DURING THE 1975 REFERENDUM THE LABOUR LEFT and the bulk of the unions campaigned to withdraw from the ‘Common Market’, as it was known at the time. It was understood, possibly vaguely, that the EU was a bosses’ club and set up to rival the other trading nations in the Far East and the US. The right wing Labour Party leadership backed the case for EU entry with all the other political parties.
Some on the left still campaign for Brexit on the grounds that it remains a bosses’ club. This is correct. However in my opinion the situation is different from that which existed in 1975. First the campaign was then dominated by the Labour left. Little Englanders, such as Enoch Powell, were on the fringes of the campaign. The unions almost exclusively funded the campaign. Big business funded the In campaign with far greater sums of cash.
It is clear that both the In and Out campaigns will be reactionary this time. The Out campaign is dominated by right wing Tories obsessed with the ‘problem’ of migration and whether migrant workers should receive in-work benefits like other low paid workers in Britain. Cameron has negotiated a reform of the EU along the same lines. In other words he is feeding the same reactionary mythology. In truth Cameron and co only supported a referendum in order to keep their own backbenchers on board and to deal with the rise of UKIP. The In campaigners are dominated by smug business interests who argue that all isfine in Britain within the EU.
I believe the labour movement should advocate an In vote andfight for an independent campaign within the EU to change it in the direction of socialism. A programme should be democratically developed by the movement, rather than self-appointedfigures in the PLP deciding how the campaign is run. The lessons of the Scottish referendum must be learned and Labour should offer a working class alternative to both the reactionary In and Out campaigns as presently constituted.
During the General Election, Ed Miliband argued that a referendum would not address the problems faced by working people. He was bang on the money on this. However he never offered an alternative based upon the public ownership of the big banks and corporations, which is the only way that jobs, houses and properly funded public services can be guaranteed. Only a socialist European movement will lead to a genuinely united Europe.