EU no friend of the workers

FOR ALL socialist and progressive organisations and individuals the big question regarding the coming referendum on whether Britain should stay in the European Union has to be what is best for the working class?

All other issues are subsidiary. Whichever way we vote we will still be ruled by an imperialist state with an imperialist currency. Immigration and the refugee crisis, fighting racism, fighting for the NHS, solving the housing crisis, austerity — these battles will still be with us whatever the outcome of the vote.

Our question is what conditions will give the working class the best chance of winning these battles — and then going on to challenge capitalism itself?

Does being a member of the EU give workers mores protection? The evidence says no. Being in the EU did not stop Margaret Thatcher and John Major stripping union rights from workers in Britain. And it is not stopping Cameron from continuing that policy with anti-democratic measures that Franco would have envied.

The truth is that EU economic policy dictated that Britain must close down its coalfields. It gave Thatcher the excuse for her war of attrition against the National Union of Mineworkers which, after a titanic struggle, ended with the biggest set-back that the organised working class in this country ever suffered. Wages have declined ever since leading to soaring levels of working class debt and all the problems that created.

And it did not even mean that we went over to a greener, more environmentally healthy way of generating energy. We still use imported oil, gas and coal — some of which comes from places like Colombia where it is mined by child labour — for most of our energy supplies. And being part of the EU has not protected us from the threat of fracking.

The EU is about to become signatory to the notorious TTIP trading agreement that will give giant multinational companies the right to tear up all our protective regulations: planning, safety, anti-discrimination and so on. Outside the EU the threat will remain but it will be easier to defeat in Whitehall rather than in Brussels — especially if Jeremy Corbyn were to become prime minister.

It was the EU that has driven privatisation policies throughout Europe as EU governments followed Thatcher’s lead. Together as the EU these countries were able to impose privatisation on each other and on their trade and aid with developing countries.

It was the EU that insisted on a clause in the 2012 Health and Social Care Act to ensure that private companies had free rein to bid to provide NHS services with the right to sue the NHS commissioning bodies if they failed to get their pound of flesh.

When Britain joined the Common Market in 1973 the first noticeable effect was the increase in prices for food, clothes and other essentials. Value Added Tax was introduced in large part to fund the Common Agricultural Policy. This gave vast subsidies ostensibly for farmers. In some countries the farmers got it but in Britain it went mostly to the big landowners, making them richer than they had even been before. The small farmers who rented their farms from these giant landlords were not so lucky. No wonder some of the biggest Tory grandees love the EU.

The EU did not give us the rights to paid holidays and sick leave. Our unions had already won these rights long before 1973, when they were stronger than they are now. The EU has failed to significantly enhance any of these rights. Only one force can do that — us, organised in our unions.

Britain’s presence in the EU is not good for European workers. Within the EU, Britain acts as a Trojan horse for the United States. It undermines EU economic policy in the wake of the 2008 banking crash by refusing to support banking regulation and by turning the City of London into a low-tax haven.

The EU is not good for any working class throughout the whole EU — look what it has done to living standards and human rights in Greece. But Spain, Italy and Ireland are also having a hard time. If Britain quits several other countries may well follow suit and the EU may well cease to be a major force for imperialism.

There is nothing to say that all our workers across Europe and beyond cannot unite and work together — all the more effectively for not having to play by the pro-capitalist terms laid down by the EU.