1st February 2020
UK departure a step towards solving the EU puzzle
In the past forty seven years the UK has seen the Winter of Discontent and the collapse of the Labour government; the Thatcher government, incorporating the rundown of manufacturing industry, the erosion of trade union rights, the destruction of Council housing, the dismantling of comprehensive education, the Miner’s Strike and poll tax demonstrations; the Blair/Brown years with the illegal war on Iraq, troops in Afghanistan and the banking crisis of 2008, paving the way for more Tory austerity, the consequences of which we are still living through.
All of this has occurred while the UK has been a member of the EU. Membership has done nothing to stop any of this and the EU has actively colluded in much of the economic deregulation, free movement of cheap labour and flexibility for capital, upon which the EU depends.
Those who regard the EU as the greatest deliverer of peace, progress and prosperity the world has known tend to forget Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and Syria or the migrant crises which have followed being tied to adventurist US foreign policy. They tend to forget the conditions imposed upon nations such as Ireland, Greece and Portugal as part of so called ‘bail out’ packages, when their economies have been bled dry by the stronger EU states.
In economic terms growth in the UK economy has collapsed from 2% a year on average to 0.5% a year. The growth trend across mainland Europe is not much better, having fallen from a 4% per year to a 1% average. As Larry Elliott, economics editor for The Guardian has pointed out,
“Europe has world class companies but none of them were set up within the past 30 years. There is no equivalent of Facebook, Amazon or Google: the reason the UK has turned to Huawei to build its 5G mobile network is because the Chinese company is ahead of Europe’s rivals: Nokia and Ericsson.”
There is no economic miracle waiting to happen across Europe that the UK will be missing out on by leaving.
Of course, UK departure does not guarantee economic nirvana either. The fact that growth rates are tanking in both the EU and UK is not to do with EU membership but with the general crisis faced by capitalism. The EU is only one means by which the ruling classes across Europe attempt to manage this crisis in their own interests. In large measure that means the stronger economies, of Germany and France, managing the EU market in their interests.
However, the German economy only just avoided going in to recession in the last economic quarter. Discontent continues to simmer in the annexed East Germany where opportunities since ‘unification’ remain slim and a two tier system in terms of access to education, economic and political opportunity effectively operates. The rise of right wing populists Alternativ fur Deutschland (AfD) is in part a reflection of this.
France has been beset by street demonstrations over the past year, through the gilets jeunes. The recent pressure to reverse proposed attacks on the working week and pensions has seen thousands more pour onto the streets in protest, with a high level of mobilisation through French trade unions, especially the CGT, and a leading role played by the French Communist Party (PCF).
The British ruling class has always been split over the EU and this has been reflected in the struggle within the Tory Party over the past fifty years. For the moment, those seeing that their interests are best served inside the EU have lost their grip and the Little Englander faction is on the march.
For socialists the EU has not brought any benefits and the social democratic gains of the post war period have been steadily eroded, without the EU affording any protection. The EU, friend or foe, is essentially a distraction from the main issue. That is that capitalism itself is the main enemy and the ruling class, however it chooses to organise, inside or outside an economic and political union or not, will never act in the interest of the working class.
Leaving the EU is a momentous occasion and an historic step. However, it will not result in the ‘freedoms’ the right wing imagine, or be the calamity imagined by hand wringing liberals. In many respects it is simply a continuation of the ongoing class struggle by other means and on slightly different terrain.
For workers in the UK the enemy should be a bit clearer. We need to make sure that our focus is sharper and that the real needs of ordinary people can be articulated and delivered, freed from the shackles of the monetarist restrictions imposed by the EU. That will not mean arguing a case to return to the EU, as Labour leadership candidate Kier Starmer is advocating, but putting the case for a forward looking, truly internationalist, socialist Britain.
The people of the UK need to move forward, with no regrets about leaving the EU, but looking forward to a true internationalism, based upon the union of the peoples of Europe, not a union of the banks and corporations which exploit them.