Why the Unite leader’s Brexit stance is a betrayal of young union members

Len McCluskey is alienating young workers by dismissing polling on a People's Vote.

When YouGov polling yesterday revealed nearly two-thirds of trade unionists support a public vote on the Brexit deal, the response was clear.

Senior figures called on Labour to move quickly. Union spokespeople backed up the 64% of members in favour of a new vote.

The GMB, TSSA, IWGB, Community, the RCN, the BMA, and NUS have all come out in support of a people’s vote.

Unite’s Len McCluskey, however, did not. Much like his reaction to the whole Brexit crisis, his response was to ignore the evidence and dismiss the polling as “not credible”.

It wasn’t enough that the sample included nearly two thousand workers, or that it was weighted to ensure it was representative of gender, age, region, and political alignment.

All that mattered what that it didn’t help the party leader’s office. It’s just the kind of backroom politics which alienates young workers from joining unions.

I joined my union at 22, after whistleblowing on sexual misconduct allegations landed me a disciplinary. My workplace broke its own policies to cover itself, and without crucial union advice, I could easily have lost my job.

But as a young worker, I’m in the minority. The Government’s data this year showed less than one in ten workers under 24 are in a union. The proportion of members aged 16-24 has almost halved since 1995, falling to a dismal 4.4%.

It’s not like they don’t need them. It’s young workers, along with migrants, who get an especially bad deal in terms of working conditions. Minimum wage (sometimes less); precarious conditions; low-quality jobs.

And it’s not like they don’t value collective action either. This year has seen mass mobilisation of young people, protesting Westminster’s failures over Brexit and climate change.

If the 10,000 young climate strikers joined unions when they hit 16, it would increase the number of 16-19 year-old members by roughly a third.

All because of the factional politics, bureaucratic structures, and fusty old men. When the TUC ran focus group research with young people in 2011, they said that they associate unions with “people who wear brown shirts and go on caravan holidays”. No offence to my dad-in-law.

We know that Brexit will have a huge impact on the jobs of all those who are members of unions such as Unite, especially young workers – and McCluskey is not representing them properly if he dismisses the evidence in front of him.

In the same quote, he admitted himself that his members are concerned about the likely prospect of No Deal Brexit – 69% of Unite members think it will be bad for the economy and jobs.

Footballing legend Peter Reid said it best when he called out Red Len in Leeds on Saturday. Speaking at a people’s vote rally, he said “McCluskey, your union reps are going to lose their jobs, lad. Shake your head.”

Luke Myer is a 24-year-old teacher and supporter of For our Future’s Sake, a youth and student-led campaign for a people’s vote.

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7 Responses to “Why the Unite leader’s Brexit stance is a betrayal of young union members”

  1. Steve P

    Another person who doesn’t believe in democracy if it produces the “wrong” result.

  2. Tom Sacold

    Len McCluskey has got his priorities absolutely right.

    There is NO possibility of a real socialist government in the UK whilst we remain a member of the EU.

    Brexit is the enabler to a socialist future. We need to use the Brexit process for our own ends. We need to be free of the EU’s legal stranglehold that enforces neoliberal market capitalism on the member states.

  3. Michael Fitchett

    A period of silence on Len’s part would be welcome

  4. Cole

    Len is a nasty old man following his own personal agenda.

  5. Cole

    Sacold is still going on about the socialist utopia we’ll get with Brexit. I wonder if he’s one of the Labour Leave mob – the organisation that was largely paid for by wealthy Tories.

    The rest of us know Brexit is a ploy to help the already wealthy. That’s why it was paid for a small bunch of rich guys and fronted by hard right wingers.

  6. Brian Sweeney

    Tom Sacold is right, he, like me, may well be a ‘Leaver’ and proud of it. Brexit may well be loved my right wing Tories, and of course they pile money and support into causes that they feel will benefit them. But the Tories can only benefit if the electorate are fooled enough to vote them again. Tony Benn saw the future of the Common Market and warned against it after Ted Heath had lied us into the CM. His warnings went unheeded, and in the 1975 referendum most of the media and press were in favour of staying in, saying you can change it if we stay in, much good that did, not! I want Boris to get in as the Tory Party leader he will soon put his big foot in his mouth, and pretty soon there could soon be a General Election, mind you if the Labour Party lose the vote we could always say we should have another one because many in the Party seem to agree only if the result favours their outlook.
    When/if we Leave we know we will be in for a tough time, Claude Drunker and others in the EU will not stop trying to punish us, but they will also be afraid that other European countries who have been short changed by the EU may well take an example from us and pluck up the courage to leave. So show courage and fight for our independence from the clutches of the corrupt EU Federalists.

  7. Andi Linden

    I’m nearly 60, and I totally agree with this writer. I’ve just resigned from the Unite union, not just because of McLuskey’s dismissive attitude to the poll, but because he then went on to state that “I don’t need YouGov or the public vote people to tell me how my members are thinking.” Erm… he never actually asked us….

    I note one of the comments on here states that “Claude Drunker and others in the EU will not stop trying to punish us, but they will also be afraid that other European countries who have been short changed by the EU may well take an example from us and pluck up the courage to leave.” Actually, I doubt they’ve got anything to worry about: https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/brexit-eu-survey-italy-ireland-portugal-eurosceptic-poll-a8888126.html

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