I’m appalled at Brendan Barber’s love-in with David Cameron Matt Wrack
A former TUC leader has lined up beside the prime minister on the EU referendum. Yes, the same prime minister who is ripping up workers’ rights
David Cameron in Aberdeen campaigning for Better Together in 2014: ‘Many Scots resented the joint approach of the Better Together campaign. It seems Brendan has learned nothing from that experience.’ Photograph: Murdo MacLeod for the Guardian
Thursday 28 April 2016 17.13 BST
- I was staggered to read the joint article on Europe from David Cameron and Brendan Barber in the Guardian. The fact that Brendan is the former general secretary of the TUC is now being used by a Conservative prime minister to bolster his case for a remain vote in the referendum in June. The Tory leadership knows that millions of workers are (justifiably) sceptical, so what better solution than to rope in someone from the “other side” to help sell the case?
They state that such an article has never been written before, but this “first” will anger many in our movement. Trade unionists will be astonished to read of David Cameron’s newfound concern for ensuring the wellbeing of British workers. Let’s remember what his government has done, and continues to do.
Workers’ wages and living standards have suffered on a scale unprecedented in recent history. Pensions have been attacked, and cuts to benefits have targeted the most vulnerable in our society. Our public services are suffering the worst cuts in history, and many areas of local government are at breaking point. Cameron’s answer to this is to push further fragmentation and privatisation. The enforced academisation of schools is just the latest attack on local democracy.
In these circumstances it is rather surreal to read the apparent concerns about the loss of workers’ rights that might result from Brexit.
This is the prime minister who has launched the biggest attack on workers’ right in a generation. He has made it harder for workers to seek justice through the employment tribunal system. His drive for “flexible” labour markets has seen a huge rise in zero-hours contracts and other forms of vulnerable work.
Then, of course, we have the trade union bill, which is designed precisely to weaken workers’ organisations – to hit our unions financially, industrially and politically. Despite some concessions this week, this remains the case.
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The TUC has discussed the issue of Europe, and the majority of unions currently support a remain position. However, all the unions agree on one thing: that they should not be engaged in joint campaigning with the Tories. Working people have their own interests in this debate, and they are not those of Cameron or the big-business backers he represents.
Many in the trade union movement have argued this strongly, especially in the aftermath of the Scottish referendum, when many Scots resented the joint approach of the Better Together campaign. It seems Brendan has learned nothing from that experience.
Indeed, far from assisting any case for a remain vote, the Cameron-Barber love-in may well have the opposite affect with many working people. Many, like me, will be appalled that a former TUC general secretary can line up with a Tory prime minister at a time when we are facing an appalling onslaught on our pay, conditions and public services and on our very right to organise in unions.
The truth is that in this referendum, both sides of the official campaigns are dominated by rightwing anti-worker politicians who want to continue the drive for endless austerity. Working people, here and across Europe, have been under attack from politicians, including Cameron, for years. Lining up with them will do nothing to build the movement we need.