I was brought up to believe one very simple thing. It is why I became a trade unionist and fought for my colleagues at work and it is why I became an MP and now fight for the people of Sheffield - the place I was born.
It is that we are better off when we stand together than when we fight alone.
As a former trade union rep, I have seen firsthand that the Working Time Directive matters and it has been transformative. Equal pay legislation; the right to a minimum number of holidays, and payment in lieu; rights for part-time workers and emergency leave; health and safety regulations, which have made all of us safer at work and which are guaranteed only while we remain in the EU. Believe it or not – the right to a warm workplace, the right to water at your workstation, the right to adequate first aid –these were all down to trade unionists fighting in the EU.
So, if we leave the EU who stands to benefit the most? I would be the last person to die in a ditch for Brussels but I know that a vote to leave now would hurt my constituents in Sheffield.
Sheffield, where we have lost over 2,000 jobs since the turn of the year. A recession, however small, matters to us. Everyone knows someone who lost their job in 2007 – everyone here remembers someone who lost their livelihood in the 80s. To anyone who suggests a minor economic shock would be a cost worth paying, I challenge them to say the same to my constituents who are struggling to find jobs or pay their bills.
Before I was elected to represent the city of Sheffield, I worked in the City of London. Just four years after the crash – with many millions in the middle of a decade of reduced earnings, with inequality skyrocketing and family businesses closing their doors – it was business as usual in the Square Mile.
This is the centre of Europe’s as well as the UK’s financial power, with 80% the EU’s hedge fund management, 50% of investment banking and 70% of private equity management. It was also the place where benchmark fixing happened and where libor rate manipulation occurred.
Other European governments have finally learned some of the lessons of 2008. They moved to impose solvency rules, ban short-selling and adopted tough measures on hedge funds, credit rating agencies and some derivatives. They have attempted to put stability before short-term greed.
Yet it is our Government that has resisted all such measures, and furiously opposed bonus caps, the financial transaction tax and other attempts at stricter regulation.
Perhaps the key plank of Cameron’s EU re-negotiation was to preserve independence over financial regulation. Similarly, the Open Europe group of euro-sceptic Tory backbenchers has cited EU rules making it easier to regulate the City as a top reason for leaving.
So as much as I want change in the EU, the reality is that if we leave the EU now, it will be a Tory government that negotiates our exit and a Tory government that decides what we do next. And we already know their top priority.
That is not say to that we can ourselves be satisfied with the status quo in the EU any more than we are in the UK. Far from it. A vote to Remain has to be the start, not the end, of our campaign.
Because a Labour government would have a very different set of priorities for EU reform.
As a South Yorkshire MP, I know that we need state aid rules that explicitly allow the government to intervene in strategic industries like steel.
And as a trade unionist, I know we need a new Posted Workers Directive, making clear to the European Courts that freedom of association for European workers is not secondary to freedom of establishment for European companies. We can never allow our right to strike to be weighed in the balance against the right of businesses to make profits, nor our right to organise in the workplace to be subject to tests by unelected courts, wherever they sit. We need European action to raiselabour standards across the continent and prevent a race to the bottom in pay and conditions.
And having worked in the private sector, I know we need strong regulation to protect long-term stability that prevents a race to the bottom and protects those businesses and financial institutions that are trying to do the right thing.
It is the same in our public services. Our government should be resisting, rather than instigating the Railways Package, which would make competitive tendering of passenger services compulsory. We need the export market that Europe provides but frankly the last thing we should be exporting is our disastrous experiment in privatising the railways.
And of course there is the proposed Transatlantic trade deal, TTIP. The Commons made clear just last month that there is no majority for this Treaty in its current form, when the government became the first in history forced to ‘regret’ its own Queen’s Speech. Yet they continue to cheerlead for it behind closed doors.
Because far from wanting democratic reform and greater transparency, this government prefers to do its business in secret in Brussels as much as Britain. That’s why I and other MPs have had to fight to have the right to even read the position that our negotiators are taking on our behalf.
I could go on – but leaving the EU would not solve any of these problems. We would still have a government intent on promoting austerity and privatisation, attacking workers’ rights and public services. And frankly we could not hide from the international challenges we face either.
Yes, we need to reform the institutions of Europe, but ultimately it is about political choices. Choices made in Britain as much as Brussels.
Those choices need to change, but change only comes when we fight for it rather than flee from it. So I will vote to Remain, but to Remain to Reform. And when that choice has been made, we will have other changes to make. Changes that will make for a social Europe and a stronger Europe, because we are always stronger when we stand together.
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