‘We can fight together for a more social Europe’

EPSU general secretary tells local government conference that Brexit would not ‘cure what is wrong in the EU, in the UK or elsewhere’

“We can fight together for a different view of Europe, for a more social Europe … that is a Europe that is possible.”

That was the call of Jan Willem Goudriaan, the general secretary of the European Federation of Public Services Unions (EPSU), when he addressed UNISON’s local government conference in Brighton this morning.

Bringing “solidarity greetings of Europe’s public service unions,” he said that unions had an “open attitude – an attitude of solidarity, an attitude of where we represent workers’ interests across cultures …”

And he warned that such an open attitude from trade unions would “ultimately lead” to the far right “coming for us, because we represent all everyone.”

He described some of the problems affecting Europe, including “childcare workers in Hungary who haven’t had a pay rise in eight years” and high unemployment rates – especially among young people – particularly in Spain and Greece.

But he stressed that many of these policies are national, such as the pressures to privatise the National Health Service in the UK, and the attack on trade unions.

“The Trade Union Bill is still a piece of … crap,” he said, to much laughter and applause, but he congratulated UNISON on the work done to reduce the measures initially intended in that bill.

Mr Goudriaan put thee national policies in awider context as “part of the neoliberal policies of austerity. They want to take away our rights and have a free road”.

But he also stressed that we can work across the EU to combat such things: in the case of the Trade Union Bill, EPSU joined with UK unions to campaign against that legislation.

“We are making advances together as unions in Europe,” he noted, highlighting EU-wide campaigns on, among other things, health and safety, which have brought about progress on the likes of tackling sharps injuries and workplace-related cancers.

And he also announced that EPSU would be stepping up the fight against the likes of CETA and TTIP, starting this Thursday – World Public Services Day – as the UK votes in the referendum.

Mr Goudriaan pointed out that the likes of Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage never say how workers’ rights will be boosted or public service spending increased.

There have, however, been threats to employment rights – with some saying that these rights should be taken away.

“Brexit will not cure what is wrong in the EU, in the UK or elsewhere,” he told conference.

“To me and to many others,” he said. “It shows what this discussion is also about. I find the views of some, like the Leave campaign, to be a story for a future which excludes rather than binds people. A story of nationalism …

“I see that same view in many other countries in Europe.

“It’s not a positive view of the future … but we can do things together,” he concluded, and wished members wisdom when the cast their votes on Thursday.