At the GMB Congress, my Region, London, organised a fringe meeting on the “The rise of the far right and worker’s rights“. This was jointly organised with the Labour Movement for Europe who had planned to put their President, Stella Creasy, up to speak. I had originally planned to use the meeting and Congress as a last attempt to get better policy on trade and relations with the EU but the announcement of the election obviously changed this, and meant that Stella could not make it. My speech to the fringe, spoke of workers rights, sovereignty and its constraints and looked at the European Parliament results which has occurred on the previous weekend. You will find below my speech notes, although I did not use them all as I was unable to time the speech in practice and had too cut the speech short.

My notes for the speech I gave are below,

Workers Rights & the EU

We have spent time this week looking at the sustained attack on workers rights in the UK, however, the 14 years of Tory misrule started with a low bar.

Much of the UK’s mandatory, minimum terms and conditions were based on EU regulations and directives, the regulation of working hours, maternity leave and pay, holidays entitlements and many more. The Tories have used their newfound sovereignty to attack Unions, workers and the right to organise.

Hopefully we won’t need to see what the European Court on Human Rights has to say as these laws will be repealed but we should remember that social chapter and justice pillar opt-outs were negotiated by a Labour Government to ensure that EU and its court was not engaged in review of Britain’s Trade Union or immigration laws; the EU’s Charter of Fundamental rights was, is and would be a stronger protection for workers’ rights than the European Convention.

Furthermore with respect to worker’s rights, we are fortunate that the Future Trade and Co-operation Treaty wrote in a right to retaliate by the EU if rights such as a mandatory social wage were withdrawn, or subsidies were offered by the UK.

While things can only get better, EU membership was both a significant protection and often a source for all our Human Rights nitjust our rights as workers

Sovereignty and its constraints

Many, more high minded people and commentators, consider the debate on entry/leaving and rejoining to be one about Wealth vs Sovereignty – I haven’t seen any sovereignty, and the expert consensus is that leaving has been bad for the macro- and consumer economy.

And while the Tories have twice threatened to jeopardise the level playing field required by the FTCA, they stepped back from the more extreme proposals in Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Bill , probably because they feared the EU’s retaliation

But we remain in a position where the UK workers right to organise is the weakest in the OECD.

The inconvenient truth is that we can’t be uniquely sovereign if we want to trade and travel.

I sometimes say to myself when negotiating chat protocols that you can’t mandate what other people use and if you want to talk to them you need to use their chosen tools. The same is true with trade and travel if you want to trade or want to travel, a common set of rules need to be agreed which will generally be a compromise.

In my work with Another Europe, and Citizens take over Europe, a campaigning organisation for democracy within the European Union, I have observed that the EU’s subsidiarity agreements are only between the union and the member states, we need greater localism where decisions are taken as close as possible to the people that it affects, with the EU and the UK.

The constitutions of the EU & UK isolate their citizens and feed into the meme of governing elites. We can and must do better. Citizens are not sovereign in either regime. The acquisition of power from the EU has not been felt by the people of the UK and as has been pointed out by other delegates at Congress 24, Brexit has undermined devolution and may yet undermine the Union.

The overeignty promised has only accrued to the House of Commons and even then, political reality constrains their actions, although not real reality if we are to look at the Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Act 2024.

Part of the answer to those who argue we need sovereignty from Brussels is we need to recognise that the, European parliament is elected the basis of one person one vote and its decisions the result of a democratic process; one we are currently excluded from.

This is a bit of a diversion, but I spoke in favour of the CEC Statement on a New Deal with Europe, specifically welcoming the GMB’s support for the EU Commission’s proposal for a Youth Mobility scheme giving reciprocal access to young workers and students to work here and in the EU.  This would be a fabulous opportunity to re-establish the capability for our young people to meet other Europeans and work & study abroad and in the UK with them, increasing or maintaining both countries sense of international solidarity. It would be of fantastic benefit for our, or my, children and grandchildren. The European Union is clearly interested in developing this cooperation.

The EU election results

The press are focusing on the success of Melloni, Le Pen and the AfD in Germany.

Some argue that Brexit somehow inoculates the UK from the European Hard Right. It doesn’t.

In the UK the Hard Right are already in Parliament, and their ideas and ideology needs to be opposed, vigorously.

In Europe, Von Der Leyen should not have been President, and for progressives and workers this has not been a good commission. Sadly, I can see little likelihood of anyone better; the question will be who she allies with and what it costs, with the German Free Democrats already demanding promises on EU debt and immigration.

We’ll have to see, but the progressive votes are there to exclude Melloni’s European Conservatives and Reformists.

The results in Germany are disappointing for the Left as the SPD vote has slumped and the AFD is the second largest German caucus in the next European Parliament.

Let’s hope today’s Germany is copying us from 2019, where 2019 was the apogee of Faragism and not acting as a harbinger for what will happens in the UK when a timid Social Democratic government fails to address the cost of living crisis and promotes public debt management policies before the ending of austerity.

Over time, over the last 100 years, the nature of the far right has changed, from uniformed genocidal murderers to corrupt, besuited grifters.

The political goals have not changed they seek to divide and “other” humanity and destroy our organisations of autonomy and solidarity.

You can’t triangulate with fascists!

And in the UK, it has surprised me that this meeting is taking place during an election. I had hoped to use the meeting to influence Labour’s manifesto, and while it is clearly too late for that, I am pleased that the GMB has established demands for the FTCA sunset review. These demands are beyond what Labour is promising in the election. It was never going to be enough.

The implosion of the conservative party is visible for all to see although did not start with Rishi Sunak. It’s hard to say when, but Boris Johnson’s expulsion of the social liberals/remainers and his illegal proroguing of Parliament are important events on their slide from conservatism to populism. The prorogue was a tactic that many authoritarians would admire.

With Farage standing and likely to win in Clacton, I have friends advising me they may get six seats in Eastern Region. He like Melloni, Le Pen & Weidel use immigration as their ideological battering ram on democracy and decency. What unites them is a racism, aimed at immigrants and refugees.

You can’t triangulate with racists! They’ll always ask for more.

The PES in the have asked or challenged the European People’s Party in the European Parliament to shun the European Conservatives & Reformists as will the German Government and we should be asking those British Conservatives who reject the racism and cruelty of the current party to speak up, and we should welcome their criticisms.

We should not, and neither should our leaders, by triangulating with, and giving credibility to the racism inherent in the immigration debate.

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