TODAY’S launch of a new labour movement Leave campaign is important for three reasons.
First, it defends our democracy. Second, it provides the base we need for opposing pro-big business, neoliberal policies — whether these come from the EU or Boris Johnson. Third, it supplies much-needed support for Labour’s own socialist programme.
How does it defend democracy? It does so by providing a left-wing voice for the millions of working-class Labour voters who supported Leave in the referendum.
Currently only two perspectives are being projected in the press. The pro-EU position is portrayed as internationalist and liberal while Leave supporters are identified with Boris Johnson, Nigel Farage and Donald Trump.
This stereotyped division is both dangerous and incorrect. It is producing a polarised debate in which Leave supporters find themselves identified with alien perspectives, ideas that have as little to do with the working-class movement as those of the bankers and monopolists who back the EU.
And anything that divides the working-class movement and weakens its unity also threatens our democracy — because in a class society like ours it is only this collective solidarity that provides a barrier against the wealth and power of the few.
The new Leave campaign provides a voice for that class solidarity. It represents the silent workplaces denied state aid because of the EU’s competition laws. It explains that our derelict regions and crisis-ridden social services, in Britain and across the EU, are the result of EU austerity policies that imposed the costs of the bankers’ crisis on working people.
And these same arguments will be critical for the future. The next few months are very unpredictable.
We may face Johnson negotiating trade deals with the US or Saudi Arabia on neoliberal terms. Or we may see a “national coalition” seeking to restore EU membership. Equally neoliberal.
In both cases the arguments that are needed to arm the labour movement will only come from a much strengthened left campaign against the EU.
The pro-EU side has focused almost exclusively on the supposed consequences of leaving. It has looked at effects not principles.
It has never acknowledged the problems of big business control, the denial of public ownership, the erosion of collective bargaining, the insistence on marketisation and EU trade treaties that are often grossly exploitative.
It is, however, around these issues that the labour movement will have to unite if we are to see a Labour government committed to socialist policies.
After a decade of defeat, Labour almost won the 2017 election with a programme that accepted the result of the EU referendum and called for democratic, socialist control over the economy.
Since then this programme has been further developed — most notably in Jeremy Corbyn’s Coventry speech in 2018.
Labour’s policy for economic transformation currently includes the comprehensive public ownership of key utilities, mandatory collective bargaining, the proactive use of public procurement to promote regional development and the use of state aid and a state investment bank to revive a dangerously stagnant economy.
Not one of these policies is compatible with EU regulations or with the EU’s single market terms as incorporated in Theresa May’s deal.
The new campaign is therefore an important first step. It will be successful if it is firmly based in the trade union and labour movement and linked to active campaigning against industrial closure, precarious working, community impoverishment and the defence of services.
In doing so it will be a force for solidarity and understanding and thus for redeveloping the power of working-class unity essential for our democracy.
The consequences of not doing so, of a working class divided, should be a concern to all.
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