Tendance Coatesy

Left Socialist Blog

Internationalist Responses to Len McCluskey on Brexit and Freedom of Movement.

with 3 comments


Galloway: “Discussing “freedom of movement” of cheap labour into Britain.  As @LenMcCluskey  just said it must end with #Brexit

Len McCluskey, Head of UNITE, has had a very mixed response to a Guardian interview in which he tried to lay down the line to Labour on Brexit and freedom of movement.


In a wide-ranging interview, McCluskey said:

  • Labour needed to get the election debate off Brexit and on to the day-to-day issues that really mattered to voters.
  • The shadow cabinet should keep quiet about how it would campaign in the event of another referendum.
  • White working-class supporters of leave in the 2016 referendum would be driven into the arms of a hard-right party unless their concerns about migration were dealt with.
  • There would be no attempt to move Labour back to the centre if the party lost the election.
  • He predicted paramilitary attacks on UK mainland ports as a result of the customs border down the Irish Sea that forms a key part of Johnson’s Brexit withdrawal deal.

Some people have not appreciated the call to “shut up” from somebody who looks as if he is now backing a “People’s Brexit’ – that is the Dancing with Care Bears prospect of a Brexit from the ‘left’.

Other have remarked that “concerns about migration” looks like a threat to muster prejudiced support for McClusky”s call to end freedom of movement.

In other words, be silent,. and we’ll sort the Brexit stuff out, with the help of the pro-Brexit UNITE chief of Staff, Andrew Murray.

One issue has caused an immediate response.

Unite leader infuriates activists who campaigned for radical pro-migration motion

Alena Ivanova, from the Labour Campaign for Free Movement, said: “A Romanian care worker and a British bus driver have more in common with each other than they do with their boss. That is the basis of the trade union movement. Len McCluskey’s job is to fight for their full rights, for decent pay and the right not to be deported and harassed by the state because of their immigration status.”

The Morning Star and the other supporters of the McClusky line, like Skwawkbox, have been quiet on the controversy.


But McClusky has got George Galloway’s backing:

Today Labour for a Socialist Europe says,  It’s solidarity that we need, not borders, Len


Mark Boothroyd
Branch Secretary, Guy’s and St Thomas NHS Hospitals Unite Branch (personal capacity)

Len McCluskey’s intervention in the debate over freedom of movement is aiding the Tories, and promoting myths about immigration that the trade union movement should be dismantling.

Yesterday McCluskey criticised the policy voted for at Labour Party conference, of defending and extending freedom of movement for all migrants. McCluskey said “It’s wrong in my view to have any greater free movement of labour unless you get stricter labour market regulation.”

What does stricter labour market regulation mean? If McCluskey means more rights for trade unions and stronger collective bargaining agreements to strengthen workers organising against the employers, then as a socialist and trade unionist I heartily agree. But that has nothing to do with freedom of movement. In fact, opposing freedom of movement, and the equal rights that accompany it, will only weaken unions. When workers’ immigration status is tied to their boss through visas or work permits, they are more vulnerable to exploitative employers who can have them arrested and deported at a whim.

One of the better ways to ensure “stricter labour market regulation”, would be to grant all workers the same rights and protections, regardless of their immigration status. This is what proponents of freedom of movement want, equal rights for all, with the right to live and work wherever we choose. In the same interview McCluskey shows he could make these arguments, but instead he panders to a nationalist and xenophobic worldview.


McCluskey clarifies his statement.

Now this is true, but it is still the case that McClusky – see Galloway – is now seen as against the continuation of existing freedom of movement in the European Union.

The pro-Brexit  RS21 (they are against a “Tory Brexit” claiming to  “oppose both the British state and the European Union” whatever that means…) offers a sustained critique of McClusky’s views.

Defend workers’ rights – against McCluskey

Unite General Secretary Len McCluskey is attempting to undermine the free movement policy agreed at Labour conference. Unite activist Ian Allinson argues for the right of working-class people to live and work where we want and explains why unions and the Labour Party are so ambivalent.

What makes McCluskey’s remarks even more outrageous is that he is arguing for the Labour leadership to ignore policy passed at Labour Party conference with Unite support. Corbyn has tried to make Labour more democratic, but there were already worries that the Labour leadership would revert to a more traditional approach, as suggested by Diane Abbott’s comments.

Neither McCluskey nor Abbott are motivated by racism – they are conceding ground to racists for electoral reasons. But pandering to the racists doesn’t win them over. We have already seen a huge shift in the public debate since Corbyn replaced Miliband and his racist mugs. You can’t win an argument without having it – we need to push Labour’s manifesto as far to the left as we can. But we need to argue and campaign for workers’ rights to live and work where we want whatever the manifesto says. Labour’s conference policy makes that easier.

We need to get this right. This debate is only going to get more important as the climate crisis forces more people to migrate as a result of droughts, famines, floods, fires and wars.

3 Responses

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  1. I am a union organiser. Len McCluskey’s migrant clampdown will only benefit bosses
    Ewa Jasiewicz

    Unite general secretary Len McCluskey’s recent claim that clamping down on migrant workers will make Labour more attractive to the “white working class” doesn’t reflect a trade unionism that I and many other organisers – migrant and UK citizens – believe in.

    I worked as an organiser for Unite on and off for seven years between 2005 and 2014. I’ve worked with warehouse packers and pickers, meat-processing workers, cleaners, baggage handlers, cabin crew, waiters and drivers, in the north-west, south-east and London. My parents were immigrants from Poland – my dad trained with the RAF after spending years incarcerated in a gulag in Siberia, and my mum came in the early 1970s to marry my father and see life on the other side of the iron curtain. Friends and family followed suit over the years, every time for “bread”, working on construction sites, in hospitality, tailoring, whatever they could find.

    My job, as a trade union organiser, was to organise with workers. All workers. One class: the working class. They had different languages, different religions, different beliefs, but one common experience of exploitation by a system that treats them all as labour, giving some more status than others, but all under the same boot when it comes to the needs of capital. Workplaces where three agencies functioned simultaneously, playing workers off against one another. Workplaces where cleaners were registered at Companies House as directors and had to pay £30 a week to an agency just to have their wages processed. Workers who weren’t paid at all. Workers on zero-hours contracts who were “switched off” and sent home as per the needs of warehouse orders…



    Andrew Coates

    November 15, 2019 at 5:42 pm

  2. Even this seems not good enough for a supposedly close ally to Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of the Unite trade union Len McCluskey. In an article in the Guardian he makes the bold statement that a victory for Labour in the general election means taking a tough line on ending freedom of movement. Arguing that a policy aimed at preventing the pay and conditions of workers from being undercut meant ending the free movement of labour, he has given a gift to the anti-immigrant right which has spent years blaming newcomers for making things worse for people already present in the UK workforce.


    Andrew Coates

    November 15, 2019 at 7:03 pm

  3. […] See also: Coatesy, on the same subject, here […]

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