Brothers and Sisters,
Some may not want to hear this but the consequences of Brexit are likely to dominate debates about workplace rights and trade this year. There is likely to be a disjuncture between the promises of the Leave campaign's pre-referendum promises of Utopia and the real world of trade negotiations, global politics and economics. We simply don't know what Brexit will mean in terms of timescales, trade deals, employee rights and legislation . There is a huge degree of uncertainty. Solidarity voted to support a Brexit vote. Our Union, as a matter of principle, wants the UK to be able to make decisions without EU interference.
Our government could support policies to revitalise our industrial base, build our infrastructure and bring it back under national control, invest in research and British companies and make us less reliant on foreign imports. The rights of employees granted under EU directives could be maintained. That's what we want to see. On the other hand, some would like to see cheap imports flood in from countries who pay workers a pittance, persecute unions and whose production of goods is not subject to the same health and safety regulations as our own. This un-level playing field needs to be addressed as our producers should be protected from unfair competition. All Unions need to recognise this, and unfair currency manipulation, as a key issue.
Just before Christmas more than 1,600 garment workers in Bangladesh were sacked and 1,500 face charges after walking out against poverty pay.
The workers were demanding an increase in the minimum wage from £55 a month to £165. Most of them make clothing for export, including for well-known Western labels.
That's the reality of globalisation. How does a British worker or business compete with people paid £55 a month who are sacked if they ask for more? The backlash against globalisation can be seen in blue-collar support for Donald Trump and other populists.
The United Auto Workers President Dennis Williams has said Mr. Williams said he sees “a great opportunity” to “find some common ground.” with Mr Trump Mr. Trump has been a critic of the North American Free Trade Agreement, or Nafta, and the Trans-Pacific Partnership which the UAW have also opposed..
Mr. Williams also said he hopes Mr. Trump’s goal of increasing infrastructure spending will lead to additional projects.
It's not an isolated trend. Blue-collar workers in other countries are backing political outsiders who question the globalist narrative. Charismatic French politician Marine Le Pen in France is just another example. Alongside this distrust of and alternatives to the mainstream media are growing. Look at the growth in influence of Russia Today for just one example.
Unions in the UK should take note of these developments and seek to positively influence ALL parties (including populists) on trade and employee rights issues. The Union movement needs to go beyond supporting the Labour Party and seek to influence all candidates to do the right thing.
Our critique of globalisation does not imply that our Union has a rosy view of British businesses. Look at the case of Philip Green and absconding with the pensions of 11,000 employees or Mike Ashley who paid employees less than the minimum wage and forced them to work in Victorian conditions. There are many more bosses who want to exploit and mistreat British workers. That's just one reason why the decision to join together in a Union is so vital. That's more important than your choice of Union! Although we hope you will consider joining us!
Our Prime Minister has had warm words for ordinary workers. On becoming Prime Minister she spoke of “a union of not just of the nations of the United Kingdom, but between all of our citizens. Every one of us, whoever we are and wherever we are from.” More recently she has spoken of her concern for people who are "just about managing". So far we've heard words and seen no action.
Solidarity has worked to represent members in all kind of workplace disputes during 2016. We have represented in many disciplinary and grievance hearings, rectified wage miss-payments, challenged workplace discrimination, represented at redundancy negotiations and much more. This is the normal bread and butter work of any Union and though we are only small we do our utmost. We've also given advice and guidance on people affected by benefit changes and other decisions such as the Working Tax fiasco of last year. Our intervention has saved people from being sacked or suffering detriment and loss of income in numerous cases. That's what a Union is for.
Where our brothers and sisters in other Unions have struck a blow for the rights of workers we've always supported them. Where the mainstream media has falsely vilified strikers we've tried to educate the public about the truth and speak up for them. We have some differences with other Unions but where they stand for the ordinary worker and against exploitation they will always have our wholehearted support.
We don't have links with any political party and don't give any financial support to them. We have never operated a political fund. We have a different outlook to all of them based purely on the economic interests and general well-being of workers in Britain. The Conservatives have yet to deliver on any of their fine promises, Labour need to show that they can command support for radical changes in economic structure and address concerns about the effect on wages and key services of mass migration. UKIP have a poor record on policies for Unions and employee rights. We have yet to see which direction their new leadership will take them . The Liberal Democrats appear tied to a globalist agenda which disadvantages ordinary British workers. Very small Parties on the extreme left and right don't seem to have any developed or practical policies on the economy and trade.
We've supported a winning Brexit vote and we've also campaigned for a change in the law to forbid Caste discrimination.
The New Year brings us great challenges but our ideals inspire us and give us energy. We are resolved to uphold the interests of our members and the British Worker generally through 2017.
- Patrick Harrington (pictured)
General scecretary, Solidarity Trade Union