The EU debate, thus far, has been dominated by the voices of big business and right wing politicians. The media coverage has been skewed toward these interests with, for example, not one trade union leader or representative of working people given a platform to speak on such programmes as BBC Question Time and Newsnight.
There has already been much heat and a severe lack of light in the debate over whether Britain should leave the European Union.
The referendum starting gun was fired after Prime Minister David Cameron came back from Brussels waving his new deal for Britain in the EU. The deal related little to worker’s rights, focusing instead on protecting the interests of finance capital and cutting migrant’s rights to benefits.
The EU is by no means a perfect construct: undemocratic in many ways, taking sovereignty from member states and doing the will of its neo-liberal masters - it has become big and unwieldy.
All that said, the EU has not just been about business, it has also provided a bulwark for the defence of trade union rights.
Back in 1988, then EU President Jacques Delors argued that the free market must have rules, that Europe must deliver real benefits for workers and that trade unions must have an equal place at the table.
Many of the worker’s rights were contained in what became known as the “Social Chapter”, which John Major’s Government did so much to avoid with its opt out in the early 1990s.
It was only when Labour came to power in 1997 that Britain signed up to the Social Chapter in full. The reticence of successive British governments to embrace the social agenda over the years is something to be born in mind, when assessing whether it is wise to leave worker’s rights totally in the gift of Westminster politicians.
Among the gains for workers, achieved as a result of the Social Chapter have been the right to 20 days paid annual leave a year, the right not to be forced to work more than 48 hours a week on average, the right to equal treatment for part-time, fixed term and agency workers, the right to high standards of health and safety at work and protection for workers subject to outsourcing or business buyouts.
In terms of equality, the EU has also offered a lead, pushing the right to equal pay and protection from discrimination in the workplace on grounds of sexual orientation, gender reassignment, age and religion or belief.
Women have gained, winning the right to paid time off for anti-natal appointments and protection for pregnant women and new mothers in the workplace. Parents also have the right to 18 weeks parental leave per child.
The TUC estimate that six million workers gained new or enhanced rights to paid holidays due to the EU (2 million of who previously had no annual leave). Some 400,000 part time workers, mostly women, gained improved pay and conditions when equal treatment rights were introduced.