CommonSpace spoke to a range of anti-poverty, democratic engagement and human rights groups about their approach to the EU referendum
WITH the EU referendum just around the corner, the result is too close to call.
The camapigns have focused on immigration, the economy, and legal protections for EU and UK citizens.
But how do those organisations who spend their time battling for democratic engagement and human rights, and against poverty and marginalisation, view the EU referendum campaign?
CommonSpace asked a variety of organisations for their take.
Scotland Against Criminalising Communities
Scotland Against Criminalising Communities (SACC) has no collective position on the EU referendum. We believe that the EU referendum is extremely important, but that it is very difficult to predict the consequences of either a leave or remain outcome. Our members have differing views on whether the UK should leave or remain so we are focusing as a campaign on uniting in opposition to racism and in defence of the rights of all migrants, including refugees, other migrants from outside the EU, and EU citizens.
We are all agreed that whether in the EU or out there should be no hardening of the already excessive restrictions on immigration, that the rights of EU citizens in the UK must be protected, that it must be made much easier for refugees to reach safety in Britain and other European countries, and that everyone in Britain must enjoy equal rights and equal access to welfare. We do not believe that immigration harms the interests of ordinary people in Britain. On the contrary, we believe that freedom of movement makes all of us stronger, better able to survive austerity and government repression, and to resist and perhaps thrive.
The Democratic Society
The Democratic Society's main interest in the EU referendum is in enabling people to engage with the issues and to reach an informed conclusion on which way they want to vote. The Society itself does not support one side or another. We believe that democracy relies on people taking part, so whether you are for Remain or Leave, the crucial thing is that you vote and that you encourage others to vote too.
We have created the website https://EUdecide.org which includes teaching resources for schools and discussion resources for groups and individuals, together with information and a series of interviews with experts on both sides of the debate.
We applaud how the Scottish independence referendum engaged so many new people in politics and demonstrated why these sorts of decisions are so critical for everyone's future. We hope that the EU referendum builds on this and also introduces new people to politics, as more participation enriches democcracy.
Women for Independence
Women for Independence discussed the European Union referendum at our most recent National Council in Aberdeen. We heard speakers from both sides, and the debate was measured, intelligent and informed. Organisationally, however, we have not taken any particular stance as we have not voted on the issue at any of our democratic structures.
Bussiness for Scotland
Business for Scotland have released a short video giving their favourable overview of Scotland and the UK’s place within the EU.
Gordon MacIntyre-Kemp: As Scotland attracts so much EU spending, and exports far more per head than the UK as a whole, EU membership is far more important to us and our EU membership creates more, better paid and higher quality jobs for the people of Scotland.
Like many organisations in the third sector the Poverty Alliance has not adopted a formal position in relation to the EU referendum. This is consistent with the approach we took on the referendum on Scottish independence. We have a diverse membership, and our role in this case has been to ensure that we provide opportunities for our members to engage in the debate. We organised a seminar and debate on the EU and poverty on the 14th of June, where we had an excellent discussion on 'social Europe' and the the many social challenges that we face in Scotland and Europe. The seminar finished with a debate on the referendum, with both the official campaigns represented as well representatives from the European Movement in Scotland and the Scottish Campaign to Leave the EU.
Whilst the Poverty Alliance hasn't taken a position on the referendum, we have always been an organisation that has sought to engage at the European level, and to make connections with anti-poverty organisations across Europe. We are members of the European Anti-Poverty Network and are well aware of the impact that the EU can have on the lives of people living on low incomes. We are also aware that whilst many of the solutions to poverty can be delivered by governments at Westminster and Holyrood, some require coordination at the international level. It is for both sides of the EU referendum debate to state how their positions will help address poverty. At the heart of efforts to tackle poverty is the need to create more solidarity – between individuals, communities, and countries. Whatever the result of the EU referendum, the Poverty Alliance will continue to seek opportunities to build relationships with all those fighting poverty across Europe.
We have not taken a leave or remain position in the EU referendum.
The mainstream debate around the EU referendum has been unimaginative and full of fear. Compass' Good Europe project took the opportunity to have a more positive and creative discussion about the Europe we really want.
Our final report 'Building a Good Europe' draws on ideas discussed online and during a participatory event for around 100 people. It explores the questions:
• What is the purpose of the EU in the 21st century?
• What policies do we need for Europe to achieve its purpose?
• How do we make it happen?
Len McCluskey: It cannot be denied that the European Union has a great deal of work to do to convince its peoples that it is functioning in their interests.
The punishing treatment meted out to Greece when it needed assistance not austerity, the enduing indulgence of austerity even though this is eliminating eurozone growth, and the EU’s gross failure to address the urgent humanitarian crisis on its borders – these all illustrate the need for this union of nations to urgently rediscover its original mission of solidarity and shared prosperity.
It is undeniable, however, that for millions of UK workers and their families the EU is the best hope for their jobs and fundamental rights. Our communities clearly benefit from the investment and trade links that come with being part of the EU. And our working people are in increasing need of the employment rights that flow from membership. Rest assured that outside of the EU, left at the mercy of a Conservative government, these protections will be swept away. That probability is reason alone to campaign to remain in the EU.
The EU cannot be run as a superhighway for corporates without a thought to the wider social consequences. So Unite will be saying that this referendum campaign is also an opportunity for political leaders from all parties to heed the warning signs from the electorate; they want reform, they want a people’s EU.
We are fully aware that we face a difficult task – our members are in no mood to listen to David Cameron and a Conservative party that has systematically denounced decent trade union members as the ‘enemy within’.
But the rights, jobs, prosperity and security of our members come first, which is why this union will be urging our members to vote remain this June.
Scottish Trades Union Congress
Grahame Smith: In April, the STUC Congress in Dundee voted overwhelmingly in favour of the UK remaining a member of the EU because this aligns best with our economic and social justice objectives and is in the best interest of workers in Scotland and their families. Trade Unions recognise that the EU is not perfect and in recent years the actions of its member states, the UK included, have undermined the laudable ideals on which it was built. The pursuit of austerity and consequent corruption of democracy, combined with inadequate action in the face of globalisation and a discourse built on fear and greed, have undermined social Europe and time and again we have seen the EU place the interests of corporations ahead of the interests of workers and citizens. But with reformed structures, more transparent and inclusive decision making and progressive political leadership, including at member state level, the EU has the potential to make a significant impact on issues that require a collective response – like climate change, tax avoidance, banking reform, international development and the refugee crisis. On these issues action at an EU level is not just desirable but essential. So much more can be achieved through collective action by 28 member states than by the UK acting alone.
For some, Brexit is seen as a way to escape the EU’s neo-liberal proclivities and the negative impact of globalisation and to retain national sovereignty. In practice, the UK cannot and will not retreat behind its national borders and nor should it. Talk of regaining control of immigration upon exit plays to the fears of workers, many of whom are trapped in precarious work and are genuinely suffering in a labour market tarnished by globalisation and unbridled corporate power. There is little of substance in the argument that limiting migration through removing the fundamental right to freedom of movement will increase the security of Scottish workers, nor is there any evidence to support the claim that ’benefit tourism’ is a driver of migration or a drag on our public services. The bigger threat to workers remains the pursuit of lower labour market protections, further deregulation and the sort of ‘hire and fire’ culture so visible in US businesses, that stands in sharp contrast to the principles of collective bargaining, social dialogue and an appreciation of the positive role of trade unions that are still visible in many European nations.
In the 70s and 80s it was the EU and not Westminster that was responsible for enhancing workers’ rights, that drove regional policy and supported communities blighted by industrial decline, giving workers the chance of new jobs; and the EU could play this role again. It is possible to create a just Europe built on the principles of equality and social justice and the first step to a more just Europe is to vote remain on Thursday.
Picture courtesy of Yukiko Matsuoka
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