On 23 June 2016, the people of the UK voted by a narrow majority to leave the European Union, called “Brexit". While unions fight to defend workers’ rights, world leaders, particularly in Europe, must hear the message that the system is not working.
The campaign to leave the EU was deplorable in its dishonesty, casual racism and nationalist hubris, reaching its low point when Labour MP Jo Cox, an internationalist and a humanitarian, was murdered.
Economic crisis has led to austerity and worsening conditions for working people in Britain, as in many other countries. Immigrants and the EU were an easy scapegoat for the failure of corporate globalization to deliver dignity and security.
The same dynamic is at work across the world, with the cheap and dangerous populism distracting people from the real causes of the crisis.
This vote is a political earthquake, and a major shattering of the globalization consensus. It is a political consequence of the 2008 financial crisis, and must serve as a wake-up call for world and European political leaders. People feel alienated and disempowered by a system that puts corporate interests first.
Obviously leaving the EU would not solve the problems the UK faces, and the far right will make the most of the disruption. Financial speculation has led to the collapse of the pound, and there are threats of damage to the real economy. Furthermore, there has already been a disturbing rise in racist attacks in the UK.
The consequences of the vote are far from certain, but a political vacuum has been created that must be occupied by progressive voices. There are opportunities to step into the breach to demand an alternative.
Unions are leading the call for change, to show that another Europe, and another world, is possible. Unions in the UK and across Europe have pledged their commitment to fight for workers’ rights, whatever the outcome.
“We will cooperate with our British industrial trade unions to secure the future of British industry and its millions of workers and their families, so that workers will not pay the price of the Brexit”, said Luc Triangle, IndustriAll Europe General Secretary.
The general secretary of the ETUC, Luca Visentini, said:
“The European Union must start to benefit workers again, to create a fairer and more equal society, to invest in quality jobs, good public services and real opportunities for young people.
Jyrki Raina, IndustriALL general secretary said:
“People need to have hope for a better life, otherwise we risk exclusion and radicalization as we have seen in the suburbs of Paris, Brussels and elsewhere. People need to feel that society cares for them and is fair. That is why it’s so important to reduce inequality by making sure rich individuals and corporations pay their fair share of taxes, and for everybody to earn a living wage.
“A more social and human world and Europe also makes economic sense. Europe has the potential to create good jobs and well-being for its citizens, including immigrants, but it needs to change. Otherwise it will remain a scapegoat for the populists, and little by little fall apart.”