WORKERS “can’t afford to walk away” from the European Union, TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady claimed to firefighters yesterday before a crunch debate today.
Delegates to the Fire Brigades Union annual conference unexpectedly overruled conference organisers to put a ruled-out Brexit motion back on the agenda.
Ms O’Grady told conference: “We believe a Brexit would be a huge gamble with the rights, jobs and livelihoods of working people.
“We have to ask ourselves, if we came out of the EU what alternative brand of capitalism would the UK end up becoming a satellite of instead?”
But she said she was “just as fed up as everyone else with a debate that seems to be dominated by posh blokes in suits talking about what’s in their best interests.”
The FBU executive voted to support remaining inside the EU earlier this year. Its policy statement will be moved by general secretary Matt Wrack and accepted or rejected today.
Standing orders officials ruled out a motion from the London region calling for a vote to leave, arguing that it did not meet the criteria for an emergency motion. But delegates voted to overturn this decision despite pleas that it would set a bad precedent for conference business.
Delegates from West Yorkshire tried to introduce a motion calling for a neutral stance, which was also ruled out of order.
London FBU secretary Paul Embery, who will move the pro-leave motion today, said: “The EU is no friend of workers. It’s an institution which is rampantly capitalist, rampantly pro-austerity and has imposed massive suffering on working people.”
But Tam McFarlane, who represents south-west England on the union’s executive, said the debate was being mostly constructed around opposition to immigration.
“We do accept that there’s a left case for leaving but to do so now would leave us in the hands of the Conservative government,” he said.
Most British unions have followed the TUC in supporting EU membership, with only rail unions RMT and Aslef and food workers’ union BFAWU coming out against the bosses’ club.