BREXIT DEBATE at Ruskin House

To reiterate our previous posting, communists seek fundamental change – to our economy, our democracy, our constitution, our relations with other nations, our response to climate change and, above all, change to break the power of the capital. It was good to hear Dave Ward, the General Secretary of the communications and postal union, CWU, express not dissimilar sentiments at the public meeting at Ruskin House last night. The other speaker, Cllr Patsy Cummings, running for the Croydon and Sutton GLA Labour candidate and widely acknowledged as a sound left winger and easily the best candidate on offer, simply declared that “Labour is a remain party”. Dave Ward showed a greater awareness of the difficulty for the Labour Party if they too blatantly abandon the commitment in their 2017 election manifesto to respect and implement the referendum decision to leave. He finessed the position significantly, stressing the need to negotiate ‘credible’ leave arrangements and referring to Jeremy Corbyn’s speech to the TUC this week where he confirmed the sequential strategy comprising

  • Stop a no deal Brexit in October.
  • A general election once this had been accomplished – Tom Watson’s argument for a general election first was dismissed.
  • Negotiations by a Labour government for a ‘credible’ exit from the EU.
  • The Labour negotiated deal to be “put to the people” – presumably a second referendum but there appeared to be some wriggle room here. There was, however, no mention of the nonsensical strategy advocated by Emily Thornberry of campaigning for remain regardless of any deal Labour might reach.
  • A programme of fundamental reform by the Labour government, including trade union freedom and the reintroduction of sectoral bargaining. This presumably (still) includes re-nationalisation of key industries, but the point was not stressed.

 

This strategy requires quite a few dominoes to fall in line and in sequence. As Marx wrote, we make our own history, but not in conditions of our own choosing. The weak spot in the Corbyn-Ward strategy is, first, that Labour could lose the next general election if they try to pass themselves off simply as a “remain party”. A substantial proportion of working class Labour voters, especially in key constituencies for Labour in the North, are Brexiters and, anyway, the LibDems got there first. Second, and even more critical, if we stay in the single market, as Labour favours, we would remain subject to the EU’s Four Freedoms. These comprise free movement within the EU of goods, services, people and capital. While free movement of goods and services can confer economic benefits, the EU referendum was fought by both the official campaigns, often dishonestly, around the issue of the free movement of people. It is, however, the free movement of capital that would undermine any attempt by a future Labour government operating within the single market to curtail the power of capital. This happened in Greece when the government found itself unable to halt the flight of capital following their own referendum in 2015. In consequence, in 2016 34,000 Greeks aged under 40 left the country to look for work. While many of them were no doubt grateful for their “right of free movement “, it’s pretty certain that most of them would have preferred a right to work instead.

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EU REALITY CHECK

The events in Greece this week will have come as a reality check to the diminishing number of people on the Left who still cling to the belief that the EU is anything other than government by the bankocracy on behalf of Big Capital. The irrelevance of the forthcoming Greek Referendum demonstrates that popular democracy is meaningless within this capitalist superstructure.  The only hope the Greek people have of avoiding decades of austerity and forced economic emigration is to free themselves not only from the shackles of the Eurozone but also from the entire neo-liberal  edifice that is the EU. The Greek people are not being offered such an opportunity in their forthcoming referendum, but such an opportunity has been opened for us in Britain by the forthcoming EU referendum. If we too are to avoid decades of austerity, we should seize this opportunity. It won’t be easy, not least because by campaigning to leave we on the progressive Left will appear to be on the same side as parts of the Right, some of whom are racist and most of whom will be campaigning on the wrong issues. Rather than making  lack of democracy and workers’ rights the primary issues in the campaign, the Right will be campaigning to leave in order to cut the minimal employment legislation imposed by the EU, to remove the remaining entitlement to UK welfare payments by EU immigrants (or indeed, remove these immigrants physically) and to assert various specious issues of petty nationalism.  In addition, the referendum campaign will be conducted with Cameron claiming to have achieved a number of irrelevant ‘reforms’ designed to appease his critics on the Right and with the pro-EU lobby in a position to outspend the Out Campaign many times over. Furthermore, many on the Left may opt to keep their heads down rather than be associated with the right wing opponents of the EU, opening the way for the mass media, including the already cowed BBC, to report only two views: those of the government to stay in and those of its right wing opposition to leave.

The opportunities that will open up to us if we leave the EU are, however, too valuable to throw away without a fight. These include, amongst others, the opportunity to switch away from a regressive VAT to a progressive Land Value Tax,  the opportunity to slam the door on TTIP currently being negotiated between the USA and the European Commission and, most important of all, the opportunity to begin to regulate, tax and eventually appropriate Big Capital after it has been stripped of the preference and protection that the EU affords it. Leaving the EU won’t guarantee that any of these will come to pass, but if we stay in they will remain  unattainable.