Manuel Cortes on why Brexit is the big issue for workers
Thereís a useful rule of thumb in politics. If the Tories – or those even further to the right – take a position, itís very unlikely to serve the interests of working people. Our movement usually opposes their plans with full vigour in the interest of our class. Left attitudes towards Brexit should not deviate from this rule. Brexit is a Tory/UKIP position. Let’s face it, right-wingers in Britain don’t want us out of the European Union (EU) because it ain’t Socialist enough. They want us to leave because they believe the EU is now a bulwark to their deregulated, neoliberal paradise.
Leaving the EU was not a Labour Party or trades union movement demand. The decision to give Britain a referendum was regressive Tory posturing. It was designed to put their swivel-eyed, British supremacists loons, back in their box. Cameronís gamble was as reckless as it was misconceived. No tears here that it cost him his job. And watching how her failed Brexit election strategy has diminished Theresa May reminds us just why we do politics: because its terrain changes. Sometimes this can happen very quickly which is why anyone on the Left still supporting Brexit must wake-up from this alignment with the Tories. They are our mortal enemies never our friends!
We must accept that 51.9 percent supported Brexit in the referendum. Article 50 has been triggered. However, what we must never accept is a Tory Brexit without qualification or articulation of an alternative. That must include staying put if what comes next is worse. When did we on the Left ever accept that a vote for a majority Tory government should stop us organising for a Labour victory the morning after the poll went against us? Iím bemused at the logic of some in our movement who want to capitulate to a Tory Brexit. The fashion for left antipathy towards the EU back in 1973 can’t act as a political straitjacket now.
Three decades of neoliberalism have wrought havoc on workersí rights across our globe. In Britain, the industrial wing of our movement is much diminished with collective bargaining eroded and trade union membership decreased. This is a direct result of decisions made by our political class in Westminster – not EU directives. To think otherwise is delusional. Since Thatcher, successive British governments have championed neoliberalism within the EU.
Thankfully, they haven’t had all their way and have had to make far more compromises than when dealing with Westminster. Make no mistake, the Tories will implement a bonfire of our remaining rights upon Brexit. Why jeopardise the workersí rights we enjoy today as a result of EU membership? The masses will not automatically rise when conditions are completely intolerable. History sadly has too many examples showing the opposite to be the case. We are stronger when we are winning as this breeds confidence. Yet Tory Brexit will herald only a weakening defeat for our movement. It won’t usher in a socialist nirvana.
The EU has afforded our European working classes and the Left an important benefit: free movement. Capital has generally been able to move across borders so why canít workers? There is scant evidence that EU migration undermines wages and terms and conditions in Britain. If there was a scintilla of truth for this, then the fault lies with unscrupulous bosses, a lack of a statutory living wage, the absence of a properly regulated labour market and the failings of our movement as we have failed to organise far too many migrants. Workers – irrespective of their national origin – are not to blame.
As our old slogan goes, unity is our strength. Our Labour movement must always challenge those who wish to divide us. Rising inequality is not caused by nationality, gender, race, sexual preference or creed. History is punctuated with incidents where bosses have tried to use our ‘differences’ to divide us. Luckily, it also provides the precedents for our movement to successfully fight back. Free movement is not the villain of the piece. We must defend our right to it. Let’s target the real culprit: an economic system which places the profits of the 1% above the human needs of the 99%.
All of us on the Left now acknowledge the need for a new economic settlement which leaves no one behind. Pitching EU workers against British ones is a ruling class tactic and ceding Left ground to it will be a recipe for disaster. We must fight against the economic conditions making bossesí divisive tactics chime with a proportion of Labour’s electorate. Blaming EU migrants for the neoliberal policies that have blighted so many of our communities leads to a dead end. That’s why TSSA is right behind the Labour Campaign for Free Movement – building bridges trumps walls.
As a Socialist, I wholeheartedly support the economic policies offered by Labour under Jeremy Corbyn. The historic task before us is not to help deliver Brexit but to secure victory for a Corbyn-led government pledged to end the binge of the richest 1% at our expense. Let Labour usher in a new economic settlement which leaves no one behind. Let’s fight Tory Brexit and put all our shoulders to the wheel to kick May out!