EU crisis – opportunity to unite mass opposition to austerity

4518By Stephen Boyd

The majority leave vote will be recognised as one of the most important events in modern British and European history. It will also be one of the most misunderstood. In and out advocates are both seriously misjudging what caused this political earthquake.
The majority of working class Leave voters in the last analysis were motivated by factors resulting from the crisis in capitalism. Fear of unemployment, fear of a collapse in their much needed and ever eroding public services. Motivated by the anger induced over time by the struggle to survive on poverty wages, zero hour contracts and to keep a roof over their heads.
The Leave voters who mistakenly place blame for this crisis at the door of immigrants have been grossly misled by the Tories, Labour, UKIP and the SNP. Also unfortunately by most of the TUC leaders.This vote against the EU represents a revolt against the British and European political establishments.
As Jeremy Corbyn wrote, “After yesterday’s European referendum, politicians of all parties must listen to and respect the vote. Millions of voters have rejected a political establishment that has left them behind. Communities that have been hardest hit by government cuts and economic failure have voted against the status quo”. Corbyn is correct – it is unfortunate therefore that he allowed himself to be held hostage by Labour’s right wing and instead of sticking to his long held position of opposition to the EU, he was like a hostage reading from the script of his captors in support of their Remain position. If Corbyn and the trade union leaders had instead led a left campaign to leave the EU based on a militant struggle to oppose austerity and the bosses race to the bottom, then the racismand false populism of Nigel Farage and the Tory “Little Englanders” could have been dealt a serious blow.
An exit poll of 12,300 voters carried out by Lord Ashcroft Polls provides important insight into the motivation and class nature of the referendum result.
The polling notes state “most of those not working voted to leave”, ….”around two thirds of council and housing association tenants voted to leave”. “The AB social group (broadly speaking, professionals and managers) were the only social group among whom a majority voted to remain (57%)”. 63% of C2DEs social groups that include civil servants, public sector workers, skilled manual workers, unskilled manual, part-time, and those dependant on welfare benefits voted to leave the EU.
Whilst a small minority voted leave for overtly racist reasons, in the above poll, one third (33%) said the main reason for votingwas that leaving “offered the best chance for the UK to regain control over immigration and its own borders.” As Hannah Sell (Deputy General Secretary, Socialist Party England and Wales) wrote; “A majority in Bradford, with a high Asian population, for example voted for leave. Although in London – with a younger and relatively wealthier population – a majority voted for Remain, the number of ‘Leavers’ was much higher in poorer boroughs. In Barking and Dagenham, where less than half of the population now identify as white British, 62% of people voted to leave. In neighbouringNewham, one of the poorest and also the most ethnically diverse area of the country, 47% voted to leave.”
An overwhelming majority of Asian and Black voters voted for remain, yet despite the attempts to tarnish all “Leavers” as anti-immigrant and motivated by racism – the Ashcroft Poll revealed that 33% of Asians voters voted to leave, as did 27% of Black voters.
The majority of the political establishment in Britain has in one way or another scapegoated immigrants for the overstretched public services, unemployment and low wages. To theireternal shame the majority of trade union leaders stood shoulder to shoulder, literally in public debate, with the Tories and the Blairites – those who bear most responsibility for the economic crisis and the austerity that has inflicted so much suffering on working class people. All of the main leading forces on both sides of the referendum debate, including the majority of TUC leaders argued for the need to curb and restrict immigration from the EU and other parts of the world. No major political force or voice was raised during the referendum campaign placing the blame for the economic and social crisis where it really belongs, on the neo-liberalism of the Tories, the Blairites and the EU elite. Such an alternative could have mobilised the majority of those young people who voted for Remain behind a left Leave campaign. A majority of Remain voters voted to stay in the EU for positive reasons in the belief that the EU has been a benevolent force for social change, workers’ rights and that UK membership was necessary for economic growth. They were also expressing solidarity with European immigrants and refugees fleeing the conflicts in the Middle East.
The working class of Greece and the South of Ireland can testify to the real agenda of the EU. Millions have been impoverished in Greece as the EU cruelly imposesdraconian austerity measures as the price for ECB loans. In the South of Ireland the EU threatened to set off a “financial bomb in Dublin”, the Troika and the EU forced ordinary Irish people to pay off 42% of Europe’s banking crisis debts whilst €30 billion of austerity was imposed. The housing crisis with thousands of children now homeless in Dublin is because of EU austerity!
The EU’s policy on free movement of labourbetween member states is designed to assist employers to drive down wages and working conditions in order to increase profits. Free movement of labour is a “right” that the EU elite will take away if the economic conditions dictate. Look at the concessions they gave to Cameron in the pre-referendum negotiations, curtailing access to benefits (immigrants must work for four years) and allowing for immigrants unemployed for longer than six months to be sent back to their own countries. Fortress Europe is the real face of the European Union. Tens of thousands have died fleeing war because of the EU refuses them asylum. The rotten deal with the reactionary Turkish regime to send back Syrians fleeing ISIS terror is not the act of a benign and progressive institution!
It is incredible that post the referendum many of the those on the remain side who themselves argued for immigration controls are now trying to portray all leave voters as anti-immigrant. The danger of a furthergrowth in racism and anti-immigrant sentiment in the UK is real but can only be combated and overcome in the UK and in France, Germany, Austria and all other European states if new major working class political parties and movements are built that unite working class people of all races, creeds and nationalities in a struggle for a socialist alternative to the failed capitalist system. The multitude of problems afflicting working class people can never be resolved by the bosses EU, dominated by the interests and profits of the 1%. Only a socialist confederation of European states can provide the 99% with a decent life and guarantee a future free from racism, conflict and poverty.

The hated Cameron is on his way out, the Tories are split like never before in their history, the Blairites are attempting to oust Corbyn, while Labour’s rank and file are mobilising to defend him and a general election may not be far off. Other significant consequences of the leave vote are the moves by the SNP for a second independence referendum in Scotland and the demand from Sinn Fein for an all Irelandborder poll – a referendum on a united Ireland.
Nicola Sturgeon has already started the legislative process in the Scottish Parliament for putting in place a second independence referendum – although it has to be agreed by Westminster. The SNP leadership are cautious, for if they succeed in getting a second referendum and they lostagain, it would be serious setback for their goal of Scottish independence. Whereas a majority in Scotland 62% voted to remain, significantly 38%, one million voted to leave despite the SNP arguing that EU membership is essential for an independent Scotland to economically proposer. Another factor weighing heavily on Nicola Sturgeon’s shoulders is the low price of oil which is now more than 50% lower than it was at the time of the 2014 independence referendum and income from oil is a fundamental cornerstone of the SNP’s post independence economic strategy.
Nevertheless, the prospect of a second independence referendum is real and thus as predicted the vote to leave the EU now places a major question mark over the future of the UK. The embracing of the TINA (Thatcher’s – There is No Alternative to capitalism) ethos, by Labour, the SNP, the Greens, Plaid Cymru, and most trade union leaders has left a massive political vacuum.
The vote to leave the EU and the possibility of Scotland voting to leave the UK are part of the same complex process of change. Whereby a majority of working class people are using these referendums to show their opposition to austerity and the failures of the political establishment of all shades and hues to provide them with a decent life.
The EU referendum result potentially creates conditions that can lead to greater political instability in Northern Ireland. A second Scottish independence referendum poses the prospect of the break up of the UK and in doing so places firmly centre stage the question of Northern Ireland’s continued place within that union. Sinn Fein has issued a call for a border poll. Martin McGuiness, Sinn Fein Deputy First Minister said within hours of the result that the entire island of Ireland should now be able to vote on reunification. He stated that there was “a democratic imperative” for a border poll, “Dragging us out of Europe will be to the detriment of all our citizens and will be bad for business, trade, investment, and wider society”. However Theresa Villiers, Northern Ireland Secretary has ruled out Sinn Fein’s call for a border poll. “The Good Friday Agreement is very clear that the circumstances where the secretary of state is required to have a border poll is where there is a reason to believe there would be a majority support for a united Ireland…..There is nothing to indicate that in any of the opinion surveys that have taken place.”
This is not the end of it. In the political uncertainty post EU referendum with moves towards a second Scottish independence referendum, the issue of a border poll will not just go away. Sinn Fein, will seize on this opportunity to try to rebuild some of its’ lost support. In their last two electoral outings, the Southern general and the Northern Assembly elections, Sinn Fein have not performed as well as they had expected. This is a reflection in the North of a growing discontent amongst Catholic voters to SinnFein and the DUP’s implementation of austerity and attacks on public services and welfare benefits. This new scenario presents the Sinn Fein leadership with an opportunity to use sectarianism presented under the guise of a democratic demand for a vote on a united Ireland to repair the damage to their support base in traditional nationalist areas such a west Belfast and Derry.
Sinn Fein the SDLP argue that it is the democratic right of the “Irish people” North and South to vote in a border poll on whether a united Ireland should be created. Catholics in Northern Ireland have the right to reject the status quo and their aspirations for a united Ireland reflect the desire to live in a society whereby they would be free of the prospect of a return to the repressionand discrimination of the past and amistaken belief that a capitalist united Ireland will improve their economic position, providing a better future for their families. However Sinn Fein and the SDLP’s formalistic approach to democracy fails to take into account that the overwhelming majority of Protestants are still opposed to a united Ireland.
The Socialist Party is opposed to the calling of a border poll because not only will it fail to resolve the sectarian divisions that exist on our society, it will in fact further deepen those divisions significantly increasingsectarianism.
If the last forty years has taught us anything it is that it’s not possible to impose a solution to the national conflict in Ireland simply by holding a vote!
Sinn Fein’s call for an all Ireland border poll is cynically draped in the cloak of democracy based on their premise that the population of both states should collectively be polled in order to gauge the desires of the “Irish people”, as a way of fulfilling a right to self-determination. However theformal democracy of a border poll in such a situation that exists in Northern Ireland – a deeply divided society – would actuallyresult in the denial of democracy to a large section of the population.
An all Ireland border poll rather than being a democratic vehicle for the right of self-determination would in fact produce it’s opposite. It would potentially lead to a majority on an all-Ireland basis voting for a united Ireland (although this is by no means guaranteed), but with up to 800,000Northern Irish Protestants voting to remain in the UK.
The history of the last 100 years clearly indicates that a serious move towards a capitalist united Ireland would lead to amajor upsurge in sectarian conflict and would without question result in a civil war which would end not in reunification but in a further partitioning of the island. Catholic and Protestant working class people would pay a heavy price with thousands dead and injured and a resolution of the national conflict would be further away than at any time previously in history.

The Blairites have made their move against Corbyn. They claim that Corbyn would not be able to lead Labour to victory if there is a snap general election. Corbyn needs to hold his ground and turn to the members who elected him in such enormous numbers. Fifty thousand have already signed a petition supporting Jeremy Corbyn and the first opinion poll since the referendum has seen Labour’s support increase, (Tories 32% -5, Labour 32% +2, LD 9% +2, UKIP 16% =, SNP 4% -1).
The capitalist classes of Europe and big business have been badly shaken by the referendum result. The strike wave in France, and the electoral shifts in Spain are further examples that working class people across Europe are beginning to move against austerity and neo-liberalism. The project to politically unite all EU states is now dead. The very future of the EU is now in question. Other EU members states may follow the UK out the union. This crisis may force Europe’s political elites to ease back on austerity and implement some reforms and concessions in order to buy some time. Philip Stephens, chief political correspondent of The Financial Times commented within 24 hours of Brexit; “Since 2008 the unfairnesses have been amplified by austerity: the wealthiest one per cent have been barely touched. Capitalism needed saving, but in bailing out the financial institutions with taxpayers’ money, governments transferred the stresses from markets to politics. A return to economic growth would relieve some of the pressure. Europe in particular must understand just how politically corrosive slavish devotion to fiscal targets has become. But the politicians also must confront the excesses. If they want to save liberal democracy, they will have to reform capitalism.”

The opposition to the failures of the political establishment and austerity needs to be harnessed in a mass movement. Jeremy Corbyn and left union leaders along with socialists and community activists can unite working class Leave and Remain voters. Matt Wrack, general secretary of the Fire Brigades Union points the way forward: “Any attempt to introduce an emergency budget that further attacks public services or seeks to increase taxes on working people, must be opposed by the trade union movement and the Labour Party. “Trade unions must campaign on the basis of unity. We have to ensure that any debate around immigration does not scapegoat migrant workers, which includes thousands of people who deliver our NHS and work in our fire and rescue service. Where others want division, we must answer with unity and solidarity. “To workers across the UK we say, whether you voted Leave or Remain, we must stand together in defence of jobs, our rights and public services”

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