After the referendum and the demise of Cameron and Osborne, we must adjust quickly to protect our members and find new opportunities.
The UK voted to leave the European Union on 23 June. That much is certain. But the explanations as to why this happened and the predictions about what it means for the future are many and varied.
Most interpretations of the result attribute the Leave victory to the votes of those who do not feel they have a stake in globalisation – many of whom live in northern towns (see for example Paul Mason, Larry Elliott). Others though have sought to characterise Leave voters as being richer people in the South (Danny Dorling).
In our own region, there is a mixed picture. The most deprived area statistically in the North West is Blackpool – and here the Leave vote was the highest in the Region. But there is no consistent pattern, with two other deprived areas - Manchester and Liverpool - recording the highest votes for Remain; while two of the three least deprived areas – South Ribble and Ribble Valley – recorded high Leave votes. Voting patterns are complex and inconsistent and it is hard to reach simple conclusions.
As for the effects of the result, these are yet more unclear. On employment law, there are concerns that leaving the EU may lead to attacks on TUPE protections around harmonisation, employers’ consultation requirements, and discrimination case payouts. There may though be scope for improvements in the UK around dynamic changes to contracts applying post-TUPE (better than the ECJ's Alemo-Herron ruling). The level of legal protection that UK workers have is best seen as a political question – very little follows simply, directly and inevitably from leaving the EU.
Writing just before his elevation to the Cabinet, David Davis stated that:
“The great British industrial working classes voted overwhelmingly for Brexit. I am not at all attracted by the idea of rewarding them by cutting their rights.”
We must ensure that the Government does not move against workers’ rights.
There are many other questions that remain to be answered:
Cumbria and Lancashire are 4th and 5th amongst LEP areas in England for money received per head from the EU. It is not yet clear whether the UK Government will commit to this spending. And there are wider issues about what UK regional policy will look like and how it will fit with the devolution agenda - especially now that George Osborne is no longer at the Treasury.
The Government no longer has a target for a fiscal surplus by 2020, is there room for more public investment – in infrastructure, services and pay?
Of all public sector employers, Higher Education Institutions are probably the most directly affected by leaving the EU. They get at least 2.6% of their total income from the EU, or around 16% of their research income. How will universities react to this and will our members’ jobs, terms and conditions come under attack?
Will leaving the EU mean that public sector organisations can more easily favour local / ethical providers of goods and services?
Will the increase in hate crimes reported in the weeks before and after the referendum become a trend and how can we best combat racism in our communities?
And how will the Theresa May-led Government differ from its predecessor? We have heard warm rhetoric and proposals around worker involvement in corporate governance. But we have also seen a commitment to Trident renewal, the appointment of Liam Fox to pursue free trade deals, and hints of an expansion of grammar schools.
There are more questions than answers. In the coming months our union will need to get to grips with a changed political environment. The impact of leaving the EU will be a key theme of our Regional Policy event at the end of September. As activists we will need to be close to our members to hear what they are saying and to identify new opportunities for organising and winning gains for workers in a changed and changing environment.