Having started this, I've realised that writing a comprehensive socialist case for remaining is a small pamphlet-sized endeavour. At the very least it needs to discuss political opportunities, the free movement of labour and Fortress Europe, the nature of the forces hegemonic in the leave and remain campaigns and the consequences flowing from the victory/defeat of each, the EU as an institution, legislation around workplace protections, sovereignty, and so on. I'll therefore be writing on those topics in future posts
We should begin with Remain's strongest suit, the economy. As per Jeremy Corbyn's intervention in the referendum, we are seeing a great deal of scaremongering from the government. It's what they know after all, so we should expect little else. Yet with all good scares, if such a phrase exists, there is a foundation of truth upon which the exaggeration is erected. And the truth is no one knows what impact leaving the EU would have on the British economy. Talk of cataclysm is hyperbole, but inward investment is likely to fall as the relationship with the single market is clouded with uncertainty, and there is a chance of a slow withdrawal of long established non-European firms. As my brother works for one such business, I should declare a personal interest in not seeing his job gambled with. So yes, there will be a hit, the extent and durée of which no one can say for sure. And yet what is perplexing from a class struggle perspective is how this is overlooked, rubbished, or not at all considered important for the self-defined "Lexit" camp. Attempting to say something on this, Judy Beishon writes that austerity has already impacted on living standards and the cost of leaving, which the government would naturally try and pass on in the same way we've paid for the 2008 crisis, is by no means a foregone conclusion. We might resist and be successful in throwing back their attacks on public services and wages. She's right to an extent, but let's think through some probabilities here. How likely is a determined fightback by workers pulling together after the most reactionary forces in Britain (more on this shortly) have scored a major strategic political victory?
On a more general point, despite their obsession with strike chasing and economistic demands too much of the far left are indifferent to the economic well being of the class they wish to lead. And that is one reason why, generally speaking, the centre left in the unions and wider politics tend to trump their influence. The way Judy skirts over it goes to show it's not important for her group, which is ludicrous considering most people will be thinking about their pockets as they cast their ballots. This indifference is idiotic. Better living standards mean exactly that. Working people tend not to get motivated when they're impoverished and ground down by the necessity of scraping for a crust. The best chances for progressive, socialist change occurs when they can lift their eyes to the horizon. Contrary to revolutionary mythology, catastrophe and crisis have the tendency to impoverish the political imagination of our class, not fire it.
A third point. Since the anti-capitalist fad of the late 90s/early 00s came and went, the far left have appropriated its blanket opposition to globalisation and with it the free movement of goods and services. Of course, these processes should be examined and critiqued. Understanding capitalism so we can change it is the point of socialist analysis, after all. And yet there is no nuance, no understanding that as capital grows and concentrates, its spread draws together productive apparatus, supply chains, administrative systems, and therefore the possibility of economic planning over greater distances and larger numbers of people. Markets are about power, yet they foster ever greater relations of interdependence. They make socialism more possible. From this perspective there is no case whatsoever for opposing the single market and withdrawing - leaving because it will fuck up British capitalism is self-indulgent nihilism.
We have already noted that market economics are always about power, which brings us onto the question of workers' rights. You only have to look across the Channel to see how EU law is no impediment to a foolhardy and likely doomed assault on workplace protections and labour market rights. Unfortunately, however, matters are much less combustible north of Dover's white cliffs. Disputes here are not dead, but they are sporadic and tend toward successful outcomes only where density and solidarity is high to begin with. London Underground workers are an obvious example, but so too is the partial retreat inflicted on the Tories by the junior doctors. I wish it were not the case, but our movement in general is weak for a number of reasons. The measures the Tories have got through since 2010 - ballot thresholds, the extension of the right to fire without reason for a further year, job tribunal fees, ending check off, these didn't pass because of the "misleaders" of the organised labour movement - they met little opposition thanks to the crisis affecting our class, one that has us atomised and privatised. Now it may be there are some in labour movement positions who use this as an excuse to do very little, but it nevertheless is a fact of political life. How we overcome this is, in my opinion, a long process, but that's for another time. Immediately, now, in the midst of the EU referendum campaign we have to again ask whether the workers rights legislation required by the EU is something worth defending, or are negligible and "meagre", as Counterfire puts it.
Well, yes. They are. And the EU didn't stop the Tories putting the thumbscrews on the protections we have. Nevertheless, when our class is incredibly difficult to mobilise beyond sectional issues (how many RMT'ers have flooded into the Labour Party?) to say the floor provided by EU legislation doesn't really matter is complacency of the worst sort. It matters very much to union reps tasked with organisation - ask them, it's one reason why they're mostly for staying. And for the gaggle of right wingers in the upper echelons of Leave, for them health and safety laws, rights to paid leave, rules governing part-time workers are so much flim-flam ripe for repeal. Some on the far left might like to see them try, but champing at the bit for a battle you're not equipped to win is beyond stupid.
Those are the economics, and it's a choice between what there is now and a scenario likely to lead to the impoverishment and further defeats of our class. No matter how you frame it, no amount of wishful thinking and radical verbiage is going to change it.