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Democracy and independence, nation and labour

As the Brexit negotiations enter there last critical phase, DOUG NICHOLLS argues that socialists should return to some first principles to prepare to rebuild Britain as an independent country after March 29

If good trade union negotiators had been asked to take the biggest mandate ever given in British history and negotiate leaving the EU, it would be done by now. We wouldn’t have been bullied by the Brussels bureaucrats.

It’s not rocket science — come out of the single market and customs union, come out of the common fisheries policy, the common agricultural policy,and jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice, pay up any legitimate outstanding dues and liabilities. Voila.

Bearing in mind that the EU needs our market more than we need its, we would negotiate no-strings trading terms that would advantage the rebuilding of our economy.

We certainly wouldn’t let the EU cynically mess with the interests of Dublin and Belfast in developing either their trade with each other or with us.

The EU is actually negotiating on the back foot and in desperation. There are many signs of this. The EU dominant powerhouse Germany is in trouble, so is its currency, the euro.

German business is worth watching. There are calls now for an intensification of the war against “the enemies within” — that is, those opposing the EU project or, like Italy, those governments seeking to pass anti-austerity budgets.

At the same time there are welcomes for the biggest NATO exercises in modern times now under way in Norway and entrenchment of the PESCO agreement creating a new EU military policy and armed force.

To top it all, German business has welcomed the election of Jair Messias Bolsonaro in Brazil, particularly as it seems he will create a superministry to be headed by Paulo Guedes who has been advising him for over a year.

Under Pinochet’s junta in Chile, Guedes was an influential professor at the University of Chile. German business has close links with Brazilian business and trade boomed under the previous military dictatorship.

A corporate-backed extreme-right-wing tendency is on the rise and this, of course, is true on the European continent.

When the cause of labour and the cause of the nation become split, extremism of various kinds emerges.

On the one hand, an alienated working class that ignores its own organisation and its rights as the class of labour exaggerates an empty, chauvinistic nationalism, giving rise to the new emerging fascist forces. The absence of popular sovereignty and democracy in corporate-led superstates like the EU generates a chaotic disaffection from all institutions.

On the other hand, when organised labour sides with globalisation and ignores the anchor of the nation, it permits the main beneficiaries of right-wing populism, the large corporations, to take charge and sideline elected politicians and socialist aspirations.

Sadly, both of these trends exist in Britain and would have been significantly worse had the Labour Party not raised hopes and aspirations again across the country.

But this delicate balance is all too easy to give away. If the House of Commons seeks to undermine a deal that takes us out of the EU as of March 29 2019, there will be an unprecedented constitutional crisis, an instant and dangerous hollowing-out of democracy and the potential for anarchy and the emergence of our own versions of Bolsonaro.

The organised working class in Britain has been indistinguishable from the long struggle for democracy.

Ignoring the pre-industrial struggles of artisans and tradespeople to topple the dominance of the Church of Rome, then the monarchy, if we take the long struggle for the universal franchise from the early 1800s, right up to and beyond the suffragettes and through the development of workplace democracy in the unions, the organised working class has been the engine of democracy and therefore national progress.

The struggle from the first People’s Charters in the 1830s for voting reform and all the sacrifices in between was eventually successful only in 1969 when votes for all at 18 came in. It was about this time that the British Establishment also began to attack the power of the unions and the Tories were involved in secret discussions to be part of a federal Europe supplanting nation states and the power of the vote.

There was not really a referendum in 1975 to join a Common Market so much as a con presented to say it was all about trade.

Papers now revealed demonstrate it was about replacing national independence with dependence. This political manoeuvre complemented the earlier harsh economic vandalism of the European Coal and Steel Community which sought to ensure that no country could be economically independent in its own energy and steel supply.

This was the origin in reality of the miners’ dispute and closure of our pits and steel mills.

What followed was history, no popular referendum on the Maastricht, Nice and Lisbon treaties, no referendum on the Single European Act. As a result, power grabbed from the people and their Parliament in a slow-motion coup d’etat.

One of the strongest independent trade union movements in the world was weakened, one of the strongest social democratic labour parties was turned upside down, local government was ruined and the infrastructure of neighbourhood youth and community organisations was destroyed to disengage people from political action.

Is it any wonder that the wealth creators of the country, skilled and unskilled workers and many of those who have lost most, voted to reclaim democracy and national independence back into our own hands?

The people historically created the House of Commons and took it out of the control of the landowners and monarchy. Our predecessors fought and died for a right to elect their representatives to Parliament. If the House of Commons turns on the people and follows Starmer and others in trying to wreck all prospects of leaving, 350 years of democratic progress would be reversed.

This is why it is unlikely to happen, but posturing within Labour to undermine Labour will be strategically extremely harmful.


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