What should socialists say about Brexit? Should we back continued membership of the single market and even a possible second referendum? In this feature, Matt Dobson makes the case for a complete rejection of the bosses’ EU and argues instead for a socialist and internationalist Europe for the 99%
“The EU referendum gave no mandate for leaving the single market. And so my priority for the year ahead is to continue to make the case for single market and customs union membership.” Nicola Sturgeon 15 January 2018
As the above quote underlines, the SNP leadership are increasingly – alongside the majority of British big business and the right wing of the Labour Party – a key proponent of maintaining as close ties as possible to the bosses’ neoliberal EU.
Indulging in their own version of Project Fear, the SNP leaders are giving dire warnings of the impact of Brexit, in part to divert anger at their own Scottish government’s compliance with the Tory austerity programme.
A new Scottish Government analysis warns that a hard Brexit could cut Scottish GDP by £12.7bn, or 8.5 per cent, by 2030. While Angus Robertson, the then SNP leader at Westminster, claimed in 2017 in the House of Commons that “wages were likely to drop by £2,000 and that 80,000 people may lose their jobs in Scotland as a result of the hard Tory Brexit plan of the Prime Minister.”
In reality job losses, inequality and austerity are built into the capitalist system, whether we are in or out of the EU. Workers in Scotland have already suffered the loss of 40,000 public sector jobs since 2010, tens of thousands of job cuts following the crisis in the oil industry and a 15% cut in wages, a result of the passing on of the Tory public sector cap under the SNP. And all of this while within the EU.
The SNP are also silent on the EU institution’s role in implementing austerity in Greece not to mention denying the basic democratic right for self determination, as seen with the EU’s support for the Spanish PP governments repression in Catalonia.
In contrast, Socialist Party Scotland has consistently opposed the bosses’ Europe and we fight for a socialist exit from the European Union and the neoliberal single market.
We are opposed to the nationalist hard Brexit supported by the right of the Tory party. We totally reject the anti-EU Tory right wing who want to use Brexit to undermine still further wages and conditions of workers.
Sturgeon and the SNP leadership’s position today openly reflects the majority of the British capitalist class who fundamentally oppose Brexit and would like to see it reversed, possibly through a second referendum.
Having posed as radical and anti-austerity, the SNP are now being praised by the likes of Lord Adonis, former New Labour minister who resigned as Theresa May’s “infrastructure tsar”. Adonis said of Nicola Sturgeon: “Her voice is a powerful one and I hope I can work closely with her in forcing Theresa May to let the people of the UK make the final decision on the Brexit deal that’s negotiated.”
Although the SNP have postponed the idea of a second indyref for now, they are using the fear of Brexit to try and bolster their own falling support.
A tool for the bosses
Rather than a protector of workers’ rights, the EU single market is a tool that has aided the capitalists in driving down wages and conditions in the workplace.
Moving production to a cheaper workforce through outsourcing, preventing governments intervening into industries and allowing asset stripping and profiteering are three areas where the EU have facilitated the interests of big businesses.
Through the use of the posted workers directive employers can exploit migrant workers at the same rates and conditions as they would receive in their country of origin. Thereby using this to undermine trade union won wage agreements in their host country.
One recent example was the RMT union’s campaign against Serco/Seatruck who employed Estonian workers for below the legal minimum wage on ferries.
The RMT campaign forced the Scottish government to raise the wages of ferry workers and pay the rate for the job.
The only guarantee of protection for workers is the organisation of the trade unions fighting for all workers to receive the rate for the job.
Socialist Party Scotland supports the demands from the RMT, Len McCluskey – leader of Unite – and Jeremy Corbyn that there should be trade union control over the hiring of new workers in a workplace, local advertising of vacancies and that all employers bringing in workers from abroad must meet trade union agreements.
These protections go against every essence of the single market (ESM) which hides behind a “freedom of movement” that is really a freedom to exploit migrant workers.
The ESM and Customs Union (CU) are also made up of treaty rules designed to frustrate and block nationalisation and state subsidy.
They also allow big business and rich to avoid tax and hide profits. EU regulations can of course be defeated by the mass action of workers and communities, but they would be an obstacle to radical left policies like those promised by a Jeremy Corbyn-led government.
Corbyn is right to reject, thus far, calls from the SNP, the Lib Dems and others, including the Greens, to participate in a cross party campaign to force continued membership of the ESM.
However the Labour leadership must be clearer and state openly that these other parties, including the right wing in his own party, represent the bosses’ agenda. And that a workers’ Brexit with socialist policies is what they are fighting for.
This would also undermine the argument of the Blairites, Liberals and the SNP leadership who attack Corbyn for not standing up to a right wing Tory hard brexit.
Corbyn, at the time of writing, has said that it’s not possible to stay in the ESM and leave the EU. He has also rightly pointed out that the single market is a barrier to state aid for industries and has created a race to the bottom for workers.
However, he made a major mistake in conceding to the Blairites last year that Labour’s position would be to call for access to the ESM after Brexit.
Blairite Keir Starmer has been allowed to present Labours position as wanting to maintain the “benefits of the Single Market” while accepting the referendum result.
EU member state governments such as Poland and Belgium fight against the extension of abortion rights without opposition from the EU commission.
The EU has been a tool for the capitalist class to inject racism into society as seen with the brutal treatment of refugees trying to come into Fortress Europe prevented and risking death as the result of the actions of the EU border agencies.
The so-called single market has not been able to prevent youth unemployment rates of over 40% in Greece and Portugal.
A socialist exit
Socialists support the maintenance of any EU legislation that protects or benefits workers. Where they do exist they have largely come about through pressure from the working class and the trade unions.
We also oppose any attacks on the rights of EU workers in Britain, including the proposal that EU workers will now have to apply for visas.
We demand all workers have full access to trade union rights and workplace agreements. Exit on the basis of a Tory agenda, a soft exit with the single market or remain are all options that will continue the nightmare of capitalist austerity and inequality for workers and youth.
So structural and severe is the crisis of capitalism and so long term it is likely that the EU, Eurozone and single market will fracture and break apart.
The EU is effectively a series of treaties based on creating a profitable market for the capitalists to exploit. Real power resides in the unelected EU commission.
Increasingly we see movements of workers and young people, including the recent anti-government protests in Austria and the radical layers involved in the movement around the independence referendum in Catalonia whose demands smash against the neoliberal and anti-democratic DNA of these treaties.
The case of the Syriza government in Greece shows the EU is unreformable and will not accept even limited challenges to its neoliberal agenda. The Syriza government attempted to negotiate with the EU institutions and were threatened with expulsion.
Betraying the anti-austerity radical hopes of workers and youth who elected them, the Syriza government capitulated and implemented massive austerity demanded by the EU. The only way out of austerity and inequality is to fight for socialist policies.
A left, socialist government in Scotland or a Corbyn government in the UK that enacted these could be backed up by a mass movement and strike action by the trade unions against the efforts of the capitalist class in Britain and Europe.
This would go alongside an appeal for solidarity and joint struggle to workers and youth across Europe to join the fight to overthrow capitalism and change society.
Rather than a bosses’ club based on exploitation and profit, the working class could co-operate on democratic socialist planning to meet the needs of all across Europe.
Socialist policies for an EU exit
- Not a penny to be paid for EU exit to subsidise the capitalist elites of Europe
- Ban zero hour contracts. £10 minimum wage for all
- Abolition of all anti-trade union laws. For the right of all workers to freely organise and strike
- No to the race to the bottom. All workers to get the rate for the job. For democratic trade union control over the hiring of new workers
- For the right of all EU citizens currently in the U.K. to remain with full rights and for the same rights for U.K. workers in other countries. For refugee rights and the right to asylum.
- For the immediate scrapping of all laws demanding “competitive tendering” and limit nationalisation.
- For immediate nationalisations of rail, transport, Royal Mail and threatened industries. Allow councils to bring services back under public control, kick PFI out of the NHS and schools
- Leave the customs union. Impose capital and credit controls on big business and the rich and a state monopoly on trade. Bring the major UK 125 corporations, banks, oil and gas into public ownership
- Fight the dictatorship of the markets and support a socialist exit. For a free and voluntary socialist confederation of Europe and the world