From the TUC

The more people know about Tory Europe plans, the less they like them

08 Mar 2013, by in International, Working Life

Unions21 have released some fascinating opinion poll data ahead of their 20th anniversary conference today, including some data that they have press released about workers attitudes to the European Union. The headline news is that, whereas the population as a whole would leave the EU if offered a choice tomorrow (Peter Kellner has written before about how that might change during a referendum campaign), working people would vote to stay in by a 45%-41% margin. And it also shows that working people are worried about the Government’s plans to reduce employment rights by repatriating them ahead of an in-out referendum.

What we still don’t know is whether this is an age thing (the main group left out of the data is retired people, and we know from other data that they poll more eurosceptically) – and whether that’s a cohort effect or the actual result of getting older! – or whether it’s because people at work have more to lose if the UK left the EU. But there are some really interesting things in the data which suggest that trade union members are more keen to stay in the EU than non-members, and that the more you stand to lose, the more you oppose the Government’s repatriation plans.

Overall (it’s just one poll) the data suggests to me a working hypothesis that the more we inform those who will lose out worst under the Government’s Social Europe repatriation plans, the more they will oppose the Government’s agenda. And that’s worth feeding into our campaigning plans.

The full data shows that among trade union members, support for staying in the EU is 51%-36%, compared with non-members who are pretty evenly split between those who would vote to leave (42%) and stay (44%) and the overall worker view given above. There isn’t much of a regional difference (southerners appear to be slightly less positive about staying in, but within the margin of error). But there are real distinctions based on socio-economic group (a classification based on job, rather than class), age and political views generally. And there is a fairly traditional higher rate of don’t knows among women (19% to 10% for men).

It’s difficult to read too much into some of these findings because of sample size, although they are in line with other polls. For example, in terms of age, 18-34 year olds are much more pro-EU (a 12% gap) than 35-54 year olds (a 3% gap) but the tiny number of over-55s show a 12% majority for leaving the EU. Politically, 2010 Labour voters and Liberal Democrats are pretty much identical (a 26% gap in favour of staying in), with the Tories the amost exact opposite. And in terms of socio-economic groups, ABs come out with a 25% gap for staying in, gradually declining through C1s and C2s (skilled manual workers – only just positive about staying in) to DEs who favour leaving by 52%-33%.

Where it gets really interesting is when asked if people are concerned about losing EU-derived employment rights. Now this is a bit of a loaded question: what worker would give up workplace rights? (The answer, according to the poll, is Conservative ones. And those on the cusp of retirement.)

But what’s interesting is seeing which groups are most concerned about the possible loss of those rights. Women, who polled pretty similarly to men on the in/out question (with the higher proportion of don’t knows which usually shows up on such polls), were far, far more concerned about losing their employment rights – presumably because so many of those rights are so much more important to women (equal pay, part-time work, even working time.)

Males showed a preponderance of “somewhat concerned” and “very concerned” over “somewhat unconcerned” and “very unconcerned” of 68% to 32% or roughly two to one. The preponderance for women, however, was 80% to 21%, or four to one. That’s a big difference, and interestingly the youngest age groups (who are less well-established in the labour market) showed a similar 4:1 split.

Regional and political splits echoed the pattern for in/out questions (although Labour voters at 9:1 were much more likely to be concerned than Liberal Democrat voters, 4:1) and ABs were more concerned than DEs, but there was no group (not even 2010 Conservative voters – although they were only concerned/unconcerned by 55%:45%) who were more unconcerned than concerned. Union members showed an 83% to 17% preponderance of concern, but even non-members were much more likely to be concerned than not.

So, as indicated above, the lesson for the TUC from these figures (it’s just one poll, remember) is that where people feel they have a lot to lose from Tory plans to repatriate workers’ rights, they don’t like it. So we should be stressing how people will lose out – and that’s just what we will do!