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Northern Ireland: Biggest trade union votes to support exit from EU
Ten trade union leaders penned a letter in the Guardian committing them to a Remain vote in the 23 June European Union (EU) referendum. They claim the EU champions workers' rights. However, this position is being challenged by many trade unionists. As Kevin Henry, Socialist Party (CWI, Ireland) reports, Northern Ireland's largest trade union voted at its recent conference to advocate voting to leave the EU 'bosses club'.
The Socialist Party welcomes this decision of Northern Ireland Public Services Union (Nipsa) to oppose continued membership the EU.
Unfortunately, most leaders of the trade union movement have decided to support David Cameron's campaign to stay in the EU.
In Britain, the Trade Union Congress (TUC) leaders have been very vocal in defending the EU. In a 'Better Together in Europe' leaflet, current TUC General Secretary Frances O'Grady is quoted alongside right-wing figures such as Virgin's Richard Branson and Bank of England Governor Mark Carney.
Her predecessor, Brendan Barber, went one further and co-authored an article with David Cameron. Closer to home, the Irish Congress of Trade Unions is also advocating a vote to remain.
They claim that there is a 'social Europe' but, in reality, it's 'austerity Europe'. Staying in the EU will not defend jobs in the domestic economy. The EU prides itself on the free movement of capital which means bosses searching out cheap labour in Europe (and beyond the EU).
EU competition directives ban governments from saving jobs by nationalising industry. This could have implications for saving the UK steel industry and thousands of steelworkers' jobs.
Other EU employment regulations - such as the Posted Workers' Directive, which allows migrant workers to be paid less than the legal minimum in their host country - are designed specifically to circumvent national workplace agreements.
In 2009, this directive was used in an attempt to undermine conditions and deny employment for construction workers at Lindsay Oil Refinery, Lincolnshire, provoking a series of strikes. However, a rank and file strike committee, involving a Socialist Party member, successfully fought and won extra jobs and prevented division among workers.
Similarly, in December 2007, the European Court of Justice delivered a blow to trade unions when, in the Viking and Laval decisions, it decided that the right of businesses to 'freedom of establishment' must take priority over the right of trade unions to take industrial action to safeguard the interests of their members.
Our rights were not granted from on high by benevolent EU leaders but won from below by workers' struggle. It's misleading for trade union leaders to claim otherwise.
A jewel in the crown of EU employment law is the Equal Pay Directive, which formally guarantees equal pay for women. This was won first by the mass strikes in France after World War Two.
It was only much later that this law was enforced across Europe, again following the heroic strikes of women munitions workers in Belgium, Ford workers in Britain and countless others in the decades that followed.
The Socialist Party believe it's a mistake for trade union and labour leaders to support the bosses' EU and echo the fearmongering of the political establishment. Instead, they should follow the example of unions like the Nipsa and others, that are prepared to tell the truth about the EU.
In The Socialist 8 June 2016:
Socialist Party review
Socialist Party news and analysis
Socialist Party reports and campaigns
Socialist Party workplace news