#NQ7: Ian Lawrence Writes

This special edition of NQ celebrates cultural diversity in the Labour movement and British history. It is very timely, especially given the raging political debate about whether Britain can remain in the single market and customs union whilst maintaining the minority government’s policy of massively reduced immigration.

Don’t let Brexit divide us

Ever since the referendum result and the triggering of article 50, the UK’s intention to exit the EU has been a daily story. Meanwhile, we are currently seeing:

  • An unprecedented fall in the UK’s economic growth behind a number of our European competitors
  • Skilled Workers from the EU and elsewhere leaving Britain due to the ongoing uncertainty around residency rights, causing recruitment problems for
    businesses especially in London and the South East.
  • A reduction in incomes for all working people and those in the public sector who are suffering the double whammy of creeping inflation and the pay cap

Working people must not pay a price!

At the recent Trades Union Congress in Brighton, it was agreed that notwithstanding the fact that Brexit saw trade union members vote for and against in almost equal measure, the TUC position is that the decision must be respected.

It also means that unions must find ways to stay relevant whatever the future brings. This means a new approach by unions to internal and external organisation, communication with members and potential members. It means looking critically at how we interface with our local volunteer representatives and work constructively with employers, but also being ready for those times when resistance is needed.

In many ways the launch of Napo’s own “strategy for growth” as articulated elsewhere in this edition of NQ, shows that we are ahead of the game here. But while we do not face the same types of problem as our sister unions in say the financial service and manufacturing sectors, we do have much in common.

Napo must be part of a widespread campaign that aims to secure some key principles in the post-Brexit landscape:

  • Establishment of an improved minimum wage that all employers must abide by and a complete resistance to the excuses by tax dodging corporations that this is unaffordable
  • Wider coverage of collective bargaining and full access for trade unions to engage with employees as an antidote to the “gig” and “uber” type economies
  • A new emphasis on training and re-skilling with a commitment from government to adequately resource it.
  • A specific agenda for younger workers and those from traditionally under represented groups as a key theme of the TUC’s work.

All of this must happen in an economy that works for everyone, not just the corporate interests of a few conglomerates meaning tariff-free trade agreements, no resuscitation of TTIP especially as it’s endorsed by Donald Trump, and an investment strategy that majors in sectors such as housing and public investment in our communities as well as those which will be vital to the UK’s self-sufficiency such as manufacturing and food production among others

Defending diversity post-Brexit

There is another big challenge as well, and that’s the need to lift the lid on the real reasons for economic decline which has been perpetuated by the austerity policy.

Much of the debate that has followed the referendum has unfortunately been tainted by the populist media’s obsession with “the need to do something about immigration”. What really needs doing is facing some uncomfortable truths as to why there is such a strain on public infrastructure, a lack of affordable housing in our communities and decently paid and secure jobs for UK citizens.

Scapegoating is nothing new; as I vividly remember the racist jibes that regularly came my way as the son of an Indian immigrant growing up through the sixties and seventies in South London being told among other things to “go back home”. Two decades where genuinely positive moves towards multi-culturalism were often dragged back by institutional and overt racism, as evidenced in TV advertisements and sitcoms of the day which would be unacceptable now. As described elsewhere in NQ, today’s society still presents us with the problems of institutional racism and I am proud to be part of that daily struggle to expose and overcome this particular barrier to progress.

Whatever Brexit may bring we cannot allow division to prosper.



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