TOMORROW we decide whether or not Britain should remain a member of the European Union.
We decide in a referendum called by the right, the accidental result of David Cameron’s botched attempt to appease his own backbenchers with a proposal he thought he’d never have to carry out.
And we decide after a campaign dominated by the right, with rival Tory visions of the future drowning out left perspectives in the mass media.
That’s why the Morning Star sought a full and frank debate on this question from a socialist perspective, in which the leaders of the Labour Party and TUC, trade unionists and activists have all taken part.
And now it’s decision time. When we were last asked this question in 1975, the Morning Star was the only national daily paper to campaign to Leave.
The suspicions we had then, that the Common Market would increase the power of corporations and reduce that of our elected representatives, have been borne out by everything the European Union has done since.
Its treaties taken together make, as Tony Benn once said, the “only constitution in the world committed to capitalism.” They place serious restrictions on public ownership, committing member states to open up public services to competition.
A Labour government determined to take our railways and postal services back into public hands would soon run into trouble with the EU. To his credit, Jeremy Corbyn has indicated that this is a fight he would not shy away from. But it is undeniable that taking back what’s ours would be easier if we were not subject to the EU treaties, which can only be altered by unanimous agreement among all 28 member states.
As well as being anti-socialist, the EU is undemocratic, in that its elected parliament is toothless, lacking even the formal power to initiate legislation; the orders are issued by the unelected Commission and the Central Bank.
But worse, it is actively anti-democratic. It overrides democracy. Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker said when the people of Greece voted for a government that would end austerity: “There can be no democratic choice against the EU treaties.”
Greece’s government was humiliated and ministers elected specifically to carry out a left-wing programme were forced to implement the most extreme programme of privatisation and cuts anywhere on the continent.
Those who argue that austerity is a choice being made at a national level should ask why it is then that governments ostensibly on the left in France and Italy are attacking workers’ rights and public spending just as viciously as governments of the right. Seemingly it doesn’t matter who we Europeans elect any more: austerity is what we get.
Some imply that a dislike of the EU is a peculiarly British phenomenon. But the reality is that few of Europe’s citizens have ever been given a choice.
When they have, they have usually rejected what’s on offer — only for the EU to impose it anyway.
The French rejected the EU Constitution, so it was incorporated into the Lisbon Treaty. The Irish rejected that, and were told to vote again till they got the right answer. This is an organisation with contempt for the voters at its core.
Most on the left agree that the EU’s treatment of Greece was outrageous. Many would agree that it is anti-socialist and unaccountable. But we should stay in and reform it, they argue.
Unfortunately, no plausible strategy for doing so has been put forward. The EU is designed to resist reform: hence the requirement for unanimity among member states before any treaty is altered.
Acts of mass popular resistance, such as the millions-strong cross-border petition against TTIP, are simply ruled out of order by the Commission.
Even so, a large number of socialists and trade unionists are convinced that a vote to Remain is the lesser of two evils.
Some say leaving would cost us skilled jobs, pointing to threats from major manufacturers that they might relocate if we withdraw from the EU.
But those threats should be seen for what they are — blackmail by the bosses. When the super rich whinge that they will flee London if we make them pay their fair share of tax, we ignore them.
Giant corporations support membership of the EU because big business benefits from it. But membership can hardly have been good for British manufacturing, which has been decimated over the last four decades.
EU bans on state aid to industry actually hinder efforts to protect our productive economy. Italy has been taken to court by the EU for trying to assist its steel industry.
Others say that we face a bonfire of our rights by the Tories if we leave the EU with them in charge.
But we’re facing a bonfire of our rights now. Since 2010 the Tories have slapped the Gagging Act and the Trade Union Act on our labour movement, have introduced massive fees for accessing employment tribunals, have vowed to “kill off the health and safety culture for good.”
The EU hasn’t lifted a finger.
Remainers who say the NHS isn’t safe with Michael Gove or Boris Johnson are absolutely right. But the NHS isn’t safe with Cameron either, as the Health and Social Care Act showed. And it certainly isn’t safe with TTIP, the secretive treaty being negotiated by the EU with the United States.
The third and gravest point made by socialists for Remain is that a Leave victory would fuel racism, anti-immigrant bigotry and far-right violence.
An obsession with immigration by the right-wing leaders of the Leave campaign has given this some weight. But we should be careful. The far right is on the march across Europe, in France, Austria and Hungary.
Falling wages, mass unemployment and battered public services are feeding the resentment that gives birth to fascism. And the EU’s commitment to endless austerity contributes to that.
Nor is the EU’s record on racism good. A deal with Turkey widely condemned as illegal has allowed it to wash its hands of desperate refugees. In Ukraine it supported a fascist-backed coup against an elected government. When France decided to deport tens of thousands of Roma in 2009-10, the EU looked the other way.
There is no evidence that a Remain vote would help defeat the far right. The struggle against racism and intolerance is one we will have to wage either way.
Since the beginning of the neoliberal era in the 1980s, we have seen corporate power strengthened at the expense of democracy again and again.
The “big bang” deregulated the banks, putting big finance beyond our control. Independence for the Bank of England removed our ability to set interest rates. Global trade treaties are giving private companies the right to enter new markets whatever the people think about that, and increasingly the right to sue governments if they don’t like their policies.
The EU is part and parcel of all this. A vote to Leave today will not bring about socialism. But it would be a step towards restoring democratic control of our economy, and would remove an obstacle to progress.