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Lens on Labour: Taking on the EU.

Len Arthur

Misgivings about whose purpose is really served by the EU have been held widely within the labour movement. It was not until the early 1970’s that Labour in part supported membership and the 1980’s when the TUC started to warm toward the Social Chapter following the ravages of the Thatcher governments.

On the left, many both within and outside of the Labour Party do not support the EU either due to the loss of UK or Parliamentary control – I believe Tony Benn has this view – or because it is simply an organisation to support capitalism.

Others in Labour and on the left accept these concerns but suggest that UK history has never been independent of what happens in Europe. The two world wars of the 20th Century demonstrated this and it is therefore better to be involved to try to influence events than think we can avoid the consequences of decision taken in the rest of Europe.

The EU Treaty is also a reflection of the post war social democratic and corporate settlement. Sovereignty was shared, the conflict between capital and labour reflected in reforms covering work and re-distribution of wealth geographically, and certain key industries such as agriculture were protected. At the same time, economic policy has been about opening up the internal market and improving international competitiveness through reducing the role of state, encouraging competition, standardisation, free labour movement and now with the Maastricht Treaty, restrictions on the use of government spending to encourage economic activity.

Tensions within the EU between the different assumptions that underpin these approaches have been restricted by the expansion to new states and the establishment of the Euro. It is now clear that not addressing these tensions has aided the crisis within the eurozone and they are being resolved by moving away from the social democratic settlement and democracy and toward an attack on the working class across the EU under the guise of ‘austerity’, making us pay for the bankers crisis.

Similarly tensions on the left have come to the surface. Some have argued, that we should leave the EU and it doesn’t matter if the eurozone or the EU falls apart. Others have suggested that the EU has always offered the opportunity for workers unity across Europe and now is the time to act together internationally, to resist the policies of austerity.

It should also be clear that the Tory government is no friend of the social democratic settlement, they are only interested in pulling back powers from the EU to remove the effects of the social chapter in the UK and cut back public spending even harder.

Whilst in Brussels a few weeks ago I drafted the following piece which could act as a motion for meetings; you can see where I come down on the debate – what do you think?

‘United front against the Treaty

People of Europe against austerity and the treaty: for an alternative social and democratic Europe

ETUC statement now seems radical. It is a measure of how far and how fast the EU has gone to the right. We are faced with a spectre the spectre of austerity. The workers of Europe are being expected to the pay the cost of the bankers’ crisis and not only are the representatives of the bankers’ being elected to use the state to solve their problems but in countries like Italy they have been handed the state without an election. In the UK a millionaires’ government intends to cut harder than across the EU and is primarily interested in representing the City of London.

Time is of the essence. We have until March. We can stop the Treaty if we mobilise across Europe: what is essential is a united front of workers organisations and parties to initiate solidarity action around the demand no to the Treaty; no to loss of democracy; yes to a social Europe based on equality; and yes to full democratic control of EU institutions.

We should call upon the TUC and the ETUC to launch an EU wide petition supporting these and more detailed demands looking for the widest possible support internationally. We should also call upon them to launch EU wide demonstration and industrial action culminating in time when the Treaty may be signed.

If they don’t take this action, we should do what we can to launch ourselves using social media.

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