Myth-The single market doesn’t block renationalisation
EU rules prevent states from wholly running services publicly. But a new pamphlet from the Labour Campaign for the Single Market (LCSM)—a group led by Blairites—muddies the water to try and hide this fact.
It says many governments in Europe have “ownership stakes” in industries including energy, rail and water. And it highlights German state-run rail operator Deutsche Bahn as an example.
But LCSM admits that EU rules “require public utility monopolies to open up to competition”. As the European Commission (EC) says, “EU rail legislation has consistently encouraged market-opening.”
These rules mean Deutsche Bahn faces increasing competition. There were 412 rail firms in Germany in 2015—and 421 in 2016.
As LCSM admits, the EU “does require that rival companies should be able to have access to utility networks”. It says this is “beneficial”.
What it actually means is that Labour could not renationalise the entire rail service without defying the EU.
Myth-The single market doesn’t stop state aid
LCSM says it’s possible to have state involvement in the economy within the single market. Technically this is true. But this is in spite of single market rules, not because of them.
Belonging to the single market means signing up to a series of EU rules which protect profits and entrench neoliberalism.
Giving state money to companies is seen as giving an unfair advantage to some over others and “distorting competition”.
But state aid is allowed if it’s deemed to benefit the economy—in other words, the bosses.
LCSM accepts this. It says “there is no escaping some form of state aid rules”. Yet these rules are there to help bosses, not ordinary people.
Myth The single market protects workers’ rights
Workers in EU countries have watched their living standards fall while the rich get richer.
Today the EU enforces austerity, most dramatically in Greece. In Greece some public sector workers had their pay slashed by a third and the minimum wage has fallen by 22 percent.
Workers in Britain suffered a bigger drop in real wages between 2007 and 2015 than any other advanced country except Greece. Average real wages fell by 10.4 percent.
LCSM hails EU legislation such as the Working Time Directive, which limits working hours. But an “opt-out” means workers in Britain can make “voluntary deals” with bosses to work longer.
Our rights have been won through struggle, not handed down by the EU. Equal pay legislation was introduced in Britain following a strike by women workers at Ford Dagenham in 1968.
And some rights, including paid holidays and maternity leave, are better in Britain than the minimum EU standards.
The EU is designed to help bosses, not workers. A founding treaty “prohibited” all restrictions on bosses’ ability to make profits.
And the 2007 Lisbon treaty enshrined the privatisation of public services in the EU. It committed member states to have balanced budgets and near-zero structural deficits.
Many union leaders in Britain opposed the treaty. Ireland voted to reject it after a successful left wing campaign.
In 2007 the European Court of Justice ruled against Swedish workers who struck to stop Latvian firm Laval paying migrant workers lower wages.
It also ruled that a Polish subcontractor operating in Germany could pay workers less than half the agreed minimum wage for the sector.
And in the same year Finnish ferry company Viking tried to operate from Estonia to avoid a union agreement. The court backed the bosses’ “right” to relocate.
Looking to the EU to protect workers comes from a pessimism that workers can’t fight to protect themselves.
Myth-Brexit will wreck the NHS
LCSM says the cost of Brexit leaves less money for the NHS. This is false accounting. There’s plenty of cash available—in the pockets and the offshore accounts of fat cat bosses.
LCSM says Brexit has encouraged nurses from the European Economic Area to leave the NHS and deterred others from coming. Any socialist should oppose changes that drive workers out of services or put them off coming to Britain.
But only 5.3 percent of nurses come from the EU. Brexit is not behind the NHS crisis. Tory attacks—pay cuts, cuts to health funding and slashing bursaries—are.
“Brexit has ripped us away from the European solidarity of protecting healthcare, health standards and workers’ rights,” says LCSM.
This rosy picture doesn’t fit the reality. Health workers in France, Portugal and Italy struck late last year against cuts and other attacks.
Myth - Leaving the single market will mean more cuts
LCSM admits, “Austerity is a political choice and has nothing to do with the EU or single market rules.”
Yet it still claims that leaving the single market will harm the economy and mean “fewer jobs and lower wages”.
This accepts the logic of capitalism—and wrongly assumes that bosses and workers have the same interests.
The vast majority of Britain’s bosses wanted to stay in the EU because it’s good for business.
Some have since blamed cuts on Brexit.
But attacks on jobs, pay, pensions and services are not inevitable. Bosses and governments choose to make them – and they can be resisted.
The woes of many firms, such as Carillion and Capita, have nothing to do with the EU.
Bosses are using fear over Brexit to threaten workers. Labour should stand up to their blackmail, not go along with it.
LCSM admits that public spending can be increased “inside or outside the single market”.
The real problem is that Labour fears taking on the bosses.
Catherine West MP writes, “It is possible to leave the single market and not cut public services. But it is not possible without increased borrowing or higher taxes.
“Public spending choices would be much, much harder for any future Labour government.”
In other words, cuts can be avoided if Labour taxed the bosses more.
Myth- It’s anti-racist to back the single market
The campaign to stay in the EU was led by David Cameron— hardly an anti-racist. And, disgracefully, LCSM calls for more clampdowns on migrants.
It complains that Britain hasn’t used “significant restrictions within EU law” that could limit freedom of movement.
It bemoans “Britain’s failure to use such safeguards fully and, where appropriate, send back those with no right to remain”.
It suggests that regulations blocking migrants from claiming benefits “could be better enforced, or even tightened”.
The EU does not guarantee freedom of movement. After three months, EU citizens living in another EU country must meet certain criteria in order to stay. They must be in work, be seeking work with a genuine chance of getting it, be able to prove they aren’t a “burden” on public funds and have health insurance.
And EU states retain the right to close their borders.
LCSM whines that leaving the single market won’t address “concerns” about “non-EU migrants”.
“New trade deals with countries like India are likely to involve Britain being required to grant a greater number of visas to citizens of those countries,” it says.
For good measure it advocates “reversing the spending and staffing cuts to the Border Force”.
The EU doesn’t protect migrants or refugees. In 2008 the European Parliament adopted a new law that aimed to fast track mass deportations. It removed migrants’ rights to legal representation and allowed states to deport unaccompanied children.
Fortress Europe means refugees fleeing war and poverty drown in the sea.
Myth-The EU protects the environment
LCSM says the EU has been “overwhelmingly positive” for the environment.
Yet its own pamphlet shows up the weakness of EU environmental laws.
“Our air has exceeded legal limits since 2010,” it says. “Conservative-led governments have consistently weakened the machinery protecting our environment.”
The EU is committed to the “progressive abolition of restrictions on international trade and other barriers”. These include environmental standards.
LCSM says that the single market “encourages responsible environmental behaviour by business”.
In reality businesses regularly flout environmental laws and EU states repeatedly miss targets for emissions cuts.
And the targets aren’t high enough to stop catastrophic climate change.
The EU uses offsetting, where firms can buy more credits to emit more pollution, to meet targets.
Offsetting has been a disaster that has seen emissions rise.
As LCSM admits, “No one could argue that the EU is a model of green perfection.”