Workers Hammer No. 239
Corbyn fronts for single market
Down with anti-worker EU!
With the clock ticking on Brexit negotiations, Britain’s capitalist rulers are scrambling to win the most favourable terms of access to EU markets. The EU has made clear that it intends to make Britain pay a heavy price for leaving the European bosses’ and bankers’ cartel. Theresa May’s Tories are at each other’s throats over how to manage the negotiations. Hardcore remainers, including in the City of London, were cheered that the results of the general election dealt a blow to prospects for a hard Brexit. Some, like Blairite David Miliband, are plotting to throw out the results of the referendum and tell the population to vote again — and, in their view, get it right this time! And Jeremy Corbyn, who betrayed his working-class supporters by campaigning for the EU in the 2016 referendum, has now endorsed Britain remaining in the single market for an indefinite “transition period”, solidifying Labour’s policy of “soft Brexit” (ie no Brexit). The Spartacist League/Britain demands: Down with the European Union! Britain out now!
An unstable alliance of capitalist states dominated by Germany, the EU serves to increase the exploitation of workers across Europe, including in imperialist centres like Britain, France and Germany. At the same time, for the European imperialist powers it is a means to plunder dependent countries like Ireland, Portugal and, most starkly, Greece. The EU and its single market are designed to serve the interests of capital — by means of privatisation, slashing social services, union-busting, destroying the industry of poorer countries and exploiting Eastern Europe as a reservoir of cheap labour. In our article calling for a leave vote in the 2016 Brexit referendum, we noted that “a British exit would deal a real blow to this imperialist-dominated conglomerate, further destabilising it and creating more favourable conditions for working-class struggle across Europe — including against a weakened and discredited Tory government in Britain” (“EU: enemy of workers and immigrants”, WH no 234, Spring 2016).
Following the referendum, Theresa May was left with a deeply divided Tory party. A year later, her 8 June snap election only increased tensions as her parliamentary majority oozed away. May now heads a brittle minority government reliant on ten MPs from Northern Ireland’s Orange supremacist Democratic Unionist Party. This is not a recipe for a “strong and stable” bourgeois government.
In the June election, Corbyn’s Labour Party attracted a groundswell of support from workers fed up with years of attacks by successive Blairite and Tory governments. Corbyn’s support grew as the Tories campaigned for vicious attacks on working people, from depriving poor kids of free school lunches to imposing a “dementia tax” to pay for care for the elderly by seizing family homes. At the same time, Corbyn catered to EU supporters — as the BBC explained in its election analysis: “Labour was seen as the best bet by those wanting to keep closer ties with Europe” (BBC News, 1 August). The upshot was that Labour subordinated the interests of the victims of austerity and privatisation to the EU’s capitalist supporters.
In fact, subordinating the interests of Labour’s working-class base to parliamentary reformism and the trade union bureaucracy is inherent to Corbyn’s old Labour model of the broad church. It’s no accident that the Labour Party election manifesto was jam-packed with concessions to the right wing — from embracing NATO and Trident to prohibiting immigrants’ access to public funds. Moreover, Corbyn’s supportable proposals to bring the railways, water and Royal Mail back into public ownership are sharply contradicted by his support to the pro-privatisation EU.
Corbyn’s apologies for the EU and its single market, and the left’s tailing after him, meant that there was no organised working-class expression of opposition to the imperialist trade bloc in the June election. The lack of such working-class opposition to the EU ceded the ground to the openly anti-immigrant reactionaries of the Tory party (UKIP’s raison d’être and its support having evaporated after the Brexit vote). Having long opposed the EU, albeit on the basis of Labourite protectionism, Corbyn’s campaign for a remain vote in 2016 was a capitulation and a betrayal. Admitting there are flaws in the EU and declaring himself only seven out of ten in favour made Corbyn a convincing advocate for remain and provided a real service to the City. Likewise today, Corbyn’s statement that “you have to respect the decision people made” in voting leave makes him a more effective proponent for the bourgeois programme of tariff-free access to the single market and closest possible ties to the EU.
Noting that the central issue in the election was Brexit and that “Labour’s position on the EU is contrary to the interests of the working class”, the Spartacist League/Britain declared: “No vote to Labour!” As we explained:
“Corbyn’s 2015 leadership campaign and his resounding re-election one year later posed the possibility of driving the Blairites, who have been seeking to transform Labour into an outright capitalist party, out of the Labour Party. Despite the bankruptcy of Corbyn’s parliamentary reformist programme, this would have constituted a step towards the political independence of the working class from its capitalist exploiters. However, in the general election, voting for Labour will not exacerbate the divisions in the Labour Party or advance the consciousness of the working class.”
Labour’s programme amounts to seeking to win the largest possible vote in bourgeois elections by making concessions that run counter to the interests of workers and the oppressed. In contrast, we fight to build a Leninist vanguard party that can bring to the working class the political consciousness that will allow it to mobilise all the oppressed behind it in the struggle to end the capitalist system of wage slavery.
“Social Europe” swindle
Today, Corbyn promotes the EU’s supposed workplace protections and safety standards to win working-class support for the EU. The same excuse — that workers’ rights and benefits are guaranteed by EU treaty — has been used by the trade union tops for decades to avoid mobilising their membership in class struggle. At the same time, working people have been devastated by a relentless barrage of attacks on their union rights, wages and working conditions, carried out by the British bourgeoisie in line with EU directives. For example, the Tories’ disastrous privatisation of Britain’s railways in the early 1990s was carried out in accordance with European Community Directive 91/440, which mandated opening railways to competition. What the EU has in store for the trade unions can be clearly seen in the current onslaught against dockers unions across Europe. For instance, invoking a 2014 European Court of Justice ruling that the Spanish dockers union was in violation of EU rules on “free enterprise”, the Spanish government launched an attack on that union this spring.
In fact, in the early 1970s the Labour lefts and the TUC, along with the majority of the British population, opposed entry into the Common Market, the precursor of the EU. In the aftermath of the betrayal of the 1984-85 miners strike by the TUC, the French social democrat Jacques Delors, then the president of the European Commission, provided the trade union tops with a convenient cover for dropping their opposition to the imperialist trade bloc by evangelising for a “social Europe”. Delors’ speech at the 1988 TUC proved instrumental in rallying the trade union misleaders to support the EU under the guise of a (non-existent) European social contract that would protect workers’ rights against Margaret Thatcher and the Tories.
The absurdity of this con is captured by Brian Denny, frequent contributor to the Morning Star and prominent No2EU spokesman. Denny relates how Keith Richardson of the European Round Table of Industrialists — made up of representatives from around 50 companies including DaimlerChrysler, Fiat, Nestlé, Renault and Siemens as well as UK firms like BP, Rio Tinto and Rolls Royce — approved the inclusion of Jacques Delors’ European Social Charter in the 1987 Single European Act. “If politicians feel it is important to get the chapter referring to the desirability of full employment and they think it will help public opinion, we don’t really object — providing of course that it remains related to aspirations”, Richardson said (“The strange death of social Europe”, tuaeu.co.uk). The “social justice” and “rights” the EU supposedly enshrines — and which it certainly has not delivered — are a cheap, superficial cover for its anti-worker, anti-union attacks.
Although they are effective in their denunciations of the EU’s lieutenants within the union movement, Denny and his No2EU co-thinkers oppose the EU from the standpoint of “little England” nationalism and chauvinist protectionism. With his anti-immigrant rants about “social dumping” and his arguments that leaving the EU will strengthen British industry, Denny promotes the lie that there is a common national interest between British workers and their capitalist exploiters. What these politics mean was shown in flesh and blood during the chauvinist strikes at the Lindsey oil refinery in 2009. The Lindsey strikes demanded that Italian and Portuguese contract workers be replaced by British workers under the slogan “British jobs for British workers”, long associated with the fascists. The strikes obtained a pledge by management that 102 jobs previously expected to go to Italian workers would be offered to British workers instead, and set off a campaign where foreign workers were removed from a site in Wales and denied jobs at many other building sites.
This chauvinist campaign helped the bosses sow divisions among their wage slaves on the basis of national origin — it was poisonous to class consciousness and working-class unity! Yet No2EU subsequently boasted of its ties to the leadership of these strikes, as did the Labourite reformists of the Socialist Party (who tried to cover up the chauvinist nature of the campaign by replacing “British” in the slogan with “local” — the content was the same). In contrast, the Spartacist League opposed the chauvinist strikes against foreign workers. We called for the unions to organise immigrant workers (see “Down with chauvinist campaign against foreign workers!”, Workers Hammer no 208, Autumn 2009). All the workers, regardless of their nationality, should have been brought into the unions (in this case Unite and the GMB) with full union pay and protections.
The EU’s purported “free movement” of people is a fraud. The ostensibly passport-free borders of the Schengen area have never been an obstacle to the capitalist rulers’ control of the borders. In 2016 in response to the crisis of desperate refugees fleeing imperialist depredation in the Near East, Afghanistan and African countries, border fences and checkpoints sprang up across Europe including between Schengen countries. Throughout Europe, dark-skinned people with citizenship in EU countries are routinely targeted by immigration cops. In Britain, Roma people escaping racist persecution in Romania are rounded up and deported for the “offence” of sleeping rough; France deported over 13,000 Roma in 2013 alone.
Intended to provide a ready pool of cheap labour, the right to travel between EU countries is manipulated to suit the needs of the capitalists. A patchwork of restrictions governs exactly who can live and work where. For seven years after Romania and Bulgaria joined the EU in 2007, their citizens were restricted from working in several EU countries, including Britain, France and Germany. For those coming to Britain to find work — if you haven’t found a job within six months you can be thrown out. Hundreds of citizens of East European member states are swept up in anti-immigrant dragnets and deported from this country every year. It is an urgent measure of self-defence for the trade union movement to take up the demand for full citizenship rights for all who live in this country!
The increasing prevalence of low wages, precarious employment and poor conditions for British working people is a product of the capitalists’ one-sided class war. The bourgeoisie’s onslaught has been abetted by the bureaucracy at the top of the trade unions, who have pushed concession after concession on their members in the name of class peace and strengthening British industry, and have scapegoated poorly paid immigrant workers for the British bourgeoisie’s crimes instead of struggling to organise them. The class-collaborationist political framework of shoring up British industry against its imperialist rivals — shared by both No2EU and the pro-EU trade union officialdom — disarms the working class by tying it to its class enemy.
The fundamental division within society is between two mutually hostile classes, the capitalists (the bourgeoisie) and the workers (the proletariat), whose interests are irreconcilable. In order to advance its interests against its bourgeois exploiters, the working class needs a leadership that bases itself on what the workers need, not what is good for the British imperialists’ profits. In contrast to the dangerous trap of “defending British jobs” against foreign competition, the working class needs a leadership that will raise the banner of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels: “Workers of the world, unite!” For a Socialist United States of Europe!
Down with the United Kingdom!
The “United Kingdom”, with the monarchy as its reactionary pinnacle, is based on the national oppression of the Irish, Scots and Welsh; racist repression against black people and Asians and the vicious exploitation of the multiethnic, multinational working class. Advancing the fighting unity of the proletariat requires a struggle against all the forms of national, racial and ethnic oppression that are the hallmarks of British imperialism. From presiding over the blood-drenched partition of India 70 years ago to sending the Army into Northern Ireland in 1969, the Labour Party has been integral to maintaining British imperialism. Jeremy Corbyn himself stands in Labour’s long tradition of loyalty to the United Kingdom with his Unionist opposition to Scotland holding another referendum on independence. We say: Abolish the monarchy! For the right of self-determination for Scotland and Wales!
Theresa May’s deal with the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) to prop up her lame-duck government caused outrage among liberals over the DUP’s virulent bigotry against gays and women. The DUP are crazed fundamentalists — not that their reactionary positions distinguish them from the Tories. But their position as the largest party in the Orange statelet of Northern Ireland is a consequence of the imperialist peace fraud imposed by Tony Blair — and supported by Jeremy Corbyn — which reinforced sectarianism and the oppression of the Catholic minority. Until the collapse of the Northern Ireland government in January, the presence of Sinn Féin in the Stormont executive provided a democratic facade to the Northern Ireland sectarian statelet. But the 1998 Good Friday Agreement was premised on the presence of the British Army, which stands behind the routine terror meted out by the Northern Ireland police (PSNI/ RUC) to Catholics. While the British Army’s Operation Banner ended with great fanfare ten years ago, it was immediately replaced by the secretive Operation Helvetic, under which thousands of British troops (including unspecified numbers of special forces) remain stationed in Northern Ireland. All British troops and bases out of Northern Ireland!
We stand for mobilising the working class — both Catholic and Protestant — against the oppression of the Irish Catholics and against British imperialism, as part of the struggle for the workers to liberate themselves from capitalism. Recognising that within the framework of capitalism there can be no equitable solution to the conflicting national aspirations of Northern Ireland’s Catholic and Protestant peoples, our perspective is for an Irish workers republic, as part of a voluntary federation of workers republics in the British Isles.
The working class, exploited and degraded in the service of capital, is divided, often politically backward and apathetic, reflecting the false consciousness generated by bourgeois society. However, workers’ consciousness can change, even very rapidly, in the course of class struggle and with the intervention of a revolutionary party. Such a party must be a tribune of the people — fighting for women’s liberation and full citizenship rights for all immigrants and opposing racism and anti-gay bigotry. The British Labour Party plays a major role in subordinating the working class to the interests of its bourgeois exploiters. It is thus a key obstacle to transforming the consciousness of the proletariat.
In the June election, most of the left — from the Communist Party of Britain to the Socialist Party to the International Marxist Tendency — swung full force into building illusions in a Corbyn-led Labour government. As we noted in our election statement:
“These reformist outfits are all promoting the illusion that electing a Labour government could meet the needs of working people. In reality, the parliamentary system provides a democratic facade for the class dictatorship of the capitalists, who own the means of production and make their profits from the exploitation of labour. To put the productive wealth of society at the service of workers and those minorities, women and youth impoverished by capitalism requires breaking the power of the bourgeoisie. It requires proletarian revolution to sweep away the state’s repressive apparatus and establish a workers government.”
Under capitalism, an anarchic system organised on the basis of private profit, humanity is dominated by social forces it has created but does not control. By sweeping away the capitalist system, the proletariat will lay the basis to free humanity to build a society organised consciously, in accordance with human need and under human control.
The Spartacist League is devoted to building the party that can lead this struggle as the British section of a reforged Trotskyist Fourth International.