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By backing the EU, Corbyn only helps his enemies

This article is over 7 years, 6 months old
Issue 2507
Pro-EU battlebus in a campaign that links Labour to the Tories
Pro-EU battlebus in a campaign that links Labour to the Tories (Pic: Flickr/Elliot Brown)

Pressure from the Labour right and union leaders has forced Jeremy Corbyn to campaign harder for Britain to remain in the European Union (EU).

He told the GMB union’s conference in Bournemouth last Sunday, “I support Remain and reform, because we can change a lot.

“The Tory Brexiters think that the 24 June will be a bonfire of regulations, but they’re all things the trade unions here and our colleagues in Europe fought for.”

Supporting the EU was one of the first public commitments Corbyn made after being elected leader last September. He opposed the EU bosses’ club, but changed his position to try and unite the Labour Party.

Corbyn has tried to make a left wing case for Remain to justify his shift, and he has not campaigned alongside David Cameron.

At a Labour In campaign meeting in Cardiff on Friday of last week Corbyn warned against “leaving Europe to the free marketeers and big business”.

He said, “We want a Europe of the solidarity of socialist parties, trade unions and people that want to see a decent society.”

But such a thing is not on offer from the EU. It is a dangerous myth to suggest that is what voters will get if they vote Remain.

Labour’s “socialist” allies include the French Socialist Party sending in cops against striking workers and Germany’s Social Democrats who are in coalition with Angela Merkel’s Tories.

And the next president of the EU is Slovak social democrat Robert Fico. He said “Islam has no place in Slovakia” and that “migrants cannot be integrated, it’s simply impossible”.

Corbyn’s stance has not united the party—and it’s not just the right on the attack. Former deputy leader John Prescott said, “It seems as if we are just enjoying the fight in the Conservative Party.

“But that is not putting Labour’s position.”

GMB union general secretary Tim Roache said he was concerned Corbyn was being “mealy mouthed” about the referendum.

He said, “Labour needs to be a bit braver in taking on the issues in working people’s minds and whether we like it or not that’s immigration.”

At a fringe meeting at GMB conference Roache slammed the racist scapegoating of migrants. “Migrants come here to work and contribute—let’s start by having a dig at the exploiter, not the exploited,” he said.

So Corbyn said that “it doesn’t make people Little Englanders, xenophobes or racists” to worry about immigration.

“Some communities can change dramatically and rapidly and that can be disconcerting for some people. More people living in an area can put real pressure on local services like GPs surgeries, schools and housing.”

But rightly he did go on to say, “This isn’t the fault of migrants, it’s a failure of government.”

Had Corbyn come out for Leave he would have transformed the EU debate.

It would have been less racist and much more about class, austerity and positive views of refugees.

His stance on the EU now both lines Labour up with the Tories and bosses—and strengthens the Labour right.

How far will the unions back the Labour left?

Rapturous applause for Jeremy Corbyn at the GMB union’s conference in Bournemouth last Sunday underlined trade unionists’ support for the left wing Labour leadership.

Andrew Alleyne from the Southern region told Socialist Worker it reminded him why he joined Labour after Corbyn was elected leader.

He added, “You don’t always see the message come through in the cut and thrust of politics.

“He needs to do more of what he did today to get the message out.”

Delegates found it “totally different” to previous years—when Labour leaders lectured workers on the need to accept some austerity.

Gwylan Brinkworth from Wales and South West region told Socialist Worker, “I supported Corbyn to be leader because we needed someone who was unashamedly a socialist.”

GMB general secretary Tim Roache said the union would defend Corbyn from the right. He said it was “absolutely willing” to deselect right wing MPs who are undermining his leadership.

But while many union leaders disliked New Labour, they aren’t on the left. In the clash over Trident nuclear weapons the GMB’s leadership is siding with the right.

Andrew said, “I understand the Blairite argument that you’ve got to look to the ‘middle ground’, but you shouldn’t kowtow to it and abandon principles.”

Polls reveal class divide—with poor voting Leave

Many right wingers are concerned that large numbers of working class people will not back Remain without Labour mobilising its supporters.

A YouGov poll in the bosses’ Financial Times’ newspaper said “the inhabitants of less prosperous regions such as the East Midlands and Yorkshire and Humberside are more likely to favour Brexit”. Over 60 percent of those in the poorer “C2” and “DE” groups also favour Leave.

Left wing supporters of the European Union (EU) often claim that those against it are Ukip supporters and racists.

But this poll shows that many working class people oppose the EU for different reasons.

Ukip’s four million votes in the last election and some Tory votes don’t account for the 11 million or more expected to back Leave.

But lining up with David Cameron’s Remain campaign can drive people towards the right.

Green Party leader Natalie Bennett—part of the supposedly radical “Another Europe is Possible”—appeared alongside David Cameron and Lib Dem leader Tim Farron on Monday.

This sort of move will strengthen the bosses’ hand and damage the left.

A leading “Another Europe is Possible” figure is collapsing into the bosses’ Remain campaign.

EU doesn’t protect our rights

Most trade union leaders, including the Unite, Unison and GMB heads, have urged union members to vote Remain on 23 June.

In a joint letter to the Guardian newspaper they claimed that the Tories would “negotiate away our rights” if Britain leaves the EU.

But the rights they mentioned were not handed down by the EU. Maternity rights in Britain are well above EU standards, for example.

They were won through workers’ struggles—and only struggles will protect them. A Remain vote will strengthen David Cameron to push through more attacks on workers’ rights.

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