Report on Croydon TUC’s Referendum Debate

The EU Referendum Debate hosted by Croydon TUC at Ruskin House yesterday (9 June) was a well attended event whose tone and content was very different to anything we are hearing on the BBC or reading in the mass media. None of the invited speakers and hardly anyone speaking from the floor raised the racist and anti-immigrant arguments discussed obsessively in the ‘official’ campaigns; and little heat was generated about the specious “facts” seen as pivotal in the ‘official’ debate. Indeed, there was wide agreement that the debate reported by the BBC in the mass media was little more than a row between two wings of the Tory Party and those hangers on foolish enough to be sucked/suckered into their squalid debate.

The case to stay in was put by Mark Serwotka, the much respected and admired General Secretary of the civil servants union PCS, speaking in a personal capacity. The leave case was put by Eddie Dempsey, a young and dynamic member of the Executive Committee of the rail union RMT which is a long standing opponent of the EU (and its predecessors the EC and the EEC). The third speaker was Steve Freeman from Republican Socialists group who argued for abstention in order to deny credibility to either of the ‘official’ campaigns.

There was a remarkable degree of consensus expressed and acknowledged by all three speakers. All agreed that the EU was based on:

  1. the free movement of capital and labour – a right wing, neo-liberal concept that benefitted the former but did little or nothing for the latter; and
  2. suppressed democracy and trade union rights – this being a deliberate strategy from the foundation of the EEC to ensure that workers were not in a position to overturn (1).

The different conclusions reached by the three speakers turned on their views on the immediate consequences of a vote to leave. For Eddie Dempsey it would sweep away both the Tories and the legal obstacle to public ownership that the EU provided. The Tories would split and an opportunity to build towards a socialist future would open up. Mark Serwotka feared that if we left the EU we would face continued Tory rule and a government set on making workers pay for the resulting economic uncertainty. For Steve Freeman, the immediate prospects were bleak whatever the outcome of the referendum: the real need was to unite the European working class and whether or not we were in the EU was irrelevant.

There was unanimous agreement that the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) currently being negotiated in secret by the European Commission and the US would be disastrous for the UK, but the speakers disagreed on whether leaving the EU would enable the UK to escape it. Again, these differing conclusions arose from the speakers’ different views on what government would come out on top following a vote to leave. A right wing government would, according to Mark Serwotka, drag us in; but for others it was undeniable that, in the short term at least, exit would enable us to escape TTIP.

There were a number of useful contributions from the floor, including one from Comrade Peter Latham of this branch who drew attention to the Lexit  or Left Leave Campaign.

At the end of the evening, the Chair, Jon Morgan, called for a show of hands on the voting intentions of those present. This was pretty evenly divided. The call to abstain didn’t, however, receive any significant support.


PCS have intervened in the Croydon North by-election by inviting candidates to sign up to five pledges:

1. To support PCS campaigns against public service job cuts and for an alternative to economically damaging austerity policies.

2. To support the PCS campaign for fair pay and a living wage.

3. To support the PCS campaign for fair pensions for all; including calling on the government to protect public sector pensions ensuring that they’re not linked with the state pension age, that the government addresses pensioner poverty and that companies are prevailed upon to ensure they fulfil their pension obligation to staff.

4. To support the campaign for publicly delivered welfare services and programmes based on dignity and support for those unable to work.

5. To oppose unpaid work experience placements which exploit young jobless people, and discourage employers from genuine job creation and paying fair wages.

Ben Stevenson, the Communist Party candidate has responded as follows:

I wholeheartedly pledge support for all five policies identified by PCS. Furthermore, I consider them to be the primary issues to be put before the electors of Croydon North. The current economic crisis was not caused by ordinary working people, but they, including members of PCS, are being made to pay for it with an austerity programme involving cuts in public sector jobs, worsening of terms of service, and reduction in, and privatisation of, public services. The attack on public sector pensions has more to do with fattening up public services for privatisation than in any conceivable cost saving. The callous treatment of young jobless people and the proposals for older workers to work until they drop or be forced to live on subsistence-level welfare when they cannot work must be exposed and opposed. The claim that “we are all in it together” is a blatant lie, as is Labour’s counterposed policy of “Yes to cuts,  – but let’s take a little longer”.  But there is an alternative: it’s called socialism.

At the time of posting this entry, neither the Greens nor the Labour Party have responded. The Tories and their Lib-Dem lackies are, of course, silent.