Union leaders papered over divisions about Brexit at the TUC union federation’s conference in Brighton on Sunday.
TUC president Mark Serwotka urged delegates to unite because “we stand on the verge of a no-deal Brexit”. He said, “Whether you backed Leave or Remain, whether your union campaigned for Leave or Remain, our duty should be to do everything in our power to stop a no-deal Brexit.”
Delegates spoke about how the Tories would use a no-deal Brexit to push through more austerity, privatisation and racism.
Susan, a Unite union delegate, said that Boris Johnson was “a law onto himself”.
She told Socialist Worker, “Working class people will be affected by a no-deal Brexit whether they voted to Leave or Remain.
“The majority are saying that we need a deal that protects workers’ rights, but the politicians are going against what people want.”
Caroline, another Unite delegate added, “We have people who voted to Leave and people who voted to Remain.
“But they are all union members—we should get a better deal for everyone.”
Steve Turner, the Unite union assistant general secretary, struck a defiant tone when moving the TUC general council statement on Brexit. Turner said he had a simple message for the “pathological liar, racist and sexist squatting in Downing Street”—“Fuck you,” and “Fuck your no-deal Brexit.”
Beneath the fury over a no-deal Brexit was a fudged position.
There was a more determined effort by unions that want to block Brexit to shift the TUC’s policy. Al Stolen, a TSSA transport union delegate, argued, “Whatever you voted for, you didn’t vote for this.
“Politicians have sat on their hands for three years prevaricating.”
Stolen added that the threat of no-deal shows “we must remain”, saying, “It’s what the TUC must campaign for and it’s what Labour must campaign for.”
Isabelle from the Musicians’ Union said people have to be “ready for action” if Johnson ignores ordinary people. But this action “should include a ‘People’s Vote’ and repealing the Article 50” process of leaving the European Union (EU).
Yet the unions—with their different positions over the Tories’ Brexit crisis—all spoke in favour of the same motion. It passed almost unanimously, with only the RMT transport workers’ union delegation voting against it.
Unions need to unite working class people against Tory austerity and racism. Backing the People’s Vote campaign—which is led by right wing liberals and big business—would divide workers and see the unions tail a bosses’ agenda.
The overwhelming feeling was against the Labour Party doing deals with Liberal Democrats and Tories. Natalie, a Unite delegate, told Socialist Worker she “didn’t trust these people”.
“Part of me thinks if you’re jumping here and there, then your convictions don’t count for that much.”
The Labour Party has not pushed for a general election. TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said delaying Brexit should be “locked down” before a general election. She said her “advice to MPs was “hold your nerve until 31 October and call Boris Johnson’s bluff.”
“Let’s have that general election on our terms—not his.”
This was echoed by union leaders and many delegates, Susan said, ”How would a general election help people with a no-deal Brexit? We need one and we need Labour, but not now.”
Many Labour members are unsure that they could win a general election now. It's not guaranteed, but a radical and insurgent campaign could win.
Others think that Labour should let the Tories tear themselves apart..
But refusing an election means that crucial issues facing working class people are postponed in favour of manoeuvres over Brexit. And pressure will grow for a continuation for the “cross-party unity” which has been created so far.
When the Tories are down it is time to use the moment to finish them off. It was good to see union leaders and delegates welcoming school students who were calling for support for the climate action on 20 September.
That welcome has to be turned into solid support.
Mark Serwotka was right when he said on Friday, “We have been demanding a general election and now we should get to it as quickly as we could.”
More crucially, the best response is for the unions to unite working class Remain and Leave supporters in a fight against austerity, climate chaos and racism - to push Johnson and the Tories from office now.