By Tony Burke, Unite assistant general secretary
This general election has been dubbed the most important in a generation - and it is for many reasons - not least the protection of our National Health Service. But another crucial reason that makes this election important and it’s our membership of the European Union.
Back in 1975 Margaret Thatcher campaigned to stay in the European Economic Community - but over the years she led the Eurosceptic charge. John Major’s premiership was riven by Eurosceptics causing havoc over EU membership and David Cameron moved further to a British exit from the EU to appease Eurosceptics on his back-benches, in his cabinet and out of fear of Ukip.
If Labour doesn’t win on 7 May instead of tackling our economic and social problems, caused by this coalition government, we will be faced with two more years of uncertainty and wrangling over EU membership which will threaten investment in UK manufacturing and exports.
Make no mistake; right wing Tories will push us to the exit door, with Ukip wanting nothing less than to leave the EU.
The last thing that British manufacturing needs is for us to pull out of Europe.
This week Labour has been accused of being anti-business – they are not – they are ‘anti-business as usual’. What could be more anti-business than being hostile to Europe? What could be more anti-business than heading for the exit door?
The Tories and UK have failed to heed the words of major manufacturing companies such as Nissan, Ford, Siemens and others along with major employers organization such as the Engineering Employers Federation and the CBI– as well as Unite and the TUC.
Nissan has urged the UK government to remain in the EU, warning that a departure would create ‘obstacles’ to further foreign investment in car manufacturing. And only this week Honda said its site in Swindon, will become the ‘global hub’ for its new five-door Civic model. Honda’s Europe president Toshiaki Mikoshiba said the move showed Swindon’s strategic importance. That’s strategic importance in the European Union - not outside it.
Turning upside down the old Monty Python line ‘what have the Romans ever done for us’ here are some of the reasons why membership of the European Union is vital for manufacturing and our members.
EU membership gives us the laws and legislation that have helped bring investment and decent jobs in manufacturing to the UK.
It has attracted manufacturers and investment to the UK in the automotive industry, in aerospace, in engineering and science - that’s not even an exhaustive list.
Three and a half million jobs in the UK - that’s more than 10 per cent in every region - and an estimated £30 billion of our economy are a direct result of our membership of the EU.
Two-thirds of manufacturing jobs in the UK are sustained by trade with the rest of the EU.
Between 2009 and 2011 the number of manufacturing jobs in the UK dependent on trade with the EU grew by 15 per cent.
But it is not just the economics that make membership crucial it is also the protection that workers have because of the EU.
Talk of employment directives may seem dry but protecting our members rights at work have come about because we belong to the EU, and because Unite and other trade unions have fought long and hard to achieve them.
Parental leave has been extended to at least four months for each parent no matter what type of employment contract a worker may be on.
Thousands of workers in part time jobs can no longer be treated less favourably than their counterparts who work full time.
Bosses don’t want anything that might interfere with their right to hire and fire at will so anything that provides protection for temporary agency workers from gross exploitation are hard fought. But we have been able to do it.
One of the major protections for workers is the transfers of undertakings directive a vital piece of legislation that guarantees workers’ rights and obligations in company takeovers and mergers – there was a time when companies could dismiss and automatically sack their entire workforces upon the transfer or sale of a business.
The working time directive protects workers from being forced to more than 48 hours on average and guarantees breaks during and between shits.
And lest we forget – guaranteed paid annual leave, of at least four weeks (28 days a year) – which now thanks to Unite has to be paid at average pay.
There have been massive improvements on equal pay; the right to be consulted on redundancies; to have information about your company and for workers in multinational companies the right to be heard and consulted at European level and improvements on health and safety.
Tory Eurosceptics and Ukip echo the right wing and defeated Tea Party in the United States offering Britain a prospectus of becoming an offshore financial centre - like Hong Kong. Left to them we will become Europe’s economic and political renegade.
If the Tories and Ukip get their way they will set us on this calamitous course to exit the EU. That’s why manufacturing workers need to vote Labour on 7 May.