It’s been reported that now the government have broken with the EU proper, they’re drawing up plans to dilute workers rights, their sights apparently set on scrapping the 48-hour work week and diminishing holiday pay. If the claims were true, and they have been unreservedly rejected by the Business Minister, then the reforms would represent a betrayal of the government’s promises to British workers. The millions of workers who pushed Leave over the line, and leant the Tories their votes to ensure its implementation did not vote to downgrade their own working conditions. These voters were the sleeping giants of British politics, and having been woken by the Brexit referendum, are once again the power brokers of British politics. And this very fact is the ultimate bulwark against a race to the bottom – that the Tory government’s continued survival and the very phenomena of Brexit itself were contingent on and enabled by the will of the workers. Our political class is acutely concerned with their own self-preservation, and that serves to make our democracy the strongest redoubt upon which our rights could be situated.
Brexit was never the deregulatory bonanza con-job the Remain side often liked to pretend it was, but a rebellion of by and for the working-class. Free marketeers who saw in Brexit the opportunity to liberalise were drowned out by Sunderland’s roar on the 23rd of June, 2016 – in that moment, the reigns were seized. But the largest consortium of worker’s representatives in our country, the Trade Union Congress, remains wilfully ignorant to this fact. They have decried the reported proposals as a ‘a diminution of rights’ and lamented the loss of the EU’s judicial jurisdiction over the UK, praising the ‘very positive judgments’ that EU courts pass. Farcical does not do justice to the reality that trade unions are so eager to outsource to a supranational court the fate of British workers. European courts demonstrated scant regard for worker’s rights when they watched with indifference as the Gilet Jaunes faced the full force of the French state for a year and more. And they had little to say and even less to do when the Spanish government set about violent crackdowns on Catalonian independence activists.
British workers fought and won their battles to end child labour, enjoy the weekend, achieve a minimum wage, and to secure maternity and paternity rights that are often superior to those enjoyed by our European neighbours. It’s patronising to say that the moment workers regain control of their own destiny, they would be so weak as to surrender it up a Tory government. Because we won’t. When in the 1800’s the Chartists sought to uprate British democracy, they did not do so by appealing to a French court. When the Suffragettes fought for their right to vote there was no assumption that a foreign power would deliver it to them, least of all a European power because their resolve was such that they achieved universal suffrage decades before many major European powers did. When after having suffered the degradation of two World Wars and in want of remuneration, the British people did not look to Europe, but instead elected the Atlee government to make our welfare system the envy of the world.
That said, there are advantages to having an unaccountable foreign court passing judgment on British cases. When they find in your favour, of course. But in the event they do not, to whom do we turn for recourse? Workers learned long ago that reliance on the changeable hand of charity for succour was insufficient, and in any case, immoral. We should not be outsourcing to magnanimous elites in order that our rights and conditions are upheld, but instead we must be unrelenting in our continued faith in democracy. British workers won for themselves the rights they enjoy, and it is nothing short of condescension to think we will throw them off as though they were shackles the moment we are afforded the freedom to do so. The sooner organisations like the TUC cease their paternalistic condescension of the public and embrace wholeheartedly a confidence in their members and their collective will, the sooner they might return to relevancy. And we need and want them to be relevant, because the fight to uprate our rights and wages begins now.