I know that the EU is far from perfect.
If I started this article without saying so, a lot of the members I represent would switch off and I understand why.
Simply saying the status quo is fine and that Europe is great just won’t wash. A lot of people are very frustrated with the world we live in, they think many things are broken, and they see the upcoming vote as a way to bring about change.
Grievances about housing, school places and our public services are all being seen through the prism of whether we should vote to remain in or to leave the EU. The right wingers wind up the debate by pledging to fund the NHS with the proceeds of Brexit, conveniently forgetting that the failure to fund our health service right now is a political choice being made every day in Westminster, not in Brussels.
It is politically convenient to blame everything on the EU. But to do so let’s this government – and previous ones – off the hook for their failures here at home.
There aren’t enough houses because successive governments have failed to build them.
Wages are undercut by unscrupulous employers exploiting migrant workers, because the government refuses to take action.
Too many people are in insecure jobs because the Westminster government refuses to ban zero hours contracts.
So many of the big issues people are concerned about aren’t to do with Europe at all, they’re down to austerity and the political choices made by David Cameron and George Osborne. Voting to leave won’t solve the social care crisis or lower youth unemployment – quite the opposite.
Jobs in our country rely on trade with Europe. Why would anyone make things in the UK if they had to pay to export them to other EU countries?
Of course, we could try and negotiate a deal like Norway has to ensure we can trade freely with EU countries, but what many in the Brexit camp don’t say is that Norway pays in about the same as us, has had to agree to the free movement of labour - something many people who are considering voting out would like to end - but doesn’t have a seat at the table when the decisions are made. In that situation, we would end up with free trade and free movement, without the protections for working people that the EU currently guarantees.
That’s the crux of it for me.
The red tape and regulatory ‘burdens’ the Tory Party and UKIP talk about, are what GMB members would call ‘rights at work’ – the right to paid holidays, the right to breaks in your working day, the right to work free from discrimination.
I won’t pretend that our rights - or jobs - would disappear overnight, but a vote to leave the EU puts them at unacceptable risk.
As the leader of a trade union, that’s a risk I’m not willing to take for my members.
The EU isn’t perfect, but we’re better off in than out.
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