A People’s Vote for workers

Paul Valentine, the Green Party’s Trade Union Liaison Officer, discusses how Brexit will disproportionately affect workers and low earners in the UK – and why a People’s Vote is the best choice to make sure the Brexit deal is right for everyone.

People in the crowd at a People's Vote march
People in the crowd at a People's Vote march

Flickr / SevenSeventyFive / cc-by-2.0

Paul Valentine

Oh no, not another vote. Think Brenda from Bristol à la General Election 2017.

“You’re joking, not another one! Oh for God’s sake! I can’t, honestly I can’t stand this, there’s too much politics going on at the moment”. 

Well, Brenda, if you thought that politics was going to hit the proverbial then, just look at where we are now. 

I sympathise with anyone with this view. We’ve had an election, followed by a referendum, followed by another election, followed by a complete and abject failure of the victors of each vote, to show any sense of leadership or logic in anything. And Brexit, friends, is a big bloody anything. 

With all this firmly in mind, why should a People’s Vote on the Brexit deal excite anyone? Especially those of us from a working class/lower socio-economic status. We’ve got food to put on the table, rent to pay, bills to settle and lives to lead. These are questions I firmly ask myself, and I’m an active member of a political party. If I can’t excite myself over a bit of politics, what hope have I got of exciting everyone else?  

Let’s unpick some of my worries to begin. Food on the table. From a Guardian article in September: 

‘On 10 July, the Sun reported that ministers were drawing up secret plans to stockpile processed foods, in case the talks collapsed. When challenged on the story a few days later, the new Brexit secretary Dominic Raab described it as a “selective snippet” but refused to deny it.’  

Well, I guess processed foods aren’t particularly good for you anyway – but a report by the yummily named Centre for Food Policy suggests that without easy trade, and frictionless borders, we could be using up food reserves and all kinds of chaos will ensue. 

What about my rent? Well, I’m a proud *shudders* member of generation rent. A recent BBC article (3 October) stated:

‘They [people in their 20s] face financial strain as average rents for a one-bedroom home eat up more than 30 per cent of their typical salary in 65 per cent of British postcode areas’. 

Oh dear. So Brexit, that’ll make renting easier, right? Not according to LandLord Today (no, this isn’t made up, it genuinely exists):

‘It has been suggested that with less migration from Europe there will be less demand on the housing market and therefore less opportunity in the rental space. The fact is, however, that there is a continuing shortage of housing due to the chronic undersupply, coupled with high prices and mortgage restrictions. So more people are going to be renting going forward’.

Oh good. 

And bills? Google ‘Brexit Household Bills’. Go on, I dare you. You’ll find this delightful headline from iNews: 'UK household bills have jumped by £2.6bn since Brexit vote’.

ARGH. Scream emoji, wow emoji, scream emoji, poo emoji. Suffice to say, I didn’t read on. 

When a company crashes, who loses their job, the CEO? Nope, it’s the workers at the bottom of the pile. And when the rich kids call a referendum, who’s going to have to pick up the pieces?

Of course, everyday lives aren’t something easily Googleable. Everyone’s daily life is different. But let’s think briefly in terms of freedom of movement. Last year, I toured a production of Shakespeare’s the Merry Wives of Windsor across the UK and Europe. I’m an actor (to be or not to be, etc. etc.) and getting this job was a summer lifesaver in terms of money, but just so I’m not sugar-coating it, I was on £375 a week while still paying my rent in London at £725 a month before bills.

Without the ease of being able to travel through Europe, that tour may well have not gone ahead. Indeed, even if it had, losing easy access to European countries would have cut out a good couple of weeks. 375 X 2 = £750. Oh hang on, it’s the months rent. Sound the alarum bell Macbeth, we have a problem. Indeed, alarum bells should be ringing across all sectors if we’re going to crash out of Europe with a no deal. 

Numerous sectors are worried about this crash out of Europe, and it’s certainly not going to affect the wealthiest in our society. When a company crashes, who loses their job, the CEO? Nope, it’s the workers at the bottom of the pile. And when the rich kids call a referendum, who’s going to have to pick up the pieces? You guessed it.

The Trade Union Congress (TUC), the voice of workers in England and Wales, has noticed this too, and at Congress this year a motion was passed: ‘Congress calls on the general council to mobilise our movement politically and industrially to prevent either a cliff-edge Brexit or if the government’s withdrawal deal fails to meet the TUC’s tests’.

The tests include:

  • Keeping all the hard-won workers’ rights that come from membership of the EU, and making sure that UK workers get the same rights as workers in the EU in the future;
  • Stopping a job-destroying ‘no deal’ Brexit, and winning a final Brexit deal that offers tariff-free, barrier-free, frictionless trade with the rest of Europe; and
  • Guaranteeing the rights of EU citizens working in the UK, and those of Brits working abroad. 

These objectives seem pretty sound, and an exit without a deal seems increasingly likely. 

I came into the argument like Brenda. I was tired, but we can’t lose what we’ve already gained. You have Minister for Europe Alan Duncan proclaiming that the Brexit vote was a “tantrum by the working class” – way to go patronising the already patronised, Alan. If stepping into that little booth and choosing what kind of Brexit I want is the answer, then it’s time to throw another tantrum. 

Follow Paul on Twitter @GreenPaulV