The following article was published in the Socialist Voice. No 34 (November/December). This was before the recent events in the British parliament and EU. But it remains relevant to the current situation.

There is no easy way for workers to face the result of the two year struggle between the Tory government (split in three ways) and their defence of big business, finance and international trade with no regard for workers’ rights and the EU led by Germany and France defending their big business interests, trade, finance and their dominance over the rest of the EU. The result is a crisis inside the government and inside the governing bodies of the EU.

by Margaret McAdam and Martin Ralph 

No doubt the leading EU countries had their eye on how to win more trade and finance by creating conditions that posed the need for some City of London businesses and manufacturing to relocate inside the EU. Equally arrogant is Theresa May’s position that is based on trying to hang on to votes and appeasing  the City of London.

Labour’s main argument was for Remain in the first referendum, after the result, they started to support Brexit, trying to keep a base amongst millions of workers who voted to leave. But they did not seek to lead a mass struggle for workers’ interests against austerity and overcome the barriers erected against refugees by Theresa May’s hostile environment and previous Labour governments. Jeremy Corbyn argues for a general election but without seeking to build a mass movement in the streets.

Power struggle

The Brexit struggle also comes from Britain, Germany and France who want the power of their states to set the rules, as far as they can, for the global economy, trade and finance. For example, the race to extend their influence over resources and markets in Africa was increased this year. However, they also compete with the USA (and even China) that has very extensive, and even monopoly, power in many areas of international trade and finance.

The millions of workers who voted to leave did so in protest against their deteriorating social conditions and the prospects of a worst future for them, the north/south social divisions and because of their dislike of the mainstream politicians including the Tories, Lib Dems and Labour. The leaders of the leave campaign were racists and anti-immigrant xenophobes, because the Labour Party leadership are unable and unwilling to put forward a workers’ solution to the EU. That is to fight with workers’ methods against control by the EU and the Tory government.

Some of the very politicians workers dislike carried out the negotiations, while other politicians look for a solution that continues the offensive against workers either by a hard Brexit or by going back into membership of the EU. What will happen is uncertain as the majority of voters in the 1st referendum voted to leave the EU, and what was presented to the British parliament does not fully reflect this.

However, it is the Remainers who are mobilising for a second referendum as shown in the polls and by the national demonstration in London on 20 October. Estimated numbers on the march vary but there were perhaps 700,000, the largest since the anti-war march in 2001.

None of the variations on offer and none of the parliamentary parties will satisfy workers.

A war of finance and trade

The EU is Britain’s biggest financial services export market, worth £26bn in 2017 out of total sector exports of £60bn while the City of London is the highest exporter of financial services in the world, so they both profit from this parasitic of all trades. Over the summer, as part of the EU offensive, the European Central Bank warned banks to curtail booking trades and loans in the UK after Brexit and global banks are increasingly preparing for the possibility of a no-deal Brexit.

So far, one third of 222 leading financial companies are considering moving, or transferring some operations or staff elsewhere in Europe. This includes 28 banks and brokerages, 22 wealth and asset managers, and 15 insurers and brokers. Goldman Sachs has already made a significant shift to Milan, Frankfurt and Paris and Bank of America will be moving its HQ to Dublin post-Brexit.

The Irish border

The EU/UK argument on Ireland is over the border between the Republic of Ireland and northern Ireland. Theresa May is propped up by the reactionary DUP, a sectarian loyalist party that has just 10 seats in the Westminster parliament.  Northern Ireland’s devolved government collapsed nearly two years ago when Sinn Fein walked out of the assembly. Public services are being cut drastically. The DUP have warned they will vote against May’s deal if she agrees to a permanent border. They want a “frictionless” border with Ireland, continued “free trade” and a “customs arrangement” but are against the north being closely allied to the EU.

The EU insists there has to be a border, or that the north of Ireland should be treated as part of Ireland for trade and another border drawn down the Irish Sea. A customs border, which the Labour Party supports, will not only continue the division of Ireland but will deepen problems for workers.

The problem is the border. The north of course is that part of Ireland that has remained under British occupation since Ireland was brutally divided in 1921 following Ireland’s war of independence. The Irish working class and oppressed people whether north or south face austerity, inequality and the degradation of the material conditions.

Reunification of Ireland is being discussed much more widely than for many years. A United Ireland would solve the problem of the border, and be a first step to fight the greed of capitalism.

Austerity and Brexit

If leaving the EU were to be made in the interest of the working class, workers would mobilise to make it happen. That is not by capitulating to the EU but fighting it with workers’ methods and appealing to their brothers and sisters across the continent who are fighting EU policies. A real workers’ movement would not submit to EU demands but would take whatever action would be necessary to improve workers’ lives.

For example, the Tories agreement to pay £49bn to the EU for Britain to leave will be paid for by workers through more austerity cuts.

Austerity and Brexit merge in a number of ways. The government is becoming increasingly paralysed nationally, regionally and locally. For example, building bigger and better flood defences promised by central government has not happened because the government’s Environment, Food and Rural Affairs unit is consumed by Brexit. It has cut the number of modernisation projects from 267 to 128. The paralysis has reached unprecedented levels and plans on everything from modernising radiotherapy for cancer patients to tackling plastic waste are in stasis.

Meanwhile government policy on low pay and benefit cuts have created a killing machine administered by bosses, the State and the DWP. The unemployed and low paid workers have become so impoverished that the use of food banks has grown massively, 20% of all workers earn below £9 an hour while the top business salaries are 129 times higher than the average worker’s pay. Pay is so low that a third of working households depend on benefits.

But precarious workers and others are fighting back. That is shown by the largest demonstration so far of precarious workers that involved hundreds of militant workers in London (see interview in the SV page 4).

Theresa May’s hostility to refugees (which the EU and all Tories support) has now extended to hospitals who are mandated to evaluate who can have free medical treatment including child birth care and May’s policies have also led to a dramatic rise in physical attacks on migrants. Increasing immigration controls will not stop the cuts to public services, the NHS or lead to an improvement in any worker’s life. On the contrary such policies help prepare new attacks on all workers.

For a workers’ and socialist solution

We are for the unity of the European working class across borders. We are for free movement of people, goods and services but not in order to guarantee the profits of the ruling class.

This can only be brought about with mass national strike action on the streets to bring the government down.  A real workers’ movement would not confine itself to national borders or submit to the demands of EU but would take whatever action would be necessary to improve workers’ lives. It would welcome refugees as part of the workers’ movement.

There are strikes and struggles taking place everyday across Britain. The Glasgow women council workers, the rail workers and the precarious workers of the IWGB and UVW to name but a few. Mass meetings should be organised throughout the country under the control of the union rank and file and social movements to discuss action against austerity, the EU and the Tory government.

  • Down with the Tory government now! We cannot wait for elections or a 2nd referendum.
  • We say to all militant workers prepare for a general strike: demand the TUC organise a general strike to bring the government down!
  • Union members prepare for national strike action by uniting all strike actions and mobilisations!
  • End austerity in Britain and Europe!
  • Unite the European working class to fight for our rights!
  • The EU is a social war machine. End the EU, it cannot be reformed!
  • All refugees welcome!
  • End precarity and privatisation!
  • End all oppression, equal rights for all!
  • Only the working class can lead Britain to the leave the EU. Corbyn and Labour will not do that, they speak against a general strike!
  • For a working-class Europe and free union of socialist European countries!