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No to Tory and EU austerity

The EU doesn’t protect workers’ rights

Roger Bannister , Unison national executive member (personal capacity)

On 6 June ten trade union leaders had a letter published in the Guardian urging their members to vote Remain in the European Union referendum in order to defend rights at work.

At a Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) meeting in Liverpool two days earlier one supporter remarked: “When I hear trade union leaders tell us that we have to stay in the EU to protect our rights I feel like saying, ‘so what do we pay you for?'”

The EU is an economic and political bloc acting in the interests of big business in Europe. While it is true that, particularly during the Thatcher era, the EU sometimes seemed to represent a softer form of capitalism, and some legal protections for workers were made through it, this era of so-called ‘social Europe’ is well and truly over. The EU is at the forefront of globally applied austerity measures, and attacks on workers’ rights.

The general secretaries naively call for the EU to change – to “move away from a path of austerity” as the Guardian summarised it. But as millions of impoverished Greek workers could tell them, it is a bit too late for that.

Even as the referendum debate is taking place EU representatives are locked in secret discussions with US representatives over the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, (TTIP).

This aims to eliminate “barriers to trade” between these massive blocs. Such ‘barriers’ include health and safety legislation and preservation of what remains of the public sector. The King’s Fund has recently stated that the NHS could not be exempted from EU procurement or competition rules, meaning it must be privatised.

The trade union leaders’ support for the EU on the spurious grounds of defending workers’ rights ironically comes soon after the TUC and most of the trade union leaders failed to lift a finger to stop the Tory government ripping up the right to strike of millions of British workers with the Trade Union Act. That weakness and indecision is the real threat to British workers, not Britain withdrawing from the bosses’ trading club.

Note: This article was changed on 10.6.16 – to add a qualification and a quote attribution.