The TUC took a stand against the neoliberal agenda in Europe last week and New Labour’s role in the race to the bottom by calling for a referendum on the latest European Union (EU) treaty.
Paul Kenny, general secretary of the GMB union, accused the government of pandering to business groups such as the CBI in continuing to deny the public a say on the EU, adding, “We’ve never had a serious debate about Europe in this country.”
Tony Woodley, joint general secretary of Unite, told the conference that the current protocol destroyed the Charter of Fundamental Rights – and Britain’s opt out meant a “disastrous reversal” on workers’ rights.
He said, “In the Thatcher years, we had to rely on Europe to give us some semblance of worker protection. But it is sad to say that with this protocol it will be impossible for British workers to override British law to seek fair play from Europe.
“We don’t want to be part of a Europe that discards the social model that can bring so many benefits to working men and women across Europe.
“Our government is still pushing a Europe with British workers as second class citizens.”
His words were echoed by Mark Serwotka, who said: “We want a workers’ Europe, not a Europe for big business. We should have a referendum.”
Bob Crow, head of the RMT union, said, “If a referendum is good enough for the people of Ireland, it should be good enough for the people of Britain.
“We are told we have a listening government. If that is the case it should allow a democratic vote we were promised.”
Colin Moses, chair of the Prison Officers’ Association, said ”We have had a bellyful of broken promises and what we have here is another broken promise. I have been told that to support this must mean I am a closet Tory, but if democracy is to mean anything, surely promises must be met.”
It was by far the liveliest debate at the TUC with all the speakers coming out against the neoliberal agenda.
The division was not just between those who were for or against a referendum.
The RMT motion, backed by Unison, called for a referendum and to campaign for a No vote, while the GMB resolution simply called for a referendum.
That Tony Woodley and Derek Simpson, the joint general secretaries of Unite, could make mutually contradictory speechs – Simpson for a social Europe and Woodley against a neoliberal one, while both backed a referendum but not a call for a no vote.
This says as much about the contradictions in the unions as the fact that the general council could not agree a position on the motion despite five separate meetings.
The harder RMT motion was defeated, but the GMB motion was passed by over 90 percent of congress.
Whatever the nuances the vote is yet another severe blow for Brown.