No to Tory and EU austerity. The EU doesn’t protect workers’ rights

A post by Chris Flood, second of two posts in which City UCU members explain their position on the EU referendum.

The EU is an economic and political bloc acting in the interests of big business in Europe. While it is true that, particularly during the Thatcher era, the EU sometimes seemed to represent a softer form of capitalism, and some legal protections for workers were made through it, this era of so-called ‘social Europe’ is well and truly over. The EU now is at the forefront of globally applied austerity measures, and attacks on workers’ rights.

Even as the referendum debate is taking place EU representatives are locked in secret discussions with US representatives over removing “barriers to trade” between nations. Such ‘barriers’ include health and safety legislation and preservation of what remains of the public sector. The King’s Fund has recently stated that the NHS could not be exempted from EU procurement or competition rules, meaning it must be privatised.

Some trade union leaders’ support for the EU on the spurious grounds of defending workers’ rights ironically comes soon after the TUC and most of the trade union leaders failed to lift a finger to stop the Tory government ripping up the right to strike of millions of British workers with the Trade Union Act. That weakness and indecision is the real threat to British workers, not Britain withdrawing from the bosses’ trading club.

The EU is not internationalist either as we might like it to be. The EU is not Europe. On the contrary, the EU is a ‘Fortress’, doing everything it can – (including allowing refugees to drown in the Mediterranean) – in order to prevent those fleeing for their lives from Syria and elsewhere being able to enter the EU.

Nor does not the EU foster European solidarity within its borders; rather it increases tensions between different nations. It is a capitalist project attempting to impose unity between nations from above, in the interests of the capitalist classes of Europe, particularly the most powerful nations. It is increasingly neoliberal in its economics and undemocratic.

Over the last eight years the institutions of the EU – the hated ‘troika’ – have imposed terrible austerity and privatisation on the economically weaker countries of the EU – above all Greece, but also Portugal, Ireland, Cyprus, Latvia, Romania and others. The governments of these and other EU countries have used EU rules as the excuse for the misery they have imposed on their populations.

Working people have huge common interests over and above their individual nationality. We are all facing the same fight against low pay, casualisation, cuts and privatisation in every country of Europe. Successful movements in one country would have huge support, and be emulated, across the continent. That is why the institutions of the EU were desperate to force the left-led Syriza government in Greece to its knees in order to demonstrate to workers in other EU countries that there was no alternative to endless austerity. In the next few weeks we will see a surge of support for a new left wing coalition force in Spain – namely PODEMOS (meaning ‘we can’) in combination with Izquierda Unida – the United Left. The reality is under the current EU arrangements – that even this surging new political movement, that is opposing austerity in Spain, will be powerless to act – just as the hugely popular SYRIZA elected government was in Greece. In other words it will be forced to kneel before the demands of the EU, the World Bank and the IMF irrespective of the wishes of the people.

Nothing is certain in the next period we go into. There could be another recession very soon even. Clearly we will have to fight for our living standards even if there is a remain vote or brexit vote. It isn’t beyond our imagination to see a General Election called in the aftermath of the referendum and to see a Corbyn led popular ‘Peoples Government’ being elected.