THE REFERENDUM ON 23 JUNE is one we really don’t need. It’s not about the future of Britain within the European Union. It’s much more important than that. It’s about who should call the shots inside the Tory Party.
Cameron called the vote to settle accounts with the Euro-sceptic wing of his party. It won’t achieve that. The civil war within the Conservatives will drag on and on.
The argument, as it has been conducted hitherto, is toxic on both sides. The Tory Party is a dwindling bunch of bigots raddled with prejudices of all kinds. It may well be entertaining to see old Etonian millionaires taking lumps out of each other, but what has this to do with the working class?
The EU was set up in the 1950s as a free trade area of six nations. Since then it has grown and grown, covering 28 countries. Its institutions are profoundly antidemocratic. The European Commission is an unelected bunch of bureaucrats. The European Parliament has very little power. The European Central Bank actually organised a bank run against the elected Syriza government in Greece in order to bring to heel an anti-austerity left wing government.
This all sounds terribly un-British. Have you heard of our Privy Council? Thought not. This secretive body can declare a state of emergency in the UK at any time.
The fact is that in any capitalist country the state is an instrument for the rule of one class over another, whether this be a ‘sovereign’ nation state or an association such as the EU.
The EU is not getting very far as a supranational entity. The migration crisis shows it is paralysed, incapable of coming out with a unified policy on this vital issue. Nation states decide what they feel is good for them and to hell with the rest of the EU.
In general the EU is stagnating because capitalism is stagnating. While the In establishment campaign bases itself on ‘Project Fear’, the Out campaigners tap into the anti-establishment mood provoked by the miserable economic performance of capitalism since the economic crisis of 2008. In fact UKIP is a one man band run by Nigel Farage, a former private schoolboy from Dulwich College who became a millionaire commodities trader and left the Tories in 1992 on the issue of the EU. He is an establishment figure to the marrow.
What about sovereignty, the issue the Brexiters care about more than anything else? Sovereignty is illusory in a capitalist economy. You can’t vote whether you’ll get a job or a pay rise next year. The owners of the means of production will decide that for you.
Then there is TTIP (the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership) being negotiated by the EU authorities with the US in secret. This treaty, if signed, will give the corporations power to sue democratically elected governments for ‘loss of earnings’. Under just such an agreement the government of Australia is being dragged through proceedings for the crime of voting for packs of cigarettes to be unlabelled, thus depriving Philip Morris, Asia, of the right to poison Australians for profit. This is a massive surrender of sovereignty to big business, yet the Brexiters just argue that Britain should sign up to the deal as an independent country.
The EU authorities have also thuggishly bullied the Greek government into capitulating to its debtors and imposing harsh austerity upon the Greek people, in the process turning themselves into the real rulers of the country.
The RMT and other left wing groups supporting Brexit argue that exit from the EU could protect workers’ rights. Billionaire Peter Hargreaves, who bankrolls the Out campaign, has other ideas. Maternity leave, the Working Time Directive and other minimal measures of employment rights, environmental protection and consumer safety guaranteed by the EU could all be ditched upon exit in his view.
The TUC and the Labour Party officially support the In campaign on the grounds of a ‘social Europe’. In fact the institutions of the EU have become increasingly neoliberal over recent years, whittling away workers’ rights. The only secure defence of workers’ rights is through direct trade union and political action by the working class.
Labour desperately needs an independent voice in this referendum campaign. Of course we are not isolationist little Britishers. We stretch out the hand of friendship to workers all over Europe, and beyond. But that does not mean defending the dismal pro–capitalist institutions of the EU. What we need is a Socialist United States of Europe.
Which way you vote or if you abstain, dear reader, is up to you. The Labour Briefing Editorial Board is divided on the issue. In any case it’s not our referendum, it’s their referendum. What is important is that we maintain a clear working class, internationalist position. Workers of the world, unite!