On Saturday, the British Labour Party overwhelmingly elected Jeremy Corbyn as their new party leader. In one of his first public appearances in his new role, Corbyn delivered a speech at the TUC Congress in which he described himself as a ‘proud unionist’ and said: “I am, and always will be, an active trade unionist. That is in my body.”
Meanwhile, the Guardian suggests that Corbyn’s views may play a crucial role in the upcoming referendum on whether Britain should stay in the EU. The Conservative prime minister David Cameron is negotiating a new deal with the EU, and “the prime minister has been under pressure from business to include changes to workers’ rights in his negotiation package” (which would seem consistent with his broader anti-union strategy).
The TUC has indicated it may revoke its support for staying in the EU if this means rolling down social and employment rights. As TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady explained to the FT: “Those who are expecting the trade union movement to bang the drum for Europe should think very hard about whether they can in all good faith make that request and then attack our rights by the back door.”
According to the Guardian, there is ‘deep concern’ in the pro-European camp at the ‘growing Eurosceptic mood’. Corbyn hasn’t taken a stance yet but has said Cameron should not have a ‘blank cheque’ in his negotiations with the EU.
Below are some quotes from Corbyn’s speech at the TUC Congress.
“We need to stand in solidarity with trade unionists all over the world demanding exactly the same things as we have secured for ourselves and trying to defend for ourselves. Trade unionism is a worldwide movement, not just a national movement and we should never be ashamed to say that.”
Democratic labour movement
Referring to the people who participated in his own election: “But all those people coming forward to take part in this process came forward, yes, because they were interested, yes, because they were hopeful but, yes, because they wanted to be part of a democratic process where we make policy together. … I want everybody to bring their views forward, every union branch, every party branch and every union, so we develop organically the strengths we all have, the ideas we all have and the imagination we all have.”
The proposed Trade Union Bill
“They are threatening the right of peaceful protest by looking to criminalise picketing. They are even threatening the right to free speech by seeking to limit what a union member can say on social media during a dispute. Are we really going to have teams of civil servants or lawyers or police or somebody trawling through massive numbers of twitter messages, Facebook messages, to find something somebody said about their employer or about an industrial dispute? What kind of intrusive society are they really trying to bring about.”
“They call us “deficit deniers”, but then they spend billions in cutting taxes for the richest families and for the most profitable businesses. What they are as is “poverty deniers”. … Let’s be clear. Austerity is actually a political choice that this Government has taken and they are imposing it on the most vulnerable and poorest in our society.”