Report on Croydon TUC’s Referendum Debate

The EU Referendum Debate hosted by Croydon TUC at Ruskin House yesterday (9 June) was a well attended event whose tone and content was very different to anything we are hearing on the BBC or reading in the mass media. None of the invited speakers and hardly anyone speaking from the floor raised the racist and anti-immigrant arguments discussed obsessively in the ‘official’ campaigns; and little heat was generated about the specious “facts” seen as pivotal in the ‘official’ debate. Indeed, there was wide agreement that the debate reported by the BBC in the mass media was little more than a row between two wings of the Tory Party and those hangers on foolish enough to be sucked/suckered into their squalid debate.

The case to stay in was put by Mark Serwotka, the much respected and admired General Secretary of the civil servants union PCS, speaking in a personal capacity. The leave case was put by Eddie Dempsey, a young and dynamic member of the Executive Committee of the rail union RMT which is a long standing opponent of the EU (and its predecessors the EC and the EEC). The third speaker was Steve Freeman from Republican Socialists group who argued for abstention in order to deny credibility to either of the ‘official’ campaigns.

There was a remarkable degree of consensus expressed and acknowledged by all three speakers. All agreed that the EU was based on:

  1. the free movement of capital and labour – a right wing, neo-liberal concept that benefitted the former but did little or nothing for the latter; and
  2. suppressed democracy and trade union rights – this being a deliberate strategy from the foundation of the EEC to ensure that workers were not in a position to overturn (1).

The different conclusions reached by the three speakers turned on their views on the immediate consequences of a vote to leave. For Eddie Dempsey it would sweep away both the Tories and the legal obstacle to public ownership that the EU provided. The Tories would split and an opportunity to build towards a socialist future would open up. Mark Serwotka feared that if we left the EU we would face continued Tory rule and a government set on making workers pay for the resulting economic uncertainty. For Steve Freeman, the immediate prospects were bleak whatever the outcome of the referendum: the real need was to unite the European working class and whether or not we were in the EU was irrelevant.

There was unanimous agreement that the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) currently being negotiated in secret by the European Commission and the US would be disastrous for the UK, but the speakers disagreed on whether leaving the EU would enable the UK to escape it. Again, these differing conclusions arose from the speakers’ different views on what government would come out on top following a vote to leave. A right wing government would, according to Mark Serwotka, drag us in; but for others it was undeniable that, in the short term at least, exit would enable us to escape TTIP.

There were a number of useful contributions from the floor, including one from Comrade Peter Latham of this branch who drew attention to the Lexit  or Left Leave Campaign.

At the end of the evening, the Chair, Jon Morgan, called for a show of hands on the voting intentions of those present. This was pretty evenly divided. The call to abstain didn’t, however, receive any significant support.

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Labour Need to Commit Now to Taking the Rail Network into Public Ownership!

By Chris Guiton

In a recent interview with Progress, Maria Eagle, shadow transport secretary, has denied any ambition to re-nationalise the rail network, stating ‘I’m not interested in setting up some monolithic, centrally-run-from-my-desk nationalised body to run everything to public ownership.’ Instead, she  waffled about devolving power to local communities. You wonder if this represents a retreat from her earlier more positive response to the ‘Rebuilding Rail’ report published by the think tank Transport for Quality of Life, on behalf of the main rail unions: Aslef, RMT, TSSA and Unite.

The report sets out a strategy for how public ownership of the railway could be restored and how a future Labour government could reintegrate rail operations and infrastructure. It calls for Labour to make a number of commitments: use money saved from reintegration to lower fares; award no new franchises; review all existing franchises to assess whether they should be bought out; reduce ‘dividend leakage’; and campaign against the European Commission’s intention for member states to open domestic passenger services to competition.

With rail fares set to rise in January 2013 by inflation plus 3% – in effect, up to 11% depending on the franchise terms, Labour are clearly missing a trick here. Even Tory MPs are waking up to the impact of fare rises on their constituents – and those in marginal seats with significant commuter populations appear to be getting decidedly nervous. Many Croydon residents use the train service to commute to London and elsewhere, and with no prospect in sight of an end to this grossly unfair squeeze on rapidly diminishing incomes, people are justifiably angry.  The case for re-nationalisation is well-understood. A publicly owned, integrated rail network would deliver a better service, cost the taxpayer and commuters less and avoid the excessive transaction costs and profiteering generated by privatisation.

Every reason for Labour to be bolder and for Croydon voters to act accordingly!