This article was written by a member of the Independent Working Class Association from the Blackbird Leys estate in Oxford. It outlines the fundamental anti-working class nature of the EU and the historic complicity of Tory and Labour politicians from both the Remain and Leave camps in the EU’s merciless rightward drift:
EU REFERENDUM IS A RED HERRING FOR THE WORKING CLASS
A plague on both their houses…
To a working class drained and exhausted by having been made to shoulder the weight and the cost of austerity and immigration (and being called bigoted and racist for its efforts), the ruling class is offering a choice between two very bad options, both of which will make life even harder for the working class. Because whoever wins will claim a mandate to carry on with their current identical agendas of privatisations and austerity (Boris Johnson and Michael Gove as defenders of the NHS? Please!). So even a victory for the Remain campaign would not be a victory for the status quo. This is a War of the Roses, the prize being whose friends get the rich pickings of privatisations (the Land Registry anyone?), academisation and anti-trade union legislation, with the working class being asked to pay for its consequences and validate the result.
Of course the EU is a cabal run by the Council (comprised of the heads of state) and unelected commissioners (with the European Parliament playing much the same role as the House of Lords) designed to serve the interests of multinationals at the expense of the workers in each member state. Nobody in their right mind can deny that. But the truth is that successive UK governments, far from being victims of these forces of darkness, have been the main actors in bringing about the most anti-working class policies that could be concocted that were then imposed on the whole Union. Here’s how the little scam they’ve been playing on us works:
1. We are watching the game, and suddenly there’s a scuffle, we follow the scuffle, and we don’t notice that the ball leaves the pitch;
2. A while later a ball is kicked back into the pitch, but it’s not the same ball that left it – and by the time we notice it’s weighted, it’s too late and we are told that now there is no other ball.
When the ball is smuggled out of the pitch, it’s taken to one or more of the four main transnational institutions of political and economic control: the World Trade Organisation, the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the EU. None of these have an elected decision-making body (the MEP’s that we elect have consultative powers), none of these have a transparent, democratically controlled system to address grievances. For example, any case of a country being sued by another country for breaching a WTO rule will be heard by a panel of 3-5 “experts” in Geneva. Their report can only be rejected by unanimous consensus and appeals be made only on points of law. The rules do not favour one country or another as such: they favour big business, and big business will use the countries with bigger muscles to enforce their will.
The famous “Banana Wars” of the 1990s are a case in point: the EU had given bananas from former Caribbean colonies protected access to the EU markets to stimulate their economy. Latin American producers, owned by giant US-based corporations, sued the EU because protective tariffs breach free trade principles. The WTO found against the EU, but the US were not satisfied with the changes the EU made, so they imposed retaliatory, non-WTO authorised 100% import duties (and got away with it) on a range of European products, some of which (on textiles) hit Scottish producers very hard (https://www.theguardian.com/world/1999/mar/05/eu.wto3).
The rules transnational institutions make can and are broken, but only by the mightiest and in favour of the interests they serve, yet none of us gave them the power to make those rules, so we can’t vote them out to change the rules. As one anti-globalisation campaigner once said, “Free trade? What is it? Show it to me.”
The UK is a major player in all four institutions. It is true that at the WTO, IMF and WB it negotiates as an EU member, not independently, but, for example, from 2004 to 2008 the Trade Commissioner negotiating on behalf the EU at the WTO etc. was none other than Peter Mandelson.
In all four bodies, all UK governments of the last 25 years at least have aggressively pursued policies and trade deals that hugely strengthened multinationals’ interests and undermined democracy in general and the working class in particular, together with workers’ rights, the environment and the fabric of civil society. Here are some of the most pernicious and far-reaching:
Structural Adjustment Programs, that required developing countries to privatise their public services in order to qualify for the cancellation of debt they had already repaid many times over; these strengthened the hand of multinationals that could later be played at home;
GATS (General Agreement on Trade in Services), that made it illegal for governments to impose “trade barriers” such as environmental and social safeguards, the obligation to train and employ local workers, the enforcement of workers’ rights including the right to organise through unions, democratic accountability, etc. – in practice, everything you would want to be protected by law, so when you hear “trade barriers”, reach for your wallet, as thieves are about – on companies interested in privatising public services. In practice, it stipulated that if a company wants to acquire a public service and run it for profit, it’s illegal for a government to stop them or favour companies that include protections amounting to “trade barriers” in their bid.
All EU directives about privatisation of public services, which are an application of GATS to EU member states, ranging from the “creation of a single market for postal services in the EU” (the operative term being market), to the Bolkenstein Directive. The Bolkenstein Directive is a diabolical and complicated piece of legislation created to ensure that a company providing a service in an EU country is automatically entitled to provide it in all other countries regardless of differences in standards and “trade barriers” between the country of origin and the host country. In its first draft it originally stated that when a company from one country provides a service in another country, the country of origin legislation applied, which would have resulted in a high-speed race to the bottom. Please note that the UK held the EU presidency at the time, and Tony Blair was pushing for the Directive to be adopted, and the Tories didn’t make a sound. However, there was some popular resistance in some countries (France, Germany, Italy, with the British trade unions spectacularly failing to campaign amongst their members and simply sending their bosses to Brussels) and the “country of origin principle” was removed. But it was not replaced with the “host country principle”, in a fudged, fiendish, final directive that therefore obfuscates the issue, doesn’t say which laws apply, and leaves it open to be battled out in courtrooms for lawyers to have a field day.
The UK negotiated an opt-out on the European Working Time Directive (the Directive meant to prevent employers from making workers work more than 48 hours a week). It is a standard clause in most UK contracts that you “agree” to opt out. The wording on www.gov.uk says, “You can choose to work more by opting out of the 48-hour week”, like it’s a freedom it negotiated for you, but doesn’t say that all overtime must be paid. It is of course true that in every country workers’ rights have been hard won by the organised working class but, truth be told, it has been EU regulations that have so far prevented successive UK governments from stripping off the last vestiges of them, and the UK employment law is the worst in Europe.
TTIP (the Transatlantic Trade & Investment Partnership), the next step from GATS being negotiated between the EU and the US, which is meant to allow multinationals to sue a government for “lost revenue” (???) if a government denies it permission or restricts its right to operate on its territory (through the imposition of “trade barriers”, of course), and CETA (which is the same as TTIP, but with Canada). Did you hear Cameron, Johnson or Gove or any of them (apart from, in fairness, the Green Party) denounce TTIP for the evil it is before it suited them for the purpose the referendum campaign?
It is fundamental to realise that all of the above trade deals and consequent policies, that ensured the transference of power from nation states and elected governments to multinationals and banks, were pushed for by all of the UK governments in the last 25 years: they were not imposed on the UK – they were pursued by the UK and imposed on other countries (such as the developing countries).
So that’s what happens to the ball when it leaves the pitch, and that’s why the ball that is kicked back on the pitch a bit later is never the same ball – it is one heavily weighted, and weighted against the working class and in favour of multinationals. And if somebody complained every time it happened, the UK government was able to play the victim and say its hands were tied by WTO/WB/IMF/EU regulations.
It is of course tempting to think that leaving the EU would at least remove one of the fig leaves the ruling class hides behind. Yet one look at the reality of the British economy (no manufacturing worth mentioning, a parasitic banking and financial sector, and a monstrously overblown, bloated housing market) explains why bilateral deals, like the disastrous one Osborne successfully negotiated with China a few months back and which would be the rule outside the EU, mean the sell-out of the UK in order to line the pockets of Osborne’s patrons and bleed the working class to death. It is true that Norway has been doing well outside the EU, but it was never inside and it hasn’t put its public services, infrastructure, power and working class through the mangle the way the UK has.
And let us not forget that, given that the UK still retains the £ pound and the power to set its own economic policy independently from the EU and the European Central Bank, the austerity that has been choking the working class was not imposed by the EU but is entirely of Osborne’s choosing. Again: did you hear Boris Johnson or Michael Gove complain against it?
So the truth is that the ruling class, in the UK and in the rest of the EU, doesn’t need the EU, not even its cover, to carry out its class war and this very dirty work. What is happening now is that, after blaming the EU for the muck on its hands for too long, a sector of the ruling class has seized the opportunity to exploit the other sector’s political miscalculation together with the anger of so many, and make another push to further their patrons’ and their own interests. The working class will not only gain nothing from either outcome, but will be subjected to a further squeeze whatever the outcome, when the portion of the ruling class that wins takes all.