BORIS JOHNSON’S visit to Brussels underlines the need for a clear left alternative on the EU.
Johnson may indeed get a deal. The EU economy is teetering towards recession. Germany’s industrial output is 5 per cent down on that a year ago and it will be German exports that will take the biggest hit if Britain leaves without a deal.
But the question remains: what kind of deal?
If it is Theresa May’s deal with Irish border controls removed and agricultural standards in the North of Ireland maintained in harmony with those in the South, there still remain the commitments given in the accompanying Withdrawal Declaration for Britain to adopt the pro-business, neoliberal competition laws of the EU single market.
On the other hand, if Johnson does not get a deal, it is clear that every effort will be made to engineer a caretaker government to displace Johnson and block any kind of exit settlement with the EU.
The Liberal Democrats under Jo Swinson have indicated their intention to work both with dissident Conservatives and a Labour majority leader as long as it is not Jeremy Corbyn.
They have also made clear their total contempt for any kind of democracy by announcing that they would, in government, scrap the referendum result without holding a further referendum.
Even forgetting their previous abandonment of election promises by joining David Cameron’s austerity government in 2010 — with Swinson becoming a junior employment minister pushing through anti-trade union legislation — this should make them out of bounds for any member of the Labour Party.
Disagreeing with the referendum result, or even wanting a second, is one thing. Just scrapping it is another. They may be Liberals. They are certainly not democrats.
This is why there must be a left alternative. And of course there is one. Jeremy Corbyn has repeatedly advanced it. Britain should remain aligned to the EU single market in terms of environment, health, food and employment standards but not accept the EU’s neoliberal competition terms.
Corbyn lays down this condition in order to protect Labour’s past election commitments. The EU’s competition terms would block almost every progressive element of Labour’s programme for change: comprehensive pubic ownership, state aid, a state investment bank to take stakes in key companies, the proactive use of public procurement for regional development and, not least, mandatory sectoral collective bargaining.
Take this away and Labour would indeed be unelectable. The current plots to create a centrist caretaker government would seem to have as much to do with ending the prospect of a left-led Labour government as about reversing the result of the EU referendum.
Trade unionists in particular should be aware of the consequences. Membership of the EU does not guarantee employment rights.
Today’s report from the Resolution Foundation showed that. The shockingly large number of workers not receiving their statutory rights is closely related to the low level of collective bargaining, now below 30 per cent. Britain has been in the EU for over 40 years.
In fact, of course, the EU actively discourages collective bargaining. Its 2012 document Labour Movement Developments details the interventions required to reduce the “wage-setting power” of trade unions.
The past seven years have seen the consequences. In Greece, under EU debt supervision, collective bargaining has declined from 80 per cent to 20 per cent. The decline in Portugal, in similar circumstances, has been almost as severe.
This is why the trade union movement needs to speak out. There is a left alternative. It must be defended.
Otherwise the right, whether represented by Johnson or by Swinson and her right-wing Labour allies, will win.
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