Unions back new Brexit vote

Poll of Unite, Uni­son and GMB mem­bers shows sup­port for new ref­er­en­dum

The Guardian Weekly - - UK News - Demon­stra­tors gather for a pub­lic-sec­tor work­ers demon­stra­tion, or­gan­ised by the TUC in May Toby Helm

Mem­bers of Bri­tain’s three big­gest trade unions now sup­port a new ref­er­en­dum on Brexit by a mar­gin of more than two to one, ac­cord­ing to a bomb­shell poll that will cause po­lit­i­cal shock­waves on the eve of the au­tumn po­lit­i­cal con­fer­ence sea­son.

The sur­vey of more than 2,700 mem­bers of Unite, Uni­son and the GMB by YouGov, for the Peo­ple’s Vote cam­paign, also finds that a clear ma­jor­ity of mem­bers of the three unions now back stay­ing in the EU, be­liev­ing Brexit will be bad for jobs and liv­ing stan­dards.

The poll came as union del­e­gates gath­ered in Manch­ester for the an­nual Trades Union Congress (TUC) con­fer­ence. The Labour party will hold its con­fer­ence later this month in Liver­pool, where del­e­gates are ex­pected to de­bate and vote on Brexit pol­icy.

On Mon­day del­e­gates of the TUC, the um­brella or­gan­i­sa­tion for the UK’s unions, voted over­whelm­ingly in favour of a sec­ond ref­er­en­dum on Brexit be­ing an op­tion should the prime min­is­ter fail to se­cure a deal that pro­tects jobs and work­ers’ rights.

In an in­ter­view with the Ob­server be­fore the poll findings were re­leased, shadow chan­cel­lor John McDon­nell said his pre­ferred op­tion was still for vot­ers to be of­fered a say on the gov­ern­ment’s han­dling of Brexit – and any deal brought back from Brussels by May – in a gen­eral elec­tion. But he said that if Labour was un­able to force one in the com­ing months, he wanted to “keep all op­tions open”, in­clud­ing sup­port­ing a new ref­er­en­dum.

McDon­nell said he was sure there would be a full de­bate and votes on Brexit at the Labour con­fer­ence. And he went out of his way to praise the Peo­ple’s Vote cam­paign, which he said had been very “con­struc­tive” and had made clear that its at­tempts to influence Labour pol­icy should not be seen “as an at­tack on Jeremy Cor­byn or po­si­tion­ing around the lead­er­ship. It should be a con­struc­tive de­bate and that is right.”

The poll found that mem­bers of Unite, the coun­try’s big­gest union, and Labour’s largest fi­nan­cial backer, now sup­port a ref­er­en­dum on the fi­nal Brexit deal by 59% to 33% and sup­port stay­ing in the EU by 61% to 35%. GMB’s mem­bers sup­port putting the is­sue back to the peo­ple by 56% to 33% and its mem­bers want the UK to stay in the EU by 55% to 37%.

Uni­son mem­bers back an­other ref­er­en­dum by 66% to 22% and would opt to stay in the EU by 61% to 35%.

Union mem­bers think stan­dards of liv­ing will de­te­ri­o­rate as a re­sult of Brexit by a mar­gin of around four to one and that Brexit will worsen, not im­prove, job op­por­tu­ni­ties.

Last week Tim Roache, the GMB’s gen­eral sec­re­tary, an­nounced that his union would back an­other ref­er­en­dum af­ter con­sult­ing its 620,000 mem­bers. Roache, who will ad­dress a Peo­ple’s Vote March for the Many on the open­ing day of Labour’s con­fer­ence, said the coun­try did not vote for a “no deal” Brexit or to dam­age the econ­omy.

“In trade union terms, if we ne­go­ti­ate a pay deal for our mem­bers we put that deal back to the mem­bers and they de­cide whether that’s ac­cept­able or not.”

The TUC was ex­pected to adopt a new po­si­tion on Brexit that will place an em­pha­sis on jobs, rights at work and peace in North­ern Ire­land. Its ex­ec­u­tive coun­cil was also set to back the pos­si­bil­ity of an­other vote on Brexit.

Peter Kellner, the for­mer pres­i­dent of YouGov, said the poll could mark a turn­ing point. “It’s not that rank-and-file trade union­ists are in­dulging in ges­ture pol­i­tics or ide­o­log­i­cal breast-beat­ing. They are wor­ried about the im­pact of Brexit on jobs, taxes, liv­ing stan­dards and the Na­tional Health Ser­vice. They fear that Brexit Bri­tain would find it harder to sell prod­ucts and ser­vices abroad.”

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