The enlargement of the EU that allowed people from new member states to come to Britain was a gigantic experiment conducted at the expense of ordinary workers, Len McCluskey has said.
However, he rejected the leave campaign’s argument that withdrawing from the EU would prevent “cheap labour” from coming to Britain, describing such claims as a “cruel con-trick” perpetuated by rightwing Conservatives.
His intervention comes amid growing concerns from senior members of the Labour movement that traditional party voters are preparing to opt for leaving the EU in the referendum on Thursday.
McCluskey wrote that he was not surprised that Labour voters were concerned about immigration. “In the last 10 years, there has been a gigantic experiment at the expense of ordinary workers. Countries with vast historical differences in wage rates and living standards have been brought together in a common labour market,” he said.
“The result has been sustained pressure on living standards, a systematic attempt to hold down wages and to cut the costs of social provision for working people.”
On Sunday, Corbyn told Andrew Marr that he did not believe there could be an upper limit on immigration while there was free movement within the EU, causing some concern among Labour MPs.
Ten countries joined the EU in 2004: Hungary, Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Slovenia, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta and Cyprus. Romania and Bulgaria joined in 2007.
In the article, McCluskey wrote that the Conservatives dominating the leave campaign could not be trusted to stop people willing to work for lower wages coming from abroad or to protect worker’s rights.
“Leaving the EU will not stop the supply of cheap labour coming to Britain. Those who profit from wage-cutting found a way to import cheap labour without the EU in the past, and will find ways to do so again. The idea that leaving the EU is a shortcut to social justice is a cruel con-trick by the right wing of the Tory party,” he said.
In a further sign of tensions within remain, the chairman of Labour In, Alan Johnson, has conceded that the campaign is “struggling” with some serious challenges.
During the Guardian’s Politics weekly podcast, he said the referendum “is kind of turning into a referendum on Cameron’s vainglorious policy of reducing immigration to the tens of thousands, which he was never going to do”.
The former home secretary said this had been the dynamic “as soon as the [second quarter] immigration statistics came out, and we’re still struggling with the after-effects of that”.
McCluskey, whose union is Labour’s biggest financial backer, said the UK’s ability to attract multinational employers would be damaged by a Brexit.
“I have been in enough multinational boardrooms fighting for the future of our factories to know that raising this issue is not scaremongering. When the big investment decisions are made, particularly in manufacturing, Britain will be heading to the back of the queue,” he wrote.
In a pointed attack on Michael Gove and Boris Johnson, key figures in the Vote Leave campaign, he said the NHS would not be safe in their hands if Britain voted to leave.
“Anyone who thinks that [the NHS] will be safe with these hardcore privatisers is smoking something funny in their rollups,” McCluskey said. “We owe the British people a clear warning against the dangers of walking out of the EU and into the arms of those who think Maggie Thatcher didn’t go far enough.
“Brexit may or may not prompt an early election, but it will certainly lead to an early shift to the right.”
This article was written by Rajeev Syal, for theguardian.com on Monday 20th June 2016 16.40 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010