Publishing on the move: unions and the EU referendum

unite

This is a guest post by Douglas Williamson on EU referendum, unions and publishing. Douglas is design manager at Macmillan ELT. He started his career at Butterworth Law Publishers and since then has worked for Longman, HarperCollins and Heinemann Education. He has been a union member from the start, and has just retired from the Unite National Committee for the Graphical, Paper, Media and IT industries.

From where I’m sitting in the London office of my German-owned employer, I can see around me two colleagues from Greece, one from Italy and another from Spain. I’m on a project team where the production controller is Slovakian, the managing editor is Irish and the marketing executive is Polish. Our online English dictionary is managed from Brussels by a Hungarian. Nigel Farage and friends will be disappointed to know that none of them are undermining my terms and conditions, and most of them have joined Unite or the NUJ to help defend employment standards.

As far as the EU referendum is concerned, we ordinary workers will have difficulty verifying the claims and counter-claims of the Stay and Leave campaigns, so our votes might come down to a straightforward affirmation of solidarity with our EU colleagues, and a repudiation of the xenophobia that seems never far below the surface of the Leave case.

The leavers want to repatriate powers from Brussels. You can be sure that high on their target list will be the EU employment protection measures transposed into UK law, such as the Information & Consultation of Employees Regulations, the Working Time Directive, and the Agency Workers Regulations, not to mention environmental protections affecting health and safety at work – ironic, really, when you think that one of the main arguments of the leavers is that EU migrants are a threat to UK employment standards. If we leave, Messrs Gove, Johnson and Grayling will give us better workers’ rights, will they?

Unite the Union is backing continued UK membership of the EU to protect jobs, employment rights and the concept of the social market. But that doesn’t mean unqualified support: Unite, in common with the rest of the trade-union movement and many civil society organisations, is opposed to trade agreements such as CETA and TTIP, currently being negotiated between the EU, Canada and the United States behind closed doors. However, we can only exert influence from within the EU.

The EU finances research into the future prospects of the various industrial sectors, including publishing. Two years ago, using EU funding, the International Federation of Graphical Unions produced a report on the impact of digital publishing on printed media in Europe, entitled ‘Publishing on the move, followed up by an EU-wide conference of worker representatives in the graphical and media industry to plan for an orderly transition between technologies. Unite played a big part in that initiative, and that’s the way we want it to stay.

For more information on trade unionism and publishing, read this brief introduction.