Should Britain be part of the European Union (EU)? This is an argument that is going to rage over the coming months.
Tory prime minister David Cameron is rushing through the legislation to hold a referendum on the issue.
The question of Europe is opening up a crisis within the Tory party which has the potential to rip it apart. Cameron and the majority of the capitalist class want Britain to stay in the EU.
They are calling for a yes vote—and all the main parties, and even trade unions, back them in this. But Socialist Worker argues socialists should vote no. The EU is and always has been a bosses’ club. Its leaders are pushing a neoliberal project within its borders.
This is true even though the most vocal people calling for a no vote at the moment are Nigel Farage, the racist Ukip party and the Tory right. But for many ordinary people it seems that the EU is a positive thing, which creates jobs and can give workers some protection against vicious bosses.
Others see it as allowing people to travel more freely to work and study.
The idea of supporting staying in the EU can seem like the common sense progressive choice. So this will be a difficult argument, but we have to start with internationalism and class.
Neither Farage or Cameron, the leaders of each side, is a friend of migrants or workers.
Cameron has led the charge against multiculturalism. He has been at forefront of demonising migrants. Labour has been little better with its immigration controls pledge.
The establishment parties have made racist scapegoating mainstream. Their rhetoric and policies have fuelled the growth of Ukip. During the last referendum on Europe in 1975 Socialist Worker argued against Britain being part of what we described as a bosses’ Europe. Has this analysis of the EU changed? The answer is no.
Cameron and his allies want to stay in Europe to maximise the profitability of British capitalism. The bosses’ CBI has said, “staying in the EU is overwhelmingly best for business”.
The EU is not a benevolent coalition of nations motivated by improving the lives of its citizens. It has never stood for migrants’ or workers’ rights.
It was established in the 1950s as a way of creating a regional block of capital. This was to help its member states compete on the world stage and ensure military security. Membership is conditional on neoliberal policies and the EU has become integral to the expansion and power of Nato and its wars.
The EU’s insistence that the working class and poor of Greece must suffer for the failures of the banks shows this project is relentless.
Contrary to popular perception the EU does not make it easier for migrants to move around. Instead it has collectively formed a blockade against migrants coming from anywhere outside its borders.
The last referendum on Europe took place in 1975 and was fought in very different circumstances under a Labour government. The majority of the Tories were for a yes vote.
They had been forced to come to terms with the fact they no longer had an empire. Being an ally of the US was not enough and they decided they would have to combine with other national states to strengthen British capitalism.
They wanted a free market across borders—the EU was then called the “common market”. They also wanted a mechanism to drive down workers’ wages and conditions to make British workers more “competitive”.
At that time leading left Labour MPs, including Tony Benn and Michael Foot, supported the no campaign. Most trade unions, the Scottish National Party, Plaid Cymru and the Communist Party all campaigned for a no vote.
Many on the left did not argue on the basis of international solidarity, but from a distinctly nationalist viewpoint.
Nevertheless, the fact that the reformist left and other class forces argued no enabled socialists to build broad based left wing opposition.
This helped make it easier to expose the true nature of the EU than it will be this time around. Although even in the 1970s it wasn’t straightforward. Vile racist right winger Enoch Powell also campaigned for a no vote, as did the Nazi National Front.
But today the no vote campaign won’t see racists and right wingers just supporting it.
Ukip won 3.8 million votes on 7 May. While this massive leap in support didn’t deliver more than one MP, it will enable Ukip to lead and dominate the debate on the EU. And Farage and Ukip will fight a nasty racist anti-migrant campaign.
At the same time the Labour left is weak. There are no high profile figures equivalent to Foot or Benn prepared to lead a left campaign against EU membership.
Instead maverick Kate Hoey is the Labour figure heading up the no campaign from Labour.
All the big unions will also support staying in Europe. The defeats of the Thatcher era led some trade unionists to look to the EU guaranteeing greater protection as an alternative to struggle.
Unite union general secretary Len McCluskey put the dominant union position in a letter to members urging them to vote in the 2014 European election.
He wrote, “The EU makes sure your hours at work aren’t exploited, you get protection at work and you get statutory holidays. It is also responsible for 3.5 million jobs in the UK and brings an estimated £30 billion to the UK economy.
“So Europe isn’t just good for Britain, it is good for you.”
Even some of those in the unions or on the left who argue against the EU often do it by giving ground to the idea that migrant numbers need to be controlled and are a problem.
So simply saying no to a bosses’ Europe will not be enough. Socialists will have to make it clear that we will not be sharing any platforms or working with Ukip or any other such no campaigners.
We reject notions of defending “sovereignty”. Workers in Britain are not in control of the national state whether it is in or outside Europe. The reality of exploitation is unchanged if bosses are British, German or Chinese.
We have no truck with nationalist chauvinism of little Englanders.
Part of the reason we oppose the EU is because we believe all migrants are welcome here. It doesn’t matter whether they are from within the EU or from anywhere else in the world.
It doesn’t matter whether they are fleeing wars or looking for economic security. They are our sisters and brothers and we defend them and their right to come to Britain and make a life here.
We want to see an end to all immigration controls. So arguments against the EU must be bound up with the fight against all forms of racism and in defence of migrants.
Internationalism not nationalism also means we stand with workers in Greece against the EU.
The EU is a critical part of the “Troika”, alongside the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund, that wants to take money from the pockets of the poorest in Greece to pay the banks.
EU demands to slash public spending have crushed the living standards of millions of people in Greece.
The EU serves the interests of bankers, bosses and big business. That’s why Cameron and his rich friends are desperate to stay a part of it. We want to see them beaten and a no vote would rock them.
All this is why we have to put the argument for voting no in any referendum on EU membership.
But this is always as part of a struggle for an anti-capitalist vision of Europe with international solidarity at its heart.
This means we take sides—with workers who are standing up against racism, neoliberalism and war across Europe and the world.