Unions send ‘clear Brexit message’ on workers’ rights
The coming together of unions on both sides of the border sends a clear message to the British and Spanish Governments about the “power of workers” amid concerns over the impact of Brexit across the region.
This comes as a new agreement between Unite the Union, two Spanish trade unions and Gibraltar’s teaching union forming the Southern inter-regional trade union committee (IRTUC), was launched in Gibraltar yesterday by union representatives including Unite General Secretary Len McCluskey.
Speaking at the launch of the “historic” new agreement “Red Len” told the Chronicle: “The idea of the Spanish unions and ourselves signing an agreement of this nature sends out a very clear message.”
“It sends a clear message to the Madrid Government that they shouldn’t be playing around with nationalist rhetoric and seeing Brexit as an opportunity to stir the pot again.”
“It sends a message to the British Government that the unity of workers on both sides of the border is saying unequivocally that they are not prepared, we are not prepared to allow Brexit negotiations to result in anything different or detrimental from the current situation,” Mr McCluskey added.
Addressing criticism of the alliance with Spanish trade unions emanating from some corners of the British media, he said: “They see that as a terrible, terrible thing and the reason is they are afraid of us and they have every right to be afraid.”
“My experience tells me that when workers join hands across oceans and across nations anything is possible,” he said to applause from delegates.
The aims of the agreement are fourfold, to promote inter-regional cooperation, develop solidarity between workers in the region, analyse and tackle the economic, social and cultural problems faced by its members and build on the campaign by Unite and Spanish unions to keep the Gibraltar border open.
At yesterday’s launch, Unite also set out ten-point strategy to defend the long-term interests of its members on the Rock.
This includes a special status, continued tariff-free access to the single market, keeping the frontier open, defending workers’ rights, solidarity with sister unions, and a new investment strategy through a partnership between the Gibraltar Government, trade unions and industry.
The IRTUC’s first goal will be to ensure that the Gibraltar frontier is not used as a political tool of leverage that stifles workers and citizens on both sides of the border.
The Group aims to achieve this by demonstrating that Gibraltar’s special status and inter-dependency with the Spanish regions of Andalucia must be defended.
In his address, Mr McCluskey acknowledged the sensitivities that have long surrounded the issue of the border and said that now, in the context of Brexit, it has become a critical issue once again.
“Working people on either side must not be made to pay the price for Brexit.”
“We must not allow the right-wing government in Madrid to play nationalist games with the issue…”
He added: “Thousands of Spanish workers cross the border to work in Gibraltar everyday and they should not be punished for something they did not even participate in.”
His words were echoed by representatives from the Spanish trade unions.
Jesus Gallego, from the Unión General de Trabajadores (UGT), explained that workers are not responsible for the ‘political interests’ of the region nor Brexit and they “should not have to pay for the burden of it”.
In a briefing document Mr McCluskey said the UK Government must make it clear from the outset that European workers, in the UK and Gibraltar, will not be used as bargaining chips.
Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn will outline his party’s approach to Brexit for the EU’s frontline negotiator Michel Barnier today with the main objective being tariff-free access to the single market.
However, Mr McCluskey has asked Mr Corbyn to ensure that the issue of Gibraltar and specifically the ‘special status’ Unite is seeking for the Rock is raised.
He said the ‘fluidity’ of the political situation in the UK and the uncertainty surrounding what form Brexit will take after the Prime Minister failed to secure the landslide she victory sought in the recent general election and therefore a stronger mandate for Brexit, will help Gibraltar.
He said: “Talk of a hard Brexit has softened somewhat already and of course what’s happening in the UK in the Conservative party is that there is an internal struggle taking place between the ‘soft Brexiteers’ or remainers and the ‘hard Brexiteers’”.
“At the moment there appears to be more and more acceptance that we shouldn’t be talking about a ‘hard Brexit’, we should be seeking cooperation.”
“For me, that’s a good thing hopefully that will mean that in terms of what we are saying about Gibraltar, it will carry the day.”