At the next national IWGB Executive Meeting (it sounds grander than it is) we are going to be debating the following motion on Brexit, and it would be great for members to let us know their views.
We’ll be talking about it at the branch meeting on 26 September, but if you want to email any thoughts to Danny (firstname.lastname@example.org) beforehand that would be great!
Motion: IWGB updated policy on Brexit
Proposed by: Jason Moyer-Lee
- Before the referendum the IWGB had a policy to support remain, mainly due to concern over our large contingent of membership working in the UK on EU passports and due to concerns over the impact of Brexit on EU-derived employment law.
- Despite our policy we were not particularly active in any of the referendum campaigning.
- Although we have been involved in some Brexit-related activity- e.g. intervening in the Article 50 Supreme Court case in order to argue for Parliament having a vote on triggering Brexit- we have not updated our policy since the referendum.
- In general, it is wise for the union to steer clear of political debates, especially divisive and controversial ones. We represent a broad spectrum of members and respect their views. For this reason we are not affiliated to any political party. However, Brexit and/or the shape it takes has a direct and significant effect on the IWGB and its members and it is therefore appropriate and important for us to have a position on it.
- There are four key areas where Brexit, in particular a hard Brexit, is likely to have detrimental impacts on the IWGB and our members:
- Immigration. Nearly all of the Cleaners and Facilities Branch members are here on EU passports. A huge proportion of the University of London Branch members are as well. Some members in all of the other branches will be too. And 50% of our staff are here on EU passports. The restriction on free movement that would come with a hard Brexit could decrease these people’s rights as workers in the UK. It could make it harder for them to bring family members over. Further, the environment and discourse around immigration has become increasingly toxic, with Brexit greatly contributing to this toxicity.
- Employment law. A large number of employment rights are derived from EU law. The importance of EU law is that: (i) in some cases it introduces rights which didn’t previously exist in the UK (e.g. paid holidays), (ii) the law is ultimately interpreted by an EU court which on the whole is more progressive and pro-worker than UK courts, and (iii) EU law supersedes domestic law, so the Tories are unable to shred employment rights that come from the EU, even with a supermajority. The IWGB relies on EU law rights to defend members on a daily basis, e.g. paid holidays, protection from discrimination, TUPE, etc. EU law also forms a central plank to various branches’ legal strategies, e.g. the ICE regulations which are used in UoL branch. Further, the foster care branches’ current legal strategy is almost entirely dependent on EU law superseding UK law.
- Economy. There is virtual consensus among economists that a hard Brexit will result in an economic shock and a big decrease in government revenues. We know from past experience that those who bear the biggest brunt of any economic shock and cuts in government spending are low-paid workers, e.g. our members, who have already had to struggle against the austerity agenda. This will inevitably be the same with any negative economic impact from Brexit.
- Inability of Government to get anything done. Brexit is all consuming and Parliament is hard pressed to focus on anything that isn’t Brexit-related. This is particularly the case when Parliament and the current government are focussing on creating a new arrangement rather than choosing an off-the-shelf option such as remaining in the single market and adopting EU law into UK law, which would require much less change. The IWGB needs Parliament to be able to engage with non-Brexit issues, e.g. a central plank of the foster care strategy is to get Parliament to pass legislation regulating the industry. Similarly, we are calling on legislation on behalf of UPHD branch to give more powers to licensing bodies in particular to cap private hire driver license numbers.
- The trade union movement is becoming increasingly vocal on these issues. The TUC has called for a soft Brexit and a referendum on the final deal if it looks like the deal won’t be in the interests of workers, GMB has called for a referendum on the final deal, UNITE has left open the option of another referendum, etc. Although the IWGB is not a big player, we are of the size and profile to have an influence on certain sections of the public and within the Labour party. Therefore, our taking a position could contribute, in albeit a small way, to a concrete result which (as outlined above) would directly benefit our members. Our taking a position might also reassure some of those members who are finding themselves in a precarious position and perhaps even considering leaving the UK.
The IWGB should adopt the following updated position on Brexit, which follows on logically from our previous position:
- The people should be given a vote on the final Brexit deal.
- Failing the above, Brexit should take the softest possible form, in particular by remaining in the single market with the institution’s protections for free movement and by incorporation of EU-derived employment law.