The debate around membership of the European Union (EU) is hotting up now in anticipation of the referendum on 23rd June.
As it stands, the arguments for a “Leave” vote has been dominated by the racist right, including UKIP and some of the worst examples of the Tory party.
Many on the left, including those who are simply left leaning or see themselves at least as progressive, feel that voting to remain in the EU stands against the bigoted arguments of the right. It is a perfectly logical and respectable position – if you stand against racism and see yourself as an internationalist, why would you want to vote against being part of an organisation that unites countries throughout the continent.
The leading argument used by “Vote Leave” and similar organisations is around fear of immigration. This is a recent poster used by the campaign:
So you should vote Leave because you’re frightened that 76 million Turks will ALL BE COMING TO BRITAIN TO SIT IN GP WAITING ROOMS. Not only that they will take all the recent copies of Bella available so you will be left with reading out of date posters advertising flu jabs.
Remember the Polish hordes who made their way to Britain? No, neither do I. A few builders who did a good job for a surprisingly cheap price turned up, and when work dried up, left to look for work elsewhere rather than rotting on benefits as were told they would. In fact, immigrants from the EU only take up a tiny amount of the total welfare benefit costs this country faces.
Most of the arguments put forward by the official Leave campaign are wrong, and steeped in bigotry. But, that does not mean that to vote Leave is the wrong choice, just that the mainstream arguments have been dominated by them.
The remain camp however, have done their best to try and make the argument look a lot more simple than it really is. An example of the arguments you get from the progressive side of this argument are summed up in this picture:
So everyone famous who wants to vote Leave is an evil scumbag, and everyone who wants to vote remain is an angelic figure who spends their time rescuing kittens from trees and giving sponge baths to war veterans.
I can’t help but notice that the pictures of those who want to vote remain is missing David Cameron and George Osbourne. It’s such a major simplification to suggest that all the nasty politicians are for a Leave vote. Cameron and Osbourne have lead an unprecedented wave of attacks against the most vulnerable in this country through their savage cuts. And don’t forget, austerity isn’t just seen as ok in the EU, they’re the ones that are driving this ideology.
Look at the savage attacks on countries like Greece by the EU. They have insisted on levels of austerity that not even the IMF were originally suggesting. Greece, like with third world debt, have paid off the amount they were lent many times over, but the interest is keeping them shackled.
The European Union is not simply a club of countries enjoying and extending their warm friendship, it is a bosses club. It is about trade, about building capital. Where workers rights are enshrined in treaties, it is merely the bare minimum considered necessary to maintain sufficient working conditions for profit to be made.
Look at some of the rights that we have as workers in this country, such as equal pay. The Equal Pay Act came in 1970, and followed the women sewing machinists at Ford striking for this right in 1968. We didn’t get this legislation because the government was simply nice enough to give it to us, we got it because it was fought for by organised labour. It wasn’t given to us by joining the EU.
At this time most Trade Unions, and the TUC itself are backing a Remain vote. In the 1980’s, after years of defeats that workers had at the hands of the Thatcher government, Trade Unions started to look to the EU for some guarantees of protection.
Whilst understandable, this is coming from a position of defeat. Many are not confident that attacks by the Tories can be successfully countered from below, from our own united activity. I’m not suggesting that we are that strong to be honest, so I really do understand the concern.
But ultimately, I don’t think that the EU has really helped us by standing as a block to the Tories. Voting to remain because you think the EU can temper the worst instincts of the savage Tory attacks is like accepting the argument that the Lib Dems were doing a great job of being a “heart” in the last coalition government. Now, who doesn’t accept now that that was bollocks?
Another argument is the fear that if the Leave vote was successful, that Boris Johnson would take power from Cameron and become Prime Minister. Of course, Boris Johnson is a terrifying prospect, but is he really that much worse than Cameron? I think that Cameron has better discipline in how to express himself, but I don’t think they’re any better or worse than each other. I think they are both Tories, so by definition, dreadful.
In fact, that in fighting in the Conservative Party could help the left. I’m not suggesting that it would automatically be to the lefts benefit, but it could be an opportunity.
Ultimately I think that if you are fighting from a left position you want to fight to enhance democracy. Whilst we elect MEPs, we don’t have a say in the election of the European commissioners, or who controls the European Central Bank. It is less accountable than our own government.
The arguments that the Tories may try to erode our rights even further may be justified, but I don’t think we should just hope that an invisible hand will fight this for us. The only way to fight the Tories, and the bosses, is to unite together. In Trade Unions, grass roots organisations, and through them make links with others fighting internationally, both inside and outside of Europe.
A Leave vote does not have to be one to call for the borders to be closed, it can be a call instead to demand not just to allow free movement of workers in Europe, but also to allow in refugees escaping our bombs in the Middle East.
Part of the deal the EU made with Turkey regarding Syrian refugees was that a number would be allowed to settle around Europe. So far, out of 1.7 million refugees in Turkey, only 177 families have been settled in Europe. That is a failure of the European Union, and it is a failure of the British Government, and one we all need to fight to stop the humanitarian crisis getting even worse.
No to the EU, no to racism – I’ll be voting Leave on 23rd June.