Trade Union, Unite has voted overwhelmingly to “keep the door open” on a public vote. Although the words were chosen carefully, and it did not specifically back a second referendum it nevertheless endorsed the possibility of a further vote.
At the union’s policy conference in Brighton it was also agreed that most of its members believe it is highly unlikely the final Brexit deal would satisfy the Union’s criteria.
Unite is one of the Labour Party’s closest allies and the party’s biggest funder and the adoption of the executive motion may go some way to persuading the Labour leadership that a further referendum is in fact in the interests of voters who have been misled over Brexit.
Furthermore, it is now official that the three biggest unions, Unite, the GMB and Unison are clearly opposed to a hard Brexit. With this in mind The People’s Vote, the organisation calling for a second referendum, must mobilise members of these unions and garner their support.
Time is short and the consequences of such a shambolic and catastrophic ‘deal’ will have a devastating effect on the very people the unions seek to support.
Jack Jones, leader of the Transport and General Workers (TGWU) from 1969 to1978 died last night aged 96. I was privileged to know Jack, who lived in south-east London not far from my old stamping ground of Lewisham and Deptford, and it was through one-time Lewisham councillor Mee Ling Ng that I met Jack and his wife, Evelyn, who sadly passed away nearly ten years ago. I joined Jack and Evelyn and their son Mick for Sunday lunch on more than one occasion – something which gave me great pleasure as well as providing much to think about.
Occasionally a person appears on the national, and indeed international, stage who is such a towering figure that the well worn word “great” seems sorely inadequate. Jack Jones was such a person. As a young man he fought the fascists as part of the International Brigades during the Spanish civil war in the 1930s. A docker in Liverpool, Jack grew up in poverty yet made it to the very top. Even his contribution after leaving the union was massive – he donated the money he was given as a retirement present to the TGWU Retired Members’ Fund and used this as a base to set up the National Pensioners’ Convention to which he gave truly committed leadership until his health forbade it.
Jack was, above all, a compassionate man. Rather than talk about his own tough upbringing, he preferred to comment about today’s poverty. ‘You’ve got slum areas, multi-occupied flats. There’s terrific poverty near where I live, even though people are working, slaving their guts out, wives as well as husbands, a pretty squalid existence. They’re living on ready-made food because there’s no time to prepare nourishing food. I was brought up in poverty but we fed relatively well, we had Irish stew, rabbit stew. And people were closer together, it was a more human collective existence. These days women are expected to work nights even if they’ve got babies. It’s shameful and it’s wrong.’
It was this care and concern for all, especially the vulnerable and the poor, which drove Jack. As the most formidable trade union leader during the turbulent 1970s he was said by some to be Britain’s real ruler. Nonetheless, Jack did it all because he believed in making life better for the majority, especially those whose lives were difficult. He was an inspiration to us all.