The June European Union referendum will have profound implications for working people across Europe as well as in Britain and, more narrowly, for the jobs of PCS members directly employed in EU related activities in various civil and public sector bodies.
The Labour Movement generally, and PCS specifically, should not be neutral about the outcome of the referendum. To pass the NEC’s motion – A18 – calling for a neutral presentation of the facts would be a failure of leadership and internationalism and assumes that, in a major political dispute, the very facts to be selected, and the order, emphasis and tone in which they are presented, will not be a matter of controversy.
We prefer the approach of Jeremy Corbyn, who has rightly emphasised that responsibility for insecure jobs, low pay, unaffordable housing, stagnating living standards and environmental degradation rests with 10 Downing Street rather than Brussels. Corbyn has been equally right to:
- Argue for a positive labour movement campaign with the European Union, working with other European socialists and labour movements, for increased democratic accountability, economic reform to end to self-defeating austerity, for putting jobs and sustainable growth at the centre of European policy, for strengthening workers’ rights, and for new rights for governments and elected authorities to support public enterprise and halt the pressure to privatise services.
- Warn of a bonfire of workers’ rights if the UK votes to leave the EU.
- Have launched a Labour on-line campaign urging the nearly 1.5m young people aged between 18 and 24 to register to vote.
- Refuse to share a platform with David Cameron.
If a complaint can be made it is that Corbyn needs to be publicly developing links with other European labour movements and to go further in a workers’ programme for fighting austerity in Europe. Corbyn’s call for a socialist alternative to the chauvinist and anti-worker motivations of the Brexit campaign is echoed in A19 and more fully and radically set out in E209 and E2010 which the SOC has placed behind A19.
Of course the EU is a club for big business and is not properly accountable to the citizens of the member states. But that is not an argument for retreating to the narrower confines and defects of the capitalist club which is Britain today – a Britain scarred by grotesque social inequalities and increasing poverty and marked by tremendous democratic defects (an unelected second chamber; a Government supported by just 24.3% of the electorate able to drive through enormous cuts in services; a media largely in the hands of a small number of very rich and very right wing men).
Motion A20 denounces the EU because it permits the free movement of citizens and workers across the European Union whilst denying such rights to non EU workers. A20’s answer to this is not to build international labour movement links within, across and beyond the EU but instead to urge withdrawal from the EU and the unprecedented freedom of movement for the ordinary citizens of the EU on the grounds that it does not go far enough!
As Corbyn notes, the exit negotiations will not be carried out by a Labour Government [and certainly not by the socialists that A20 seeks to appeal to] but by “a Tory Government, quite possibly led by Boris Johnson and backed by Nigel Farage, that would negotiate the worst of all worlds: a free market free-for-all shorn of rights and protections.”
A20 argues that if progressives line up behind Cameron they will help him win the referendum. Lining up behind Cameron no doubt they will. But then progressives blowing their tin Brexit whistle behind Johnson, Gove and Farage will do a far greater disservice to working people in Britain, across Europe and the wider world. Brexit is more likely to boost the far right parties such as the French Front National, the Austrian Freedom Party, and the True Finns.