Tuesday 15 September 2015

Jeremy Corbyn and the European Union

Let's calm down for a minute about Jeremy's EU-scepticism and think about the politics of the moment we find ourselves in. As we saw last night with the Trade Union Bill's vote in the Commons, the Tories are monomaniacal about driving our movement out of the workplace. It doesn't matter that strike and membership levels are rattling around historic lows. They know, they instinctively feel the organisations of working people presents a latent and occasionally potent threat to their political dominance and the interests their party was set up to prosecute. They are also dimly aware that this is a tiger they can't subdue forever - the best they can hope for is to hold it down for as long as possible. Of course, it's quite possible this attempt might spark off a revival of trade unionism - especially in the context of a reviving left.

The Tories have grown accustomed to the labour movement being down and like it that way. As if to underline their contempt for the people keeping them in bumper share dividends, nice cars, and plush London properties; Dave has been frank about his aims as he renegotiates Britain's relationship with the EU before the 2017 in/out referendum. Among them is a desire to un-sign the social chapter that guarantees certain minimum standards across Europe's workplaces. Readers may recall that John Major's Tories had opted out and, to his credit, Tony Blair signed Britain up shortly after taking office. Dave wants them gone because they're "too restrictive".

And yet Dave could find himself in a bind. He knows that many on the left are committed to the European idea. The relationship between the EU and socialism exists only in the fevered imaginings of Bolshevik-fearing 'kippers and fellow travellers in the Tory party, but nevertheless the idea of nations coming together and pooling sovereignty around shared interests is a compelling one for some. As Yvette Cooper kept reminding us during the leadership election, the EU (and Nato) are expressions of "Labour's internationalism". As such, for an 'in' vote to be delivered in around 18 months time, Dave is banking on tens of thousands of Labour and labour movement people forming the active backbone of the campaign and do the not-too glamorous job of canvassing and leafleting. Just how it was during those happy times in Scotland. He has calculated that our movement's dominant pro-EU tendency can be taken for granted. He can shaft us and we'll happily campaign for that shafting.

This is why Jeremy's is he/isn't he about the EU is unsettling Downing Street. We know Jez doesn't hold the EU in high regard. The way it forced Greece into an umpteenth self-defeating austerity deal was an eye-opener for some on the left as naked great power-bullying had a laugh at the EU's high and mighty ideals. But well before then, Jeremy's EU-scepticism was forged in the 1970s trade union opposition to the referendum on the Common Market. It's therefore a view that isn't the sole property of the right. By not offering Dave carte blanche, it is tricky as far as party management is concerned. Yet I think Jeremy is correct to be coy about Labour's wholehearted support for 'in'. He's seen a trap and, quite rightly, should be demanding things in return for Labour's backing - such as the dropping of the social chapter nonsense.

As we know, Dave is a weak leader and a tough stance from Jeremy on this could give the PM a major headache. Giving in to Labour causes huge problems with his backbenchers, but will hand him the referendum and another item in the legacy box. This is high risk and a lot of the PLP have already caught the jitters, but I would counsel patience. After all, would you campaign for a deal that worsens the lot of workers? Indeed, as Scotland showed in no uncertain terms, when Labour are perceived to connive with our opponents to worsen the lot of our people, we get a drubbing. I for one would not like to see that repeated across England and Wales, even if it means Britain stays in the EU.


Boffy said...

Sorry, can't agree. If you are going to threaten someone with a gun, as part of a negotiation, you should be prepared to use it. The use of the gun here is, "If you don't stop threatening to kill me, I'll blow my brains out!"

The threat to the Social Chapter, and other measures that favour UK workers is NOT a threat coming from the EU, and certainly not from our fellow workers in Europe. It is a threat coming from the UK government. How on Earth can threatening to cut ourselves off from our fellow workers in Europe, and the potential for waging a combined struggle across the EU for an extension of workers rights, therefore, be a good strategy?

As you say major opted out of the Social Chapter, but Blair signed us up. That is always possible IF you are in the EU, but it is NOT if you have left. Even if Cameron were to renegotiate an opt out, that would again only be temporary until a Corbyn government signed us back up again, and hopefully signed us up to a set of more extended workers rights across Europe.

If Britain pulls out of the EU, not only will that NOT change the situation of no longer enjoying the current EU protections, but it would open the door to the Tories simply imposing even more draconian measures that are currently prevented by the EU.

Of course, we should not follow the disastrous example of the Scottish referendum, or indeed the last European referendum, when Labour politicians simply formed a popular front with Tories and Liberals. We need a separate Socialist Campaign for Europe, as I've argued previously that would be modelled upon the Socialist Campaign for a Labour Victory that was organised in 1979.

That is we campaign independently from the Tories/Liberals and Blairites for a vote to stay in the EU, but a vote to stay in, on the basis of a fight with workers across Europe for a workers Europe. That mirrors the approach of Syriza, which said we demand the right to stay in the EU and Eurozone, but on the basis of opposing austerity.

It is the basis upon which the labour movement across Europe should proceed.

Phil said...

Perhaps Jeremy *is* prepared to use it ...

Boffy said...


That's what worries me!!! I don't think the labour movement should adopt suicide as a sensible strategy.

gary elsby said...

I agree with Boffy.
No games-just a straight campaign for victory.
To play games plays into the hands of those that don't really get it and there are plenty of Tory hating workers who love to hate anything and everything, including bone idle French, Italian (enter the Country of you choice) etc....

The question is, are their mere benefits to vote yes for the workers as there are negatives by voting no?

Phil does have a point though.
Labour should be highlighting the social chapter as a first choice platform and not just the single market of which confuses many.

Anonymous said...

I'd keep away from playroom games on such a serious matter. If I was Jeremy I would simply say that if DC gets his opt out on the social chapter, we will simply resign it when labour gets back into power and make that a central pledge in the referendum campaign. To me, thats a non-brainer