UNISON’s Criticisms of the EU

Unison EUEarlier this month, UNISON, which is one of the UK’s largest trade unions serving more than 1.3 million members, released a report titled “Your View on the EU Referendum – UNISON branch consultation – members’ information sheet, March 2016.” As the briefing begins:

“UNISON has historically been against the EU single currency (the EURO) and the role of the European Central Bank but has  been for a positive  Social Europe. However, neither UNISON’s National Executive Council (NEC) nor National Delegate Conference  (NDC) currently has a position on the EU referendum.”

UNISON’s report outlines some of the arguments that have been historically utilised by trade unionists in support of the EU, most of which revolve around the concept of supporting a Social Europe. So they surmise:

“While opposing EU austerity UNISON supports the concept of Social Europe and a European social model that recognises the need for trade unions and social and employment legislation to protect workers within the EU’s internal market. UNISON, along with the wider European trade union movement, is opposed to any attempt to weaken or dismantle Social Europe.”

Yet even union leaders who are supporting a vote to stay in the EU can’t ignore all the EU’s problems. Tim Roache, GMB General Secretary, has said: “One of the worst kept secrets is that the EU needs reform. The vision of a social Europe raising living standards and building the economies of new member states has lost its way. In truth it has been diverted by business interests over working families.”

Likewise the TUC, in a briefing document that generally overlooks all problems associated with the EU, makes one exception when they explain:

“Unions have been concerned that in recent years the European Commission’s social policy agenda has however become more restricted, especially in the area of collective rights… Following the financial crisis, the Commission has also played an active role through the Troika in dismantling and undermining sector-wide collective bargaining arrangements in some Eurozone countries.”

But returning to UNISON’s more informative report, UNISON write that “Since its founding National Delegate Conference in 1993, this union has carefully examined the operation and the policies of the European Union.”

“Specifically our conferences have taken a view of every major EU treaty over the past 23 years from Maastricht at the founding conference in 1993, through the Amsterdam, Lisbon and the constitutional treaties and the Services Directive and have consistently criticised and opposed the content of those documents, based on our beliefs about public services and public spending.

“As long ago as 2003 the EU Commission was announcing that  comprehensive reforms are necessary to place both pension systems and health and social care on a long term financially stable footing by limiting public sector exposure.

“[Hence] the economic policies have been concentrated on interest rates and the stability of prices, not maximising economic growth or employment. The main driver of these policies is not the democratic governments but the European Central Bank, which is independent of governments and from political influence, a development that UNISON has criticised as fundamentally undemocratic.

“UNISON argues that such policies have contributed to the failure of the EU to respond to the crisis following the economic  crash of 2008. UNISON has been critical of the overarching emphasis on austerity policies combined with a drive toward greater competition, market liberalisation and a downward push on wages. We criticised the ECB continued emphasis on “price stability” while treaty changes enshrine the concept of ‘balanced budgets’.

“The real consequences have been seen in the austerity measures being put into place and seen in countries such as Portugal, Spain, Italy and most particularly Greece, where living standards are drastically cut, and public services slashed, while public assets are privatised. Unemployment levels have increased, particularly among young people. The measures included cuts in state benefits, cuts in pensions, cuts in public jobs and services and cuts in the pay and conditions of public service workers.

“UNISON has also been alert to attacks on trade union rights that have flowed from the EU reforms to  ensure  “labour market flexibility” and to annul collective agreements that impede this…”

Finally, Unison highlight the fact that “The EU is currently negotiating new rounds of free trade and investment agreements.” Among these are:

  • CETA  – Comprehensive Economic Trade Agreement between the EU and Canada.
  • TTIP – Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership between the EU and USA.
  • TISA  –  Trade in Services between the EU and 23 other countries.

“The three treaties are similarly seeking to remove trade barriers, liberalise the trade in services –  including public services –  widen and make market access to those services easier. At the heart of the treaties is protection of the rights of foreign investors, particularly through a special private court system which will sit outside sovereign nations judicial systems, known as ISDS or a newer version called ICS.

“Finally the treaties aim to reduce ‘regulatory barriers’ to trade though the ‘harmonisation’ of standards such as labour laws, health and safety, environmental and consumer standards. All three agreements attempt to include public services in the trade of services in the global market. In the past the EU has explicitly excluded public services from trade agreements but has not done so in these trade agreements.”

Further Information on the Case for Leaving

Clive Heemskerk, “Socialists and the EU referendum,” Socialism Today, Issue 190 July/August 2015.



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