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UK trade union wants close EU ties

A SEA of hands went up at Brit­ain’s annual trade union gath­ering this week in favour of keeping close ties with the Eu­ropean Union.

Labour leaders representing some 5.6 million workers, meeting in Brighton for the Trades Union Congress (TUC), said they embraced the Euro­pean single market and warned of the perils of a “hard Brexit”.

But their reluctance to com­mit to the single market’s re­quirement for the free move­ment of people illustrated the dilemma at the heart of Britain’s labour movement.

“We were never starry-eyed about Europe,” said Len Mc­Cluskey, leader of the TUC’s larg­est union, Unite. His union backed remaining in the single market with the caveat that em­ployers should not be able to pay foreign workers lower sala­ries than domestic workers.

TUC general secretary Franc­es O’Grady said the practice of employers advertising abroad for jobs they are not advertising at home should be stopped.

She also suggested options such as reserving public sector jobs for British citizens could be of interest.

The TUC in a motion urged Prime Minister Theresa May’s government to “use all the do­mestic powers at its disposal to manage the impact of migration”. The RMT transport union, which campaigned in favour of Brexit ahead of last year’s refer­endum, was the only one of the TUC’s affiliated unions to open­ly oppose the umbrella body’s policy on the single market.

It accused the EU of propa­gating “key anti-worker poli­cies”. “It was (former Prime Minister Margaret) Thatcher that campaigned for the single market. We should be working for socialism, not collaboration with the bosses,” said RMT rep­resentative Edward Dempsey.

“The European social model is always focused on individual workers’ rights and we should remember that we’re a collec­tive movement.”

Some leftists said that they rejected the idea of staying in the single market altogether, and were furious that the La­bour Party has called for doing so during a transition period after Brexit.

But Sally Hunt, head of the University and College Union, said that immigration “en­riched” British society and ar­gued in favour of free move­ment of people.

“It is the employers who de­press wages, not immigrants,” she said.