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In or out – Labour’s voice must be heard on Europe

EU migrationReferendums can be defining moments in a country’s political culture, as the Scottish Independence referendum showed. They offer a unique opportunity for a national debate on a single issue. There is no escaping the fact that the referendum on EU membership could have huge implications on the political landscape of the UK. It is, therefore, vital that the Labour Party leads the debate and ensures that the issues of social justice, democracy, workers’ rights and TTIP are at the centre of the debate.

Unsurprisingly, Labour has committed to campaigning to remain in the EU. A majority of Labour members clearly seem to support continued EU membership, and most polling has shown that the “remain” campaign has a small but steady lead in the UK as a whole.

The EU is not, however, an issue which Labour can afford to be complacent about.  The truth is that the nature of the debate on the EU referendum is almost as important as the result, because the issues raised will shape the agenda in the run up to 2020. If employment rights are sacrificed and TTIP is not debated, then the people of the UK voting to remain in the UK would be far from a victory for the Labour movement.  Neither would a UK exit from the EU as a result of a campaign based on isolationism and xenophobia.

The announcement that Lord Stuart Rose, former CEO of Marks and Spencer and Tory Peer, is  heading the Britain Stronger in Europe Campaign raises serious questions about the type of campaign  senior figures in the “remain” camp plan on running.  As a Lord, Rose has voted against Labour plans to improve employment rights. At M&S Swindon he presided over what GMB has described as a “two tier” workforce. The Britain Stronger in Europe website suggests that, true to form, he is intent on making the “pro-business” case for EU membership.

It is encouraging that Labour Conference voted against working with any cross party campaign which sought to erode worker’s rights. But the nature of the campaign being run by Britain Stronger in Europe suggests that Labour will have to work hard to ensure a pro-worker case for EU membership is heard.

On the other hand, the cross party Vote Leave campaign is headed by Taxpayers’ Alliance founder Matthew Elliot, alongside Dominic Cummings, who used to be a special adviser to Michael Gove. With right wingers leading both cross party campaigns, there is a real danger that issues of workers’ rights, TTIP and social justice will simply not feature in the debate at all. It is becoming increasingly clear that only that only Labour “leave” or “remain” campaigns will even ask the right questions about EU membership.

There have always been differences of opinions in the Labour movement over whether the EU is a path or barrier to social justice. These continue to this day, and while Labour’s official position is in favour of continued EU membership, there is a small but significant Labour Leave campaign. This diversity of views within our party can be a strength rather than a weakness, as long as both campaigns focus on the issues of social justice and democracy.

The Labour leadership must also tread carefully when it comes to the official Labour campaign. We must not repeat the mistake of ‘Better Together’ where we were involved in a largely negative campaign which seemed to defend the status quo. We must put forward a positive vision of a social Europe and must be clear about the changes we would like to see.

The reality is that, however Labour conducts the campaign, numerous Labour voters, as well as many of those who we need to vote Labour in 2020 will vote to leave the EU.  It is crucial, therefore, that we do not give the impression that those who vote to leave the EU do not have a place in the Labour Party. A strong Labour Leave campaign will be important for showing that there is a place for Eurosceptics in the labour movement.

I know that many in the Labour Party would rather not be having a referendum on EU membership. However, now that it is taking place, we must lead the debate and make sure the right questions about EU membership are asked. There is every chance that the debates leading up to the EU referendum will shape the 2020 election campaign, meaning that having strong Labour voices on both sides of the debate is vital.


  1. David Ellis says:

    If there is one thing that is guaranteed to recommence the process of Labour’s pasokification and end any prospect of a Corbyn-led party winning the 2020 General Election or indeed any election ever again it will be voting Yes or In or Remain alongside Cameron in the EU Referendum. Let New Labour’s Scotland fiasco be a lesson. It will put paid once and for all any credibility left in Corbyn’s claim to be anti-austerity and will represent a vote of confidence in neo-liberal economics and Cameron’s hoped-for anti-working class `reforms’. No socialist can vote for the EU as currently constituted or alongside Cameron without making of themselves an unprincipled clown. That does not mean our approach should have anything in common with that of the Little Englanders of UKIP or indeed of Stalinism. We vote OUT because we believe Another Europe is Possible, one that cannot be achieved wihtin the rotting carcass of the current arrangements. Like-minded socialist governments coming to power in the different nation states of Europe should be looking to create a Union based on co-operation not cut throat competition and mutual ruination. It must be a Europe with a common Living Wage and in which each member state runs a regime of full employment. There can be no question of workers being forced to tramp across the continent chasing each others’ tails in search of ever crappier wages, ever more meagre welfare and slum accommodation. This is not about pandering to middle class sensibilities but winning back working class voters to a principled socialist programme which does not include abrogating power to the reactionary EU.

  2. Peter Rowlands says:

    Yes, but as I understand it the Labour Leave campaign have lined up with the all party Lawson campaign, while the Labour In campaign is nowhere to be seen. What’s going on. Wake up Alan Johnson!

    1. David Ellis says:

      A Labour movement OUT campaign must have no connection whatsoever with any of the bourgeois OUT campaigns or indeed any New Labour right wing OUT campaigners and it must make it clear that it does not intend to leave the making of a post-Brexit Britain to the likes of Tory right wingers and UKIP by putting forward its programme for socialist transition. At the same time it must make clear what its vision for a progressive Europe is.

  3. David Pavett says:

    What is a startling about this call for a proper EU debate within Labour is its lack of links to sources of information. If the link to the Labour Leave campaign is anything to go by then we are in for a really low level debate.

    However the Labour Leave people make one very solid point. The onus is on the people who say that we should stay in but also that reforms are needed must tell us what reforms exactly they have in mind. That is something they have so far failed to do.

    Those reforms would have to involve the so-called democratic deficit which is based on the limited powers of the European parliament. And that poses a dilemma that has to be resolved. An increase in power for the EU Parliament could imply a higher degree of federalisation which may not be popular. And then there are broader issues like the apparently untouchable four market freedoms (freedom of movement of labour and capital, freedom to trade in goods and services).

    And then on the other side of the case. Leaving the EU poses a whole series of problems that are not generally addressed. Even if we were outside of the EU we would have to have a relation of some sort with it. But what sort? Like Norway, like Switzerland. These non-EU countries have trade agreements that involve them accepting a large part of EU rules that they have no part in determining. The issues are complicated and we need access to good sources that help us think through the issues.

    I am not all that well informed so I am trying to get to know the issues better. I am reading Europe: In or Out? Everything You Need to Know by David Charter which gives a lot of good information. There are also a series articles for and against on the Open Democracy website.

  4. Bazza says:

    Need to work with democratic socialist brothers & sisters in Europe for a reformed EC, for a democratic socialist EC (and World) and more ambitoulsy to kick Neo-Liberalism out!
    We need to think big, internationally, and globally whilst some on the ‘Left’ may think as as LIONS – Little Island One Nation Socialists.
    Capital is international and Labour needs to be too!

    1. James Martin says:

      Yes Bazza, except that socialist internationalism should not be based within the prison of capitalist structures. So strengthening the European TUC and various union and socialist parties international links and structures does not actually need the EU at all, and it is inherently possible to be an internationalist and pro-European without supporting in the slightest the EU which works against the interests of both.

  5. Richard Tiffin says:

    The shadow cabinet are holding Corbyn by the throat on this issue and others and I think it’s a huge mistake. Corbyn is very clearly sceptical and it is this scepticism that could be the ace up our sleeve.
    What should be happening behind closed doors and in the press is Corbyn telling Cameron and some of the opinion formers in the country that if any of this negotiation damages the interests of working people then he will come out in favour of a leave campaign. If the ruling class and the Tories want to stay in the EU then they will have to act accordingly or risk coming out, until they have a second referendum anyway.
    To give Cameron a blank check is madness as he can negotiate to please the rabid right and ignore the interests of working people and the shadow cabinet, at least the Blairites amongst them, are still running the party in the interests of big business by doing what they are doing.

    1. David Pavett says:

      Richard, I have a question about your argument (which is alsothe argument of the TUC and many on the left.

      If you would support EU membership on the basis of a deal that does not harm the interests of working people then you must see some value in the organisation in itself. If you do see such value then why would you want to reject the organisation because of a bad deal as opposed to committing a future Labour government to reversing the unacceptable aspects of that deal?

      If the EU is something we believe to be worth supporting (without denying its manifest problems) then surely we should do irrespective of the Tory deal since whatever they agree to can be subsequently renogotiated. I don’t think that the Tories should be allowed to determine our assessment of the value and long-term possibilities of the common market.

      1. David Ellis says:

        You have exposed the opportunist core of that argument. The idea that Cameron could or would want to negotiate anything that was not detrimental to the working class is the triumph of hope over reality and may even constitute treachery but the point is the EU is an alliance of the European capitalist classes against the European working classes in which their world outlook, laws and power are enshrined. If Another Europe is Possible, a socialist Europe, then working class governments coming to power will have to pull out of it and link up to forge a new federation based on entirely different principles to those of the EU. No socialist can vote for the foundational treaties of the EU without being exposed as a class traitor and if that is the case it goes without saying that any socialist voting with this government deserves to perish. The anti austerity narrative will have been blown out of the water and Labour’s pasokification will recommence and accelerate and rightly so.

  6. Jim Denham says:

    I don’t often recommend articles published in the Morning Star, but this by Soloman Hughes (published last Friday) is quite sensible:


    THE Britain Stronger In Europe campaign for an In vote at the EU referendum has jumped straight into a strategy that I heard even top Blairites say is doomed to failure. They’ve made ex-M&S boss Stuart Rose campaign chief, cementing the bad strategy into the heart of the organisation.

    It looks like both the main pro- and anti-EU campaigns think that because the EU is an economic union, then this is a question of “economics” which is best addressed by “businessmen” lecturing us about what “business” needs.

    So the EU debate is going to be a lot like a bad episode of The Apprentice, with people rushing around talking about “business” and “markets” and “sales.”

    It’s hard to think of a worse voice for Europe than Rose. He is currently on the advisory board of Bridgepoint Capital, an investment firm profiting from NHS privatisation by its ownership of leading health contractor Care UK. Rose is also a senior adviser to HSBC European — he works for a bank busy trying to blunt EU regulation of finance.

    Britain Stronger In Europe is fronted by businesspeople such as Rose, Karren Brady and Richard Branson. Their first video was all about “deregulation” and “business benefit” and “consumer benefit,” although — blink and you miss it — there was a brief reference to the EU-backed right to maternity leave and holidays in their promo video.

    But at the Labour conference I heard Chuka Umunna argue: “If we are going to win this debate it has got to be a grassroots campaign. And actually it will not be won by the CEOs of companies that make up the members of the CBI writing letters to the Financial Times and the Times, telling people from on high about what they need to do when the referendum comes.”

    Chuka also said — ironically from an all-male, all-posh panel — that “those making the argument also need to reflect modern Britain, so we need to make sure we have all of the regions (and) both genders” making the case.

    Chuka argued that the In campaign “mustn’t be a Westminster or corporate elite telling everybody what they should do, because if it looks like that we are going to lose.”

    It looks like Britain Stronger In Europe took Chuka’s warning as a recommendation and decided that lectures from business execs was a good idea.

    Similarly Emma Reynolds MP — one of the refuseniks who left the shadow cabinet when Jeremy won — argued from another panel that the pro-EU campaign should be about “getting the message out through local people, not just us on the top table.”

    The top table she was on was about as Establishment as it could be. She was speaking at a fringe meeting organised by Chatham House, a foreign policy think tank deeply wedded to the status quo. The meeting was paid for by Citibank, who had its man on the platform too.

    Which points to the big weakness of the pro-EU campaign. They know that if it is all business-y it might lose. But they just can’t help themselves. So Reynolds calls for a grassroots campaign from a platform paid for by Citibank, a company that helped blow up the world economy with self-destructing financial investments and now fights against EU banking regulation.

    Similarly, when Umunna gave his speech about an EU campaign not being a “corporate elite” campaign, he did so from a platform funded by the City of London Corporation. He spoke next to the City’s chief lobbyist for deregulation, Mark Boleat, and Peter Mandelson — who used the occasion to give a big speech in favour of the TTIP trade treaty.

    There is a social bargain at the heart of the EU — capital can move freely within the EU borders, but so can labour. Money can move freely inside the EU, but so can people.

    Equally the EU imposes some deregulation, but it also imposes some regulations. The EU encourages privatisation of services but it also imposes some regulations of working hours and holidays. The EU limits some government social spending, but it also directs some EU funds to deprived areas.

    Arguably it is a pretty bad bargain, which is weighted much more to capital than labour.

    There are two responses on the left — either argue for a better bargain, Syriza-style, and say: “Another Europe is possible.” Argue for an In vote and change within Europe. Or say we can strike a better national bargain for working people by breaking with the EU bureaucracy.

    Personally I favour the former, because I think that the Out campaign is so dominated by the right it would direct how we leave — any exit as it stands would be shaped by the right, who would exit in favour of worse migration rules and a faster race to the regulatory bottom. It isn’t a great choice.

    But I do think that we can make the choice better by shifting the debate from rival “businessmen” lecturing us on whether we can have less regulation and more bigotry inside or outside the EU. And, oddly enough, Umunna and Reynolds agree.

    Even though they are thoroughly keen to do what capital wants, they know that in current circumstances people won’t just sit and be lectured by “businessmen.”

    There might be room for a less-corporate In campaign under Labour Yes — except that is run by Alan Johnson, who was so thoroughly committed to New Labour’s business-friendly consensus that it is hard to see him making any noise.

    Johnson didn’t really think another Britain was possible when he was a minister, so it is hard to see him arguing another Europe is possible.

    This leaves a lot of room outside the supposedly official In and Out campaigns to argue that precisely because the EU is an economic institution that the debate should not be led by businessmen.

    It’s an opportunity, but also a responsibility. We need to make the case that economics in the EU means how we run our schools or hospitals or welfare state. It means how we regulate banks, not how some ageing executive pleases the banks while lining his pockets.
    •Follow Solomon Hughes on Twitter @Sol­Hughes­Writer.

    JD adds: Comrade Hughes should sign up with the Campaign for a Workers’ Europe.

    1. David Ellis says:

      Denham always ready to believe that the capitalist class are decent at heart. Hey I suppose if you can believe that Zionism is a progressive legitimate political ideology then you can believe anything.

  7. John P Reid says:

    Why wouldn’t labour be wanting a referendum,for many in the party who want to leave it maybe our only chance

  8. Verity says:

    I have doubts that there really is just one Labour voice in relation to the European Union. There is surely two different perspectives on the development of the UK economy and its implications for solidarity with workers of other nations.

    The example of the protecting past investments made in the steel industry helps in facing some of the pooling of decision – making built into the EU processes. The (marginally less efficient) German steel industry continues production. The reason is because EU processes have been able to accommodate priority being given to ensuring the protection of German industry as a necessary part of EU success. Similar recognition has been agriculture in France; ‘discrete’ banking in Luxembourg for the same reason. It is possible that similar ‘protections’ exist until know for the finance sector in the UK. But the idea that the EU is somehow a force elevated above ‘grubby’ national sector interests is only due to EU propaganda. Industry should be protected and the means for protection are transparent and democratic when subject to the established democratic processes of national parliaments rather than disguised unaccountable supranational capital interests.

    1. David Ellis says:

      What you are doing is proposing for a programme that which is already happening i.e. the political and economic degeneration of the capitalist system. Globalisation is unravelling very quickly and the EU is indeed falling apart. There is absolutely no need for the left to try to moor it to its neck. It will only drag them down with it. The left needs to be voting out not because it seeks protection for British capitalism a la UKIP, capitalist protectionism is just a prelude to war in any case, but because we believe another socialist Europe is possible. A Europe that eschewes neo-liberal economics for co-development and cross continental planning. A Europe that does not require workers to chase each others tails from pillar to post in search of ever crappier wages and ever more meagre welfare. A Europe where each member state operates a regime of full-employment by sharing the productive work and pays the minimum of an EU-wide trades union living wage.

  9. Mervyn Hyde says:

    For once I think David Ellis offers the most cogent response to Labours position on the EU.

    TTIP and the Neo-Liberal stranglehold in Europe is insurmountable, we as a party must campaign to come out and fight for a better future outside Europe.

    Certainly we would have massive problems with migrants coming here as France would let the floodgates open, and that is a problem of huge significance.

    But alongside that staying in means the end of democracy because Europe’s Neo-Liberal governments are hell bent on pushing TTIP through.

    At the present time I can’t see the European people coming together on a broad enough scale to reject Neo-Liberalism; on a scale comparable to making the kind of changes that are necessary.

    Outside Europe we will have the independent means to achieve whatever we want to, that would mean a complete overhaul of our political structures, dealing with migration is a massive unknown, but in the current plight that is not a new phenomena.

    This whole problem is for most people too big to contemplate, and my fear is that unless we manage the debate, most will just go with the flow.

    1. David Ellis says:

      We need to vote OUT but we also need to put ourselves in a position to determine the future shape of a post-Brexist Britain and the new socialist Europe we want to see. We do not leave the field clear for the Kippers, Little Englanders and Stalinists. That means we need a programme for working class power and the transition to socialism.

      Have a look at the only pro-Europe Labour-movement oriented OUT campaign:

  10. Jim Denham says:

    Ellis is an F***in’ idiot, who doesn’t understand even elementary Marxism: I say this (taking the Socialist Party as my main term of reference, as they are at least coherent) :

    On the EU referendum, the Stalinist “left” continues with its 45 year-long adaptation to Stalinism and nationalism by advocating the British state withdraw from the European Union (EU) in the forthcoming referendum. Hannah Sell produced the latest compressed version of its arguments in the The Socialist (23 September), part of efforts to promote a TUSC “leave the EU” position.

    Socialist Party spokesperson Hanna Sell says that “the EU really is a capitalists’ club”. It is in essence, “an agreement between the different national capitalist classes of Europe, with the aim of creating a large arena for big business across Europe to conduct their hunt for profits with as few barriers as possible”. This description is accurate. However this is true of almost every institution within capitalism, to the point where it is largely a platitude.

    The missing element is the political economy of capitalism, which strives towards further concentration. This means capitalist states are driven towards integration, as well as towards conflict and war. Which tendency wins out is not predetermined. More significantly, Marxist politics takes the existing reality as its point of departure. It is never part of the Marxist programme to turn the clock back to an earlier stage of capitalism, but rather to push through the actual tendencies of capital and work on the existing terrain of capitalism to fight for workers’ power.

    Capital and its states have made limited steps towards integration, meaning there are now some common links and chains melding workers across Europe together. These connections are the material basis for working class internationalism: workers face common enemies on a common terrain. Workers cannot win major reforms or even hold power for long in one country alone in Europe because of those ties of capital. International solidarity is not luxury but an absolute necessity in today’s class battles and in tomorrow’s fight for power. Abstractly in principle, Marxists therefore favour European integration, even on a capitalist basis.

    What tactical stance should Marxists take in EU referenda? Again, it is the concrete circumstances that condition our view. In the current situation, some sections of British capital, both in finance and industry, no longer regard Europe as the main market and look to wider global links, with both the US, especially the BRICs and to other states, including those former British empire states that belong to the Commonwealth. These sections of capital believe they can profit more from trade deals and relations beyond Europe.

    However these Eurosceptics are clear that workers in Britain will have to suffer a historic reduction in living standards, pay and conditions to make them fit for this new capitalist global utopia.

    If British capital is to thrive in the competitive waters of globalised capitalism then workers will have to pay with more flexibility, more insecurity and mobility, less regulation and less protection. The world for workers in Britain (and across Europe) immediately after Brexit will be a cold, harsh world of cuts, unemployment and hard labour.

    In these circumstances, workers in Britain face a lesser-evil choice: either remain in the neoliberal EU, with some protections and some links with other European workers; or cast out and face the unbridled onslaught of globalising capital. In these circumstances, a vote to remain within the EU makes tactical sense, defending the gains won and fighting to level up alongside other workers across the continent.

    Sell says “the history of the EU has been a succession of treaties each further enshrining anti-working class laws”. The actual history is one where capital has not always got its way – hence the referendums lost and the concessions made to workers. Sell forgets the limited gains made by workers across Europe on working time, agency workers and other safety laws. She forgets the improvements especially for Southern European workers’ living standards or the great gains from labour mobility within Europe. By claiming reform of the EU is “utopian” she is simply rubbing out the actual history of struggle within it and substituting an immiseration thesis that cannot be sustained. Ignoring those aspects of reality that are inconvenient to your case is no basis for working class politics.

    The Socialist Party’s stance is to chastise Jeremy Corbyn for making a “serious mistake” in committing to campaigning for staying in the EU in the referendum. Sell rehashes the tired old 1970s argument: “If a Corbyn-led government was to implement some of the policies he was elected as Labour leader on – such as nationalisation of the railways and energy companies – it would immediately face shrieks of outrage from the institutions of the EU that a British government was ‘breaking the law’.”

    Corbyn will have a lot more problems to contend with than shrieks from the EU if he enacted these measures. In advance, he would have to explain to workers in France and Germany, who work for Deutsche Bahn, Eon, EDF and other firms owned by capitalists and their states in Europe what he was doing and what it meant for them. He would have to appeal for solidarity with workers in Europe as the necessary counterweight to the hostility of European capital. The pro-EU stance helps that; the “leave the EU” position cuts across it.

    Sell makes some terrible concessions to nationalism, despite claims of internationalism and opposition to chauvinism. She states:

    “EU measures such as the ‘posted workers’ directive are designed specifically in order to drive down wages. The result is an increase of fear and resentment that workers already resident in a country will see their wages and public services threatened by increased migration particularly from the low-wage economies of Eastern Europe.”

    `’The only answer to this”, she says, “is to build a united movement to fight for the rights of all workers; for a £10 an hour minimum wage, the rate for the job for all, and for an end to austerity. This must include defending the rights of all workers who have moved across the continent in search of work to remain, if they wish to do so, with full rights in the country where they now live.”

    It is not much of a pan-European programme to lay down the minimum wage denominated in pounds sterling and it is no answer to recycle the myth that wages and public services are threatened by migration. Workers living standards are threatened by capitalists and their states – not by other workers moving to better their own situation. Concessions to chauvinism divide the working class, making a consistent internationalism impossible.

    The Socialist Party will register TUSC as a “permitted participant” in the referendum campaign. They are unlikely to share platforms with UKIP and the Tories – although they have not ruled out standing alongside Stalinists and Labour Party chauvinists in a sideshow “independent” “leave the EU” campaign.

    Sell claims that “TUSC has a vital role to play in fighting for a socialist, internationalist campaign to exit the EU”. But the Socialist United States of Europe will not be on the ballot paper: it will be a choice between the current capitalist EU and the capitalist globalised nirvana. She argues that “without such a campaign the danger is that workers’ anti-EU feeling – and very probably anti-government feeling as the referendum could become in effect a referendum on the government – will be channelled by the right wing ‘little Englanders’ of Farage and co”.

    The danger of a “left” anti-EU campaign is that it provides the ideological and organisational vehicle for workers to capitulate to nationalism, facilitating a far worse outcome outside after Brexit. This path will set back the labour movement in Britain and across Europe by decades.

    The real job of the Marxist left is to forge an internationalist consciousness within the working class of Europe that can challenge and then take power from our common capitalist enemies.

    1. David Ellis says:

      All that to say `I’ll be voting with Cameron’.

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