UNISONActive is an unofficial blog produced by UNISON activists for UNISON activists. Bringing news, briefings and events from a progressive left perspective.

Tuesday, 9 February 2016

UNISON must get anti-austerity, workers' rights and anti-TTIP message into EU vote debate

UNISON's Jane Carolan, speaking at today's Institute of Employment Rights Conference outlined the history of the union's position on the EU and the referendum debate ahead. This is the full text of her speech:-

'What happened in Greece was not 
an aberration from EU policies but a 
logical consequence of them.' 
Jane Carolan
"UNISON has no policy from NDC (National Conference) on the issue of leaving the EU. That may surprise some who have seen our regular opposition to policies on the European Union proposed through TUC Congress but there is no contradiction here. Quite simply UNISON’s democratically agreed policies have consistently been ultra-critical of the EU institutions practices and policies BUT not one of the motions that we have passed has actually gone on to propose that as a result the union should commit itself to backing an EU withdrawal.

This goes back to the first national delegate conference of the union. When Nalgo, NUPE and Cohse came together to form UNISON the Nalgo left could see from the proposed rule book that the new union was to be pro public service, anti-privatisation.

However there were a number of policies that had been hard fought for in the old Nalgo that needed to be reiterated in the new union. One was Palestine, where support for the self determination of the Palestinian People had been initially narrowly won in the 80s. A second was opposition to Trident replacement and a commitment defence diversification that remains UNISON policy to this day.

What can I say other than plus ca change…

And the final one was opposition to the Maastricht Treaty.

And it is worthwhile reiterating the grounds for that opposition because it became the foundation for subsequent criticism

These have consistently centred on the undemocratic nature of the EU institutions, divorced from accountability and democratic processes. And the Predominance of the single market and market mechanisms in EU economic policy as well as the embedding of the tenets of monetarism
UNISON has a positive view of public spending, arguing that it is economically and socially vital; a view included in the UNISON’s constitution .UNISON would argue that market mechanisms fail to deliver the public services those counties need .This is supported by the economic history of the last hundred years.

The attitude that has developed in the European Union is that public spending is an economic liability seen in the institutionalisation of monetarism as the predominant economic policy, with the effects that has had on public services throughout Europe.

The Maastricht treaty was rooted in pre-Keynsian economics bolstered by the Growth and Stability pact. Even in the early 90’s this prioritised monetary stability at the expense of jobs with a strict control of interest rates and a strangle hold on public finances.

Later treaties continued in this direction with Lisbon emphasising deregulation and flexibility in the labour market and a roll back in social legislation.

Further treaties considered it necessary to deregulate the labour market and attack the so called misguided incentives provided by social security and the welfare system. As we have heard today this has been backed by the ECJ ASSERTING THE PRIMACY OF ECONOMIC FREEDOM.

As long ago as 2003 the commission was announcing that comprehensive reforms are necessary to place both pension systems and health and social care on a long term financially stable footing by limiting public sector exposure. Pressure on public spending is based on EU fiscal targets

Billions are now spent on the private provision of public services throughout EU services have been taken over by private equity corporations insisting on low pay for the workforce but high profit margins

UNISON has also seen battles both politically and within the trade union movement over issues like the Services Directive where freedom to trade in services took priority over the nature of those services and threatened public services - a bit like the threat that we now face from TTIP.

The worst result from the imposition of austerity policies across Europe has been seen in the adoption of austerity policies across Europe following the crash Greece is not the only casualty just the most high profile. The result is a catastrophic economic depression with around 30% unemployment or 50% among the young, slashed salaries and pensions, social benefits huge cuts in the public sector.

Collective agreements have been swept aside with attacks on trade unions and privatisation of airports railways and the sell-off of Greek public assets. What happened in Greece was not an aberration from EU policies but a logical consequence of them.

Those who were saved by the bailout were the German and French banks.

What happened in Greece was not an aberration from EU policies but a logical consequence of them.

Is it any wonder that Larry Elliot in the Guardian was forced to conclude of the Greek bail-out: “Keynes never existed. The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money was never written. Economic history ended on the day Franklin Roosevelt replaced Herbert Hoover as president of the United States.”

It would however be naive in the extreme to state that because Conference has taken a vote and something becomes UNISON policy that it therefore becomes deep and meaningful to the vast majority of UNISON members.

Policy will be reflected in our attitude to developments in Europe. Reflected in our own publications and communications.

Policy will be reflected in our dialogue with the TUC and the ETUC where we have quite different policy positions to those organisations.

In fairness however it is likely that a fair percentage of our membership will adhere to a social democratic vision of Europe going back 25 years to the view that the economics of the single market can be balanced by an active set of employment and social policies. It has been a view expressed in conference but never won in debate, subscribed to by much of the TUC and the default position of the Liberal press, emphasising the benefits that the EU has brought to working people.

Add into that mix the use of EU Development policy and Regional Funding.

Equally there is a view that for some parts of the UK local economies have come to rely on European Funding to counterbalance the lack of UK Government spending, particularly in areas where traditional industries have either been deliberately run down or allowed to go to the wall. As national governments withdraw funding from the regions they have come to rely on the EU for funding for jobs and growth through EU regional development policies.

Certainly the overwhelming social democratic view of the EU as subscribed to by most of the Labour Party would emphasise that the EU is a benign organisation that can be influenced in a more progressive direction, and I would have to acknowledge that view would be held by a large proportion of our membership and cannot be ignored in the referendum campaign.

What we cannot do and I don’t think the trade union movement can do is been seen to be backing any of the current official 'yes' or 'no' campaigns. The 'yes' campaign is dominated by an undeniable belief in the status quo, a status quo that UNISON policy has consistently criticised.

However the real issue that we would emphasise - economic policy, of workers’ rights, of combating austerity; are not likely to be the stuff of a 'no' campaign, dominated by racism and xenophobia in the debate in migration, and by the short hand slogans of cutting red tape and bureaucracy, that usually mean attacking workers’ rights.

Neither of those campaigns is a club that I would want UNISON to be a member of.

But the anti-austerity message, the fight against privatisation, and trade treaties like TTIP need explanation. And it is in terms of these issues that we need to have a dialogue with our members and encourage that democratic debate. Recognising that there are significant differences of view across the spectrum of opinion in the country and the UNISON membership.

As such, UNISON will continue to press the various parties and organisations in the debate on the issues of importance to our members at work, to the services they provide and the communities they live in, encouraging the fullest engagement of our members in the debates, while respecting the diversity of views of the members which they will register in the referendum.

Should branches and regions decide to put the issue on the agenda for conference by the closing date for motions this year, the issue will voted on and a decision taken.

There is a problem however if the timetable dictates a referendum in June. This will be a major constitutional issue with consequences throughout the UK, and the union has a responsibility to encourage discussion on the issue. However the major priority for the union at the present time remains the TU Bill and the primary focus must remain that, and the consequences that flow from it.

It follows that work on the EU issue must be integrated into regular union work, while promoting debate.

It is therefore proposed to launch an information and consultation exercise at Branch level, encouraging branch committees to consider key issues and to provide feedback on those discussions.

A consultation paper will include:-
1. Brief Note on the UNISON debates over the period.
• Economic Prosperity
• Public Services
• Workers’ Rights
• Trade Treaties
• Migration and Racism
• The Reform Agenda
Regions will be requested to work with branches locally to encourage participation and to collate the feedback that emerges from those meetings. UNISON media and communications will back up the regional approach.