The vote to leave the European Union (EU) hurled the ruling class into chaos—and the effects are still playing out.
It’s time for the working class movement to seize hold of the debate and stop Brexit being dominated by varieties of toxic Tory solutions.
If a working class solution is fought for then it can hit the Tories when they are vulnerable.
Capitalists like certainty. Market stability means they can predict how much money their investments will make and how their businesses will fare.
The Leave vote opened up a gaping hole of doubt.
“London is the centre of global financial markets, and that is being put into question,” said tycoon Jacob Wallenburg last December. “That is not in the interest of either the UK or Europe.
“Uncertainty—that is exactly what it is creating.”
The Tories don’t have a clue about how this will resolve itself. Just like top bosses, they didn’t believe it would happen and don’t know how to navigate through it.
The Tories are in disarray, caught between the interests of capital and their own membership.
Theresa May wants to act in the interests of big business and limit the effects of being outside of the single market.
But she knows that to come out too strongly in favour of freedom of movement would mean alienating the Tories’ core membership.
The rift in the Tories over the EU has existed for decades—and it hasn’t gone away.
But Labour is hardly in any better shape over Brexit. There is a basic question—are the trade unions and the Labour Party seeking to overturn or block the Leave vote or are they trying to shape what sort of Brexit emerges?
Shadow chancellor John McDonnell set out the party’s “five red lines” for Brexit in July last year.
These included protecting free trade and the City of London as well as remaining in the European Investment Bank (EIB).
Jeremy Corbyn is set to invite the leaders of other European social democratic parties to London next month. He wants them to hear from people who “have not had their voices heard” so far in the Brexit debate.
Included in this group will be business leaders and NGOs.
“I have every confidence that the principles of solidarity, internationalism and socialism that we stand for can be at the heart of European politics in the 21st century,” Corbyn said at a meeting in the Czech capital Prague last December.
“That’s why it is vital that our rhetoric cannot be used to legitimise the scapegoating of refugees or migrant workers.”
It’s a breath of fresh air that a Labour leader is standing up for migrants. But other Labour politicians have been whipping up racism by claiming that the referendum shows that people have “legitimate concerns” over immigration.
And powerful figures from inside the party are trying to undermine the referendum result and the party’s leadership.
Tony Blair slithered out from under his rock to declare, “We’re the insurgents now.”
Sir Keir Starmer, the anti-Brexit shadow Brexit minister, said that “the 48 percent feel like they’re being written out of history”.
These are the figureheads of the movement that is trying to pull the Labour leadership away from making demands for workers and towards the interests of the bosses.
That makes the need for a strong workers’ movement to pull in the other direction more important than ever.
The EU is heading for another crisis. The Italian referendum defeat for Matteo Renzi at the end of last year has highlighted the fragility of the economy.
Paolo Gentiloni, became the new prime minister after Renzi resigned. He entered office to be greeted by a howling banking crisis.
Monte dei Paschi di Siena (MPS) bank, Italy’s third largest, was on the verge of going under and had to be bailed out by state funds.
Under EU rules any state funding to a bank must be accompanied by losses for the bank’s depositors, including workers and family businesses.
Such a move will be politically explosive.
The Financial Times columnist Wolfgang Munchau gloomily predicted, “One day Italy will be led by a party in favour of withdrawal from the euro. When that happens, euro exit would turn into a self-fulfilling prophecy.
“This would imply the biggest default in history. The German banking system would be in danger of collapsing.”
There is terror about “contagion” where the fall of one bank spreads problems to others, just as in 2008.
The pressure on MPS has also focused attention on UniCredit, Italy’s biggest and most important lender, which has been looking to raise as much as £11 billion in fresh capital and offload £17 billion in bad debts.
Unicredit owns Hypovereinsbank, Germany’s fourth largest bank.
Banca Nazionale del Lavoro, Italy’s eighth largest lender, is owned by BNP Paribas, France’s biggest bank, while Cariparma, the country’s 11th largest lender, is owned by Credit Agricole, another French bank.
Deutsche Bank, Germany’s largest bank, also has a substantial Italian subsidiary.
The potential for financial chaos is clear.
Elections are scheduled in the short or medium term in the Netherlands, France, Germany and Austria.
In each case right wing populists are making a strong challenge. That’s an obvious danger in terms of the rise of racism, but it also could see further hammer blows against the EU.
The question may become not so much what Britain looks like when it exits the EU in 2018, but what sort of EU will exist by then.
It’s in the interests of workers across Europe, whether they live in countries that are in the EU or not, to unite against the bankers’ and the bosses’ agenda.
After the Leave vote TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said that working class people “must not pay the price for the economic uncertainty caused by Brexit”.
That is a good principle, but what does it mean?
The TUC says that, “The top priority is to protect access to the EU’s single market”. But the single market is a mechanism to enforce neoliberalism across a continent.
But the Tories were fully committed to these projects anyway—and they aren’t in the interests of working people.
It’s a mistake to look to the Tories to get the best from Brexit.
Brexit will raise fundamental questions about what sort of society we want to live in.
Socialists, however they voted in the referendum, have to make their voices heard.
We have to leave behind the divisions before and after 23 June.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn could do the whole working class movement a great service by heading up a radical set of demands that break from capitalist logic and instead put workers first.
Anti-racism has to be at the heart of all the Brexit debates.
Ukip, many Tories and the right wing press see harshly curbing migration as the central question.
Some Labour people have gone along with them.
While polls show that immigration is an important issue among voters, this is hardly surprising given the levels of racism being pumped out by politicians.
And a large majority or people support guarantees of the rights of EU nationals who live in Britain.
The centrality of racism to the debate on Brexit makes initiatives such as the Stand Up To Racism conference on 4 February and building solidarity with refugees even more important.
It means defending EU workmates’ rights and coming on the 18 March SUTR protests in London and Glasgow.
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