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NEGOTIATIONS with the EU as we leave the club are complex, but there are some trade union negotiating tactics worth considering in our current position. The first is that you don’t withdraw your pay claim when the employers rubbish it.
Our negotiators have one of the greatest mandates ever given to a British politician, which is to leave the EU.
That simple step includes all the things that are being negotiated now. Once we are out, what replaces our membership of the single market, the common agricultural policy, the common fisheries policy and the customs union?
What do we do when we are free of the membership fee and from the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice? Any of these things is complex, open to offers and counter-offers, stand-offs and compromises, but none overrides the ending of our EU membership.
Leaving means freedom to control our own borders. Immigration policy can be part of a comprehensive employment plan based on equal rights for all who live and work here.
Leaving the EU also means rejecting the EU imposition of VAT on the likes of clothes and footwear and sanitary products and the freedom to spend what percentage we like of GDP to rebuild our public services.
It means being free of the requirement to procure manufactured products and public services EU-wide and allows us to favour our own manufacturers and providers, so boosting industry and creating new skilled jobs.
The benefits of being free of all of these neoliberal restrictions on our economic prospects far outweigh anything else. Rebuilding and transforming Britain does not depend on trading arrangements, it depends on investment in our people to produce and transform society. You can’t trade if you can’t produce.
Reinvestment in our chronically low productivity levels and industry is our fundamental priority. And it is leaving the EU that will most enable this to happen. It has not happened under EU membership.
Trade unions have been weakened, inequality and poverty have risen, work has become more precarious and housing and health are in crisis. EU free movement of capital, foremost among its four freedoms, has ensured that the disciplines of the financial markets are dominant.
In these negotiations Britain is in a strong position because it is a net importer from the EU and better placed globally to trade and invest than most EU countries.
We have also been a huge net contributor to the EU budget. Any EU-funded project in Britain has been no more than the return of a small part of our EU payments.
The EU desperately wants our trade, desperately wants the suggested £40 billion leaving fee and desperately wants to be seen to punish us to deter the rising tide of anti-EU sentiment throughout the continent.
This is why it is so far behaving so contemptuously in negotiations and rejecting British government compromises out of hand, threatening that our planes won’t be able to land and that border patrols to slow down cattle trucks will be positioned on the border with the six northern counties of Ireland.
If an employer behaved as petulantly in union negotiations, when you returned to the table you would one by one withdraw the compromises you have so far made.
It’s time to be tougher with those around the table in the EU and those campaigning at home to undermine our democratic decision to leave.
A largely anonymous organisation known as Another Europe Is Possible is keen to drape the forthcoming People’s Vote march in red flags and union banners.
While the billionaires’ money that has poured into this and related activities will no doubt enable lots of red flags to be purchased and waved, they will not be held by socialists and representative trade unionists.
Initiatives such as this, mobilised by the likes of Chuka Umunna, Anna Soubry, Vince Cable and George Soros represent the liberal fantasy of today’s social media politics but have no root in reality.
They inherit a long British ruling class tradition of disdain for workers’ views and disrespect for democracy.
It is no accident either that one of the most virulent asset-strippers of Greece, former Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis, manages to drape himself in “left-wing” colours . He wants to stay in the EU, “but not this EU”).
There is a stream of current thinking that has managed to associate liberalism with neoliberalism and neoliberalism with being left-wing.
Since we decided to leave the EU in 2016, observers will have noticed that the neoliberal nature of the EU has become even more entrenched and the ruling right-wing parties even stronger.
Supporting the great free-market “freedoms” of the EU is now associated by some with the left of the political spectrum.
Austerity is terrible, they say, so let’s have more of it and let the single market and customs union “liberate” us more.
How this somersault happened will be debated for years, but it does chart a peculiar twist in contemporary politics with the EU-obsessed TUC leadership and the liberal elites trying to outdo each other in dismissing the referendum decision.
It is hardly surprising that this virtual movement to reverse the will of the people also bears down against the reforming clarity and passion of the Labour Party leadership.
It’s time to remind the EU negotiators that time is short, that they have more to lose than us if they continue to block and bully.
Here in Britain, trade unions and progressives shouldn’t be diverted by the attempts to nullify the referendum launched from the centre-right.
We need to be planning for not just defence but for advance, rebuilding, fighting for positive change. We have nothing to lose but our neoliberal restraints.
Jacqui Johnson is former president of NATFHE, now UCU.
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