- 5. 4. 2017
- Karl-Renner-Institut, Bruno-Kreisky-Saal
- Wolfgang Greif, Gewerkschaft der Privatangestellten
- Simon Dubbins, Gewerkschaft UNITE, Direktor für Internationales und Forschung
About one week prior to the event, “Brexit: British perspectives and European challenges” (“Brexit: Britische Perspektiven und europäische Herausforderungen”), on 29 March 2017, Theresa May triggered article 50 thereby signalling the end of Great Britain’s membership of the EU. With this, a two-year period started.
At the beginning, Wolfgang Greif wants to bring content-related political observations into the discussion regarding Brexit.
A shock, above all for the entire elite in the EU, which did not believe that it would really happen. That was certainly not what was needed after the many crises of the last decade (Euro-crisis, financial crisis, migration crisis).
Brexit makes clear that integration is also reversible; with Great Britain, one of the largest national economies is leaving the EU. European integration is characterised by uncertainty and inconsistencies; in addition, this decision fuels Eurosceptic supporters, parties with exit thoughts are gaining power.
This decision has to be a wake-up call, as the vote of the British and the scepticism of EU citizens does not come out of the blue. Rather it was preceded by failed economic policies for decades and also a misguided crisis management policy – a combination of strict austerity policy, interventions in the social system and downward wage pressure, whereby Great Britain was once again more greatly affected than other member states.
For many, the free markets of Europe have increasingly turned out to be a trap for wage and social dumping and offer tax loopholes. According to Greif, there are enough grounds to question the European promise of prosperity, which is given in the contracts, as it does not reach the citizens and is not perceptible for them. The trust in the EU is sustainably shaken and the political explosive power, which lies in it, was shown to us by the British.
The trade unions also declared their support for the EU in Great Britain, although they are not satisfied with the current Europe. But unfortunately they did not manage to build up the necessary mood. Now they have to see that the employees do not have to pay for this.
Referring to the chance, Greif says that one has to escape the shock-induced paralysis in order to promote the necessary change of course and to learn from Brexit. The foundations for a more social Europe have to be put in place.
Whoever thinks that “business as usual” is possible now will soon be surprised as Brexit will not be the last exit. If we see Brexit as a chance for change, then this whole exercise was not totally in vain.
How are the workers in Great Britain feeling now that Brexit has been triggered?
Simon Dubbins, unionist and Director for International Affairs and Research of the British union “Unite”, comments on this question. He clarifies the challenges which the union now faces:
Who would ever have thought that we would be in a situation like this today?
On the situation in Great Britain, Dubbins first of all stresses that Unite was clearly against Brexit. The union is not naive and the many problems of the EU are known; there is opposition to the austerity policy; that there is more and more deregulation, etc., but ultimately they understood that, from the perspective of the members, of the working class who are highly represented in industry, an exit from the single market would likely be catastrophic as regards job opportunities.
In Great Britain we have a totally deregulated labour market. We are dependent on the European directives, and it is a great danger to lose these.
They had a quite accurate perspective of what could happen, but were also surprised by how quickly all of this took place.
The Labour Party also supported remaining in the Union. Although there was always a discussion as to whether Jeremy Corbyn was really convinced of this, at least the the party launched a campaign to remain.
Regarding the shock, Dubbins made the following comments:
Before the referendum we already had a feeling that this could turn out badly, because, although most people I questioned prior to the referendum declared themselves in favour of remaining, they thought that the majority of their colleagues would vote against remaining.
This time, the Union indeed felt that they met resistance.
Shortly before the vote, the British MP, Jo Cox, was murdered, and he has no doubt that this was an act of extreme right-wingers, as the offender shouted “Britain first!”. For two or three days this led to us consciously thinking about what Brexit could mean and what atmosphere was actually stirred up during this campaign. Unfortunately, this was not enough.
With this, the country was left in a state of shock, suddenly everyone was disorientated; nobody knew anymore, what would happen next. Cameron was gone within a couple of days and Theresa May took over the leadership in the Conservative Party. Dubbins clearly considers the attempt to throw out Jeremy Corbyn as a mistake:
We should actually have given our attention to the government especially. But as this did not happen, the Labour Party had an internal crisis.
In the second part of the article, Simon Dubbins examines who voted for Brexit and why he sees Great Britain as a divided country.
Translation German-English: Anna Stockenhuber
|Brexit: Was kommt da auf uns zu? – Teil 1||Jeff Djevdet||CC BY 2.0|