The Labour party was urged today (Wednesday 2 July) by Unite, the country’s biggest union, to re-consider its current position of not holding a referendum on the UK’s membership of the European Union.
Unite delegates endorsed an Executive Council statement saying that if the Labour party denied the British people the opportunity of voting in a referendum it would be ‘an electoral millstone’ for the party at next May’s general election.
Unite general secretary Len McCluskey told delegates at the union’s policy conference in Liverpool: “We know what the consequences are of silence on the matter of the European Union. It leaves the field open for UKIP and others to exploit people’s real concerns in order to win votes for their right-wing agenda.
“That is why I believe the labour movement cannot simply take its policies towards the European Union for granted. Unite believes that the advantages of EU membership, particularly in terms of social protections and supporting manufacturing investment, outweigh the disadvantages for our members.”
Len McCluskey said that the Executive Council statement sought to do two important things.
“First, it recognises that in response to the capitalist crisis, the EU has increasingly danced to the bankers’ tune, imposing eye-watering austerity on several Eurozone countries, including of course Ireland, and pushing an agenda of deregulation and so-called flexibility in the labour market.
“Such policies need to be challenged and opposed, or the EU will lose any claim on the support of trade unionists and progressives.
“Second, it calls on Labour not to box itself in on the referendum question. This issue has bedevilled British politics for decades. For much of that time it has been the Tories who have had to deal with divisions in their ranks over Europe.
“But the next general election will be different. Both UKIP and the Tories will be offering a referendum on the issue of Britain’s membership.
“And as things stand, Labour won’t – because ducking this question is seen as part of Labour’s commitment to business.
“That is a vast hostage to fortune. I would not like to be Ed Miliband explaining why he is not joining other parties in offering the British people a vote on something that is clearly a growing source of public concern.
“So it is time that Labour’s leadership took a new look at the referendum question.
“We do not seek a referendum to take Britain out of the EU. We seek a referendum rethink in order to help get Labour into power here in Britain.
“Without such a pledge our party will stand exposed. UKIP will be strengthened in some key constituencies. The Tories will hypocritically charge Labour with being anti-democratic.
“In a tight election this can make the difference. So let’s give the British people a say on the EU, and when they do, Unite will be there arguing for the benefits of internationalism and a real social Europe.”
For further information please contact Unite senior communications officer Shaun Noble on 07768 693940 and/or the Unite press office on 020 3371 2065.
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• Unite is Britain and Ireland’s largest trade union with over 1.4 million members working across all sectors of the economy. The general secretary is Len McCluskey.