party basis, to heal and represent the whole county. Not just the rifts in his Party. That means an urgent plan to protect jobs and a guarantee that no workplace rights will face the axe. The next steps should be negotiated with all parties in Parliament rather than simply between the Prime Minister and his own backbenchers or internal rivals.

For the sake of politics, I hope the promises that have been made will be kept. We can all look forward to a new local hospital, and world class public services if so. But frankly we remain skeptical. In the times that lay ahead, the best protection at work will be to join a trade union.

Tim Roache is the general secretary of GMB

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