A Coup in the UK ?

Monday, 2 September, 2019

Yes, that is what has happened. Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, wants to prevent the UK Parliament from having the fullest possible discussion on the no-deal Brexit he pursues. He does not want to allow MPs time to find alternatives or to consider how they can stop him. And just to recall that Johnson got his job not through a general election but thanks to the votes of just 92000 people, all of them members of his own Conservative Party. The hard Brexit he seeks was not discussed nor pursued by his party in the referendum in 2016. The consequences could be grave.

Our UK affiliates organising workers in the health sector together with other unions have issued a statement that says that a no-deal Brexit could devastate the National Health Service. They refer to the potentially fatal disruption to the supply of medicines. The unions say that a no-deal Brexit could further compound the staffing crisis in the health service as care workers from the EU are left in limbo and without 100% protection of their rights. They also warn that resources for such vital public services as health care will be at risk if the country sinks into economic decline. The unions are calling on the government to put the no-deal scenario off the table. EPSU will support UK workers and their unions in resisting this coup that is ultimately an attack on workers and democracy by a wealthy and privileged elite.

The crisis in the UK diverts attention from many other issues, including:

  • attacks on trade unions in Turkey continue and we have supported several unions there over the summer period;
  • we also protested at the Chinese representation to the EU over its interference in the situation in Hong Kong and in solidarity with the independent unions;
  • we joined with over 100 other organisations to protest over the criminalization of solidarity with migrants and refugees;
  • our youth network published a major survey calling on unions to be open to young people and on young people to join unions and
  • a new study commissioned by EPSU was published showing how research for the EU Commission regarding public companies can be biased as we continue to argue for different EU policies.

And different policies is what we expect of Ursula van der Leyen the incoming President of the European Commission as she puts her team together. Her political guidelines indicate that we can expect proposals on an action plan on the Pillar of Social Rights, a legal instrument on minimum wages in the EU, proposals to tackle the gender pay gap, the EU signing the Istanbul convention to stop violence against women and a fund for Just Transition. In EPSU and ETUC we will have to react and ensure these will reflect our concerns.

But there is no indication of any change in the economic policies that have contributed to growing inequality. We want to see policies that increase investment in public services so workers have decent pay and conditions and there is sufficient staff to deliver the rights to care, water, energy, decent living and housing people are entitled to. Workers want to see an end to the corporate theft of managers and shareholders. Our communities also want to see an end to the destruction of the natural environment. Our affiliates in Armenia, Greece and Turkey, for example, have been actively opposing mining operations over their environmental impact.

Our Executive Committee in November will look at the work programme following Congress. Before that our calendar is full. In EPSU we have the constituency meetings and the Standing Committees, the youth network and the Women and Gender Equality Committee meeting before the Executive. They will consider their work programs. The Global Climate Strike is set for 20 September and more and more unions are calling on their members to participate. I would also encourage you to join, whether young or old, to demand fundamental change. The message from EPSU’s Executive in March was very clear – People and our Planet over Profits.  Also around the corner is 7 October, the Global Day for Decent work. This year the focus will be on domestic workers. And later that month (24th) we expect the verdict in our legal challenge against the European Commission on social dialogue.

With a very hot summer behind us (three heat waves in Belgium!), I look forward to working with you all  to deliver for public service workers and the citizens they serve.