EU Vox Pops: Through the Eyes of Generation Zero Hours

In the arduous run-up to the EU referendum, we’ve been given pros and cons for every perspective. Right or left-wing, baby-boomer or millennial, working class or business class, every socioeconomic subgroup has been offered tailored arguments as to why they’d be better off in or out of the EU.

As a young graduate working a zero-hours job on the so-called ‘living wage’, I’m no exception. Some say I should vote Remain to avoid further economic instability. Others urge me to vote Leave, claiming that it will grant me more control (something I doubt I’ll have either way) and warning me about the hordes of migrants allegedly eyeing up my job.

I decided to consult my colleagues - most of whom are under thirty, a few years out of uni and just about managing the rent - to see which arguments are proving most persuasive with Generation Zero Hours. I saw some of the apathy stereotypically expected from young voters – “it won’t affect my life either way”, “as long as they don’t deport Isabella from marketing I’m not fussed” etc. Many more, though, were determined to plough through the contradictory claims and ya-boo politicking, keen to formulate their own opinion on something that, as one put it, “will affect our generation more than any other”.

First and foremost was sheer uncertainty about what leaving might entail. “No country’s done this before, so when people say ‘leaving will cause this’ or ‘staying will do that’ they don’t really know, it’s all guesswork”, said Faye.

On the whole, though, my workmates were keen to hedge their bets. April called Europe a “two way street”, worrying that voting out would impact her own ability to travel or work abroad. Even Daryl, who was convinced that an independent Britain would eventually be more prosperous, was unconvinced about the price we’d have to pay. “Leaving might make a better country for my grandchildren, but what about people who are struggling to get by right now?” As a low-paid, unskilled worker, Clare was well aware that what privileges we do have - wage protection, fair working hours etc. - come largely from the EU. “Would we ever get those things in an independent UK?”, she pondered.

Uncertainty soon spilled over into disillusion with the nature of the debate. Aaron called it a “playground bitch fight based in xenophobia and inflated nationalism”, and Marie struggled to trust the motives of the politicians swaying our vote, constantly wondering “what they stand to gain”. Likewise, Gerard was tired of being caught in “a bunch of Eton boys’ battle for personal power. Whether we stay or leave”, he said, “we’ll make someone in the establishment happy. It’ll still be one of them in power”.

Although undecided, Gerard was equally sceptical of the Leave camp’s promises. “Even if you leave, you still have to pay money and accept free movement of people to deal with the EU. People make it seem like leaving will automatically get us all this money and shut the borders. It’s an impossible promise”.

dissatisfied with the EU but wary about the costs of leaving, it’s anybody’s guess whether my colleagues will vote to remain or lEAVE

Migration, despite dominating much of the wider national debate, was quickly brushed off. “The whole ‘immigrants are coming to get your job’ thing is old” stated Marie, plainly. “They add more than they take”, agreed Ed. “If they want to come, do a job properly and pay taxes, what’s the problem?” Although some pundits would say that they stand to lose the most from mass migration, my colleagues - who grew up with more diversity than previous generations, and frequently work alongside immigrants - were clearly less inclined to see foreign workers as the big bad wolves much of middle England imagines them to be.

In fact, consensus held that the biggest, baddest wolves weren’t coming from Warsaw, but from Whitehall. Many issues with the EU were raised – most frequently, its unelected Commission – but leaving under the terms of Boris Johnson et al hardly seemed like a popular alternative. “I don’t want the Tories running amok”, said Mike. “I’d rather let Brussels make some decisions than leave everything in the hands of Cameron”.  Marie nodded, saying that her top priorities – housing, education and the NHS – were being damaged not by far-off EU regulations, but by the reckless actions of our own government.

That’s not to say that an increasingly united Europe was wholly popular. Phillip said that he had “no problem with a European super-state, as long as that super-state is run by elected officials”. April, however, expressed doubts about how policies can be negotiated successfully between 28 counties of differing cultures and economies. Most shared Caitlin’s unease with “decisions about my life being made by god knows who in some back room”. Mike even argued that the EU was only intended to secure peace in Europe, and that allowing it to become too pervasive would be a “betrayal of our history”.

He was soon rebuffed by Emma, however, who closed the debate by stating: “I’d rather remain and change the EU from within. If you leave, you’re just removing yourself from the conversation. It achieves nothing”.

As we packed our lunches away and headed into the evening shift, it was clear that there was no definitive staff-room verdict. Unsure of who to believe, dissatisfied with the EU but wary about the costs of leaving, it’s anybody’s guess whether my colleagues will vote to remain or leave. In that sense, this seemingly narrow socioeconomic subgroup is, it turns out, a pretty accurate indicator of the UK at large.

More about the author

About the author

Harry Mason likes to call himself a freelance writer, even if his tax forms say he's technically a waiter. He graduated last year from the University of East Anglia, and writes predominantly about social politics and film. He looks forward to the day when he's able to grow a beard; until then, you'll just have to blame his so-called 'bleeding heart lefty views' on youthful naivety.

Follow Harry on Twitter.

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