The GMB voted to rejoin the EU’s customs union and align with the single market yesterday. The text of the motion is below/overleaf as are the notes I used to make the speech. The debate is posted on youtube, I was supported by Joe Dharampal-Hornby. In the GMB, the Central Executive Council has the right to make amendments to all motions, these are called qualifications. The regional delegation, the moving entity,  have the option to accept the qualification or have the motion opposed by the CEC. I have reproduced the qualification below. We took the view that the qualifying comments on migrants and wages are an observation not a negation of the need to re-establish the reciprocal right to find and perform work throughout the EU. The debate followed the General Secretary, Gary Smith’s interview in the Observer.

The Guardian said, In an interview with the Observer, Gary Smith, the general secretary of the GMB union, which is one of Labour’s biggest financial backers, giving more than £1m a year, said politicians of all parties had been too afraid to admit the adverse consequences that leaving the EU was having on jobs and life in working communities.”


Congress notes:

1. that 25,000 people are working in ports and docks, now in competition with ports on continental Europe

2. that Horizon Europe funded €5.1bn to UK research

3. that UK is the world’s second most powerful University sector and its pre-eminence is

jeopardised by exclusion from Erasmus+ & Horizon Europe

4. many thousands of financial services jobs have moved from the UK to the EU

5. that the Tory ‘Hard Brexit’ has led to reduced foreign inward investment, a worsening balance of trade, reduced employment, a labour shortage in many industries, particularly social care, agriculture, hospitality and the NHS, and sterling has lost value against both the dollar and the euro.

6. That opinion polls are reporting a long-term trend that the Tory Brexit is no longer supported by a majority of the population

7. that the labour shortages are compounded by xenophobia and the Tories’ morally disgraceful “hostile environment”

8. that there are over 3m EU citizen’s living in the UK, many of whom will have come to be restricted by the measures of the hostile environment and the discrimination introduced by the withdrawal agreement.

Congress believes:

1. That in order to reverse the damage done by Brexit, we must advocate re-joining the European Single Market and Customs Union.

2. That restoring free movement between the UK and EU would be a benefit, socially and economically, not a cost.

Congress calls on the Labour Party:

1. to call for a new relationship with the EU involving the adoption of the single market and customs Union

2. to campaign in opposition and in Government to rejoin Horizon Europe and Erasmus+

3. to call for the repeal of the cruel hostile environment.

Congress instructs the GMB delegations to Labour’s NPF, annual conference, Clause V meeting and the NEC to campaign for and vote for these policies.


SUPPORT WITH QUALIFICATION: GMB Congress has existing policy on our approach to result of the 2016 referendum. When Congress debated this in June 2018 it believed that the result of the 2016 referendum must have been honoured and we should have remained in the Custom Union with tariff free access to the Single Market – without undermining our commitment to re-establishing duty free (2017: 265).   Congress believes we should remain closely aligned to important rights and standards underpinned by the EU when they benefit our members, and have existing policy on rejoining Erasmus+ student exchange system and the Horizon Europe scientific research programme.  Congress opposes the hostile environment immigration policies including a regressive points-based immigration system that divides diverse working class communities. The qualification however is at the same time we are aware that freedom of movement has been exploited by some employers to undercut wages and conditions. (2018:247)

My notes for my speech follow, as they say, check against delivery,

President, Congress, Dave Levy London Region moving motion 168 on Trade Jobs and the European Union.

Last month Nigel Farage said that Brexit has failed, thanks a lot! There’s a growing realisation that this is so, but they say even a stopped clock is right twice a day!

The UK is 4% poorer from being outside the European Union’s customs union and single market.

There is reduced inward foreign investment, and jobs are moving overseas. The inequality in the UK means that our poorer cohorts are now poorer than Poland and Ireland is growing economically at a faster rate the UK. Our balance of trade has been poor for decades, but it has got worse and others are less keen on funding it and the currency is falling against the worlds leading currencies.

We have labour shortages in many industries, from social care, to agriculture, from hospitality to the NHS.

We have lost jobs in the ports, and in financial services and other areas as companies move to Europe because Europe has imposed the customs checks on our trade goods to the EU, while we have not been able to reciprocate.

The economy is not doing well and the cost of living crisis is worsened by the income and wealth inequalities in our society, which is not the fault of Brexit, but is the fault of Brexit’s funders.

It would be ironic if it were not causal, that the fast growing region of the UK is Northern Ireland which is, now, a member of the customs union and single market.

One of the key factors in economic growth is the University sector which needs to re-enter Horizon and Erasmus and needs to be able to employ the best in the world. This is another sector where free movement of labour is an explicit & necessary benefit.

We need to reenter the customs union and align with the single market. The formulation of a “closer and better relationship” is not good enough, Sunak can probably live with that as can other Tories. These demands should be GMB’s policy, and that of the Government in the next parliament. My fear is that if Labour don’t ask for this as a mandate, they will find it hard to execute.

On free movement I need to say, firstly its reciprocal. Abandoning it inhibits people’s ability to work in the EU and to travel on holiday. Secondly, that the best defence against low wages is strong unions. An immigration policy is no substitute for strong unions and a national living wage; we should note that current working visas tie people to jobs and thus inhibit them in joining a union and fighting for their rights. This discrimination damages our ability to organise.

The cruel hostile  environment works, to the extent that it dissuades people from coming to the UK to work and discriminates against those who do. For those who have to pay health charges and visa fees these are very high these days amd are designed to be cruel and punitive. The GMB has policy to oppose it, but we need the Labour front bench to say so too.

We need to get this right and so does Labour.

Please support the motion.

The GMB and the single market
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