Frances O'Grady at TUC Congress 2018. Photo: Wikipedia Frances O'Grady at TUC Congress 2018. Photo: Wikipedia

A second referendum would be a disaster for the working people the TUC are supposed to represent, argues Reuben Bard-Rosenberg

The TUC has come out in favour of a second referendum on Brexit. Speaking to the BBC TUC leader Francis O’Grady said that “it’s only right that the people should get a say”.

In reality, this has little to do with popular democracy. After the Brexit referendum, O’Grady enthusiastically backed the campaign for Parliament to have the final say on article 50 arguing that the referendum result was not sufficient. When Parliament voted for Brexit, she along with various other members of establishment flipped the chess-board and argued that only a popular referendum could legitimise Brexit. What is actually going on is the same thing that happens every time that the EU loses a popular vote: namely, reasons are found to roll the dice again until Europe wins and then no further dice are rolled.

O’Grady’s stock in trade is to argue that the EU is the true guarantor of workers rights in Britain. It is odd to hear a worker argue for their own redundancy but that is effectively what O’Grady is doing when she puts this line forward. The reality is that major advances in workers rights haven’t come from the EU but from working class organisation. This is true of equal pay for men and women, the weekend, paid holiday and sickness pay.

And yet it is understandable that TUC bureaucrats – not answerable to any workers, not actually engaged in any industrial action in contrast to an actual union – imagine that workers rights come from progressive policy wonkery.

The truth is that the EU is a massive unemployment machine. It’s strict rules against state aid – against governments intervening to help stricken industries or to create jobs – leave workers at the mercy of the market. And any real future for workers in this country must involve a serious breach with the European status quo. 

Reuben Bard-Rosenberg

Reuben Bard-Rosenberg is a socialist activist and radical folk music promoter.