Editorial from the current issue of the Socialist - the paper of the Socialist Party in England and Wales
If a variant of British Prime Minister Theresa May’s Chequers proposal eventually becomes a Brexit deal, it will mean Britain remaining subject to much of the EU’s austerity-promoting and privatising neoliberalism.
On the other hand, if the Tories who want a ‘hard’ break from the EU win out, it will also be against workers’ interests. Instead of a ‘race to the bottom’ in wages and working conditions on a European level, they favour a ‘race to the bottom’ on a world level. Exploitation of workers would be stepped up and the welfare state further eroded in order to make British corporations more competitive globally.
Faced with these two positions, most British capitalists favour the first – mainly because of the benefits and protections that the EU institutions and markets give them. But also they fear the disruption that a hard Brexit would mean, especially in the event of no deal being agreed.
Inevitably, with the vast amount of cross border trade and financial dealings being between Britain and the other 27 EU countries, a badly prepared for ‘no deal’ scenario would have an impact on the economy.
But this doesn’t mean that socialists or others in the workers’ movement should support any of the Tories’ proposals, as a number of Labour MPs are expressing willingness to do. Among them is Caroline Flint, who said she would back a “reasonable” Tory deal to avoid the prospect of no deal.
On the contrary, the only route to defending workers’ interests is to refuse to support May’s proposals, which are constructed to serve capitalist interests, and instead do everything possible to bring her government to an end and force the calling of a general election.
Jeremy Corbyn would then be able to present a manifesto for standing firm in Brexit negotiations on working class interests and rights, making sure that the richest in society pay any economic price of Brexit and not the majority. He could also, very importantly, put out a message of international solidarity with workers across Europe.
His government would need to seek a trade deal with the EU. If Labour were to win a general election decisively – which can be done through inspiring voters with bold socialist policies – negotiations with the EU capitalist club would be from a position of greater strength, with general backing, rather than those conducted by the weak, fragile Tory government.
In addition, a Corbyn-led government would be able to use a programme of nationalisation to take the ability to inflict job losses, closures or reductions in pay and conditions out of the hands of any corporations that move to take that path. Jaguar Land Rover has already blamed Brexit for its decision to reduce its Castle Bromwich plant to a three-day week.
If Brexit does threaten any workers’ jobs or pay through its impact on bosses’ profits, which might be the case in some sectors, taking those enterprises into public ownership, under working class democratic control and management, should be the reaction of a left-led government. In that way, all jobs can be safeguarded and, if necessary, production could be changed to more socially needed products.
The need for such measures won’t just arise because of Brexit. Jaguar Land Rover also announced a two-week shutdown of its Solihull plant because of declining sales to China and the US.
This is an example of the impact of the present stalling of world trade growth, which although made worse by the protectionist steps of Trump and other countries, is at root symptomatic of the underlying weak state of the world economy. The onset of a new recession is only a matter of time – warning signs have already appeared. So, determined action will also be needed to protect workers from the ravages of that inevitability, regardless of the type of Brexit.
The EU is a structure of institutions developed by Europe’s most powerful capitalist classes to serve the interests of their corporations, originally through creating a ‘common market’ and a bloc to aid their competition with other world powers. The desire to defend the profits of those corporations was clear when EU negotiator Michel Barnier slated May’s Chequers plan for giving British companies “a huge competitive edge” and being “counter to our very foundations”.
The Tories, as representatives of British capitalism, do want precisely that: to undermine the trading interests of other European multinationals, whether through a soft or a hard Brexit. But a Corbyn-led government would potentially be able to shift the whole present character of the negotiations away from being shaped by capitalist greed and profit-making, to being based on the mutual interests of ordinary people across Europe.
Such a government would be able to call on workers throughout the continent to fight the ‘race to the bottom’ in their own countries and mobilise against attempts by their own governments or the EU to pursue punitive measures against other workers whether in Britain or elsewhere, as was so brutally done to the Greek population by the EU.
It isn’t just Britain’s Tory government that’s increasingly weak and fearful of the next round of elections. The Bavarian sister party of German chancellor Angela Merkel’s CDU party has just had its worst election result for 68 years.
French president Macron’s popularity has rapidly fallen. In March, the EU’s leading governments were horrified when the mainstream capitalist political parties in Italy failed to win a general election. The far-right League party and populist ‘Five Star Movement’ coming to the fore, both posing as anti-establishment, and now moving to challenge the EU’s austerity diktats.
The role – outlined here – that a Corbyn-led government could play, would have to go along with decisive steps to democratise the Labour Party and deselect right-wing candidates if it were to be sustained and developed. Widespread support from workers and youth could be generated for this vital task.
At present a large number of young people believe that remaining in the EU is the only way to support multiculturalism or environmental standards. Promoting a programme that exposes the great limitations of the EU bosses on these issues would begin to shatter those illusions. And it could show how socialist policies would be able to deliver a massively better future in all respects than any international capitalist institution will ever be capable of.