We oppose Brexit and austerity

We oppose Brexit and we oppose austerity, writes Felicity Dowling.We call for greater solidarity across Europe. Instead of Brexit, austerity and racism, we call for

  • Free movement of people
  • International solidarity of workers across Europe and beyond
  • An end to austerity
  • Defence of the NHS
  • Protection of the environment
  • Defence of women’s rights
  • Defence of the rights of children at home and at school
  • Building a million council homes
  • Nuclear disarmament
  • Ending NATO
  • Common ownership of the banks and the means of production, distribution and exchange
  • We support the call for a general election

Even before the European Referendum, the country was far more divided than the government wished to believe. Austerity, public sector cuts, deindustrialisation and a poisonous press had already produced an unstable national mood. Though this mood was obscured by an apparent political consensus and the lack of a voice for those hardest hit, the conflict of the referendum brought it into sharp relief. The Leave campaign was based on disinformation and lies, but misinformation started long before the referendum. Brexit was the product and the amplifier of instability, not its original cause.

We make no moral distinction between working people who voted Remain and those who voted Leave, though we note that most trade unionists, most young people and most Labour voters voted Remain. The chance to kick the establishment was attractive. However, far from helping anti-establishment sentiments, Brexit has reinforced the most anti-worker and right wing of narratives. The dangers of this are manifest; the success of Brexit gave weight to racism and xenophobia

We need much greater organisation from the workers, from our communities, and from the unions to protect us in this new and dangerous environment. The rise of the right, the rise of Trump, means we have to organise to protect our rights and our future. Even if the UK were to remain in the EU, real problems for working people and their communities would also remain. Unless austerity is truly abolished, and there is a meaningful challenge to the power of the 0.1%, the crisis for working people will continue. Leave or Remain, no ‘little England’ solution is possible in a global economy. There is every chance that governments could demand still more sacrifice from ordinary people to help get over the Brexit crisis.

It is necessary to rebalance the UK economy to make better jobs and better living conditions. This will need investment in public services and investment in industry. Private sector investment in industry has been falling. Government investment in industry, as promised by Corbyn, could improve this – but that alone will not suffice. International capital owns so much of British industry that the policy of government investment, whilst a good step, will be problematic. Solidarity action would be needed at least on a European level to defend these policies from international interference. Solidarity from working people does not ask permission from institutions.

It was once said that the British ruling class planned in centuries; long term planning was the norm. Now, the government appears to have little control or foresight. Placing the responsibility for implementing Brexit in the hands of the likes of Boris Johnson and Theresa May is, frankly, dangerous. Powerful advocates for Brexit are also advocates for international speculation, free trade and gangster capitalism. Post-Brexit Britain run by Rees Mogg, Liam Fox and his friends would see even more deregulation and precarious working. Indeed a Thatcherite think tank wrote  in the week after the referendum: ‘The weakness of the Labour party and the resolution of the EU question have created a unique political opportunity to drive through a wide-ranging … revolution on a scale similar to that of the 1980…

‘This must include removing unnecessary regulatory burdens on businesses, such as those related to climate directives and investment fund[s].’

To counter Brexit propaganda we need to make it clear that

  • The British economy has not been damaged by globalisation, it has been a leading globaliser.
  • Low wages are not caused by the EU but by UK governments’ policies over many years, and by trade union lack of action.
  • Migrants did not cause the poverty and loss of opportunity in the northern towns.
  • De-industrialisation in the UK was government policy from the time of Thatcher’s attack on the mines.

The complete absence of real opposition to the rich in the days of Blair and Brown, left working people with no voice, no explanation, no organisation. Labour and Conservative seemed like tweedledee and tweedledum.  Unions too, seemed to believe there was nothing that could be done to oppose rampant capitalism and austerity. Those times of passive acceptance of poverty are fast disappearing.

The European Union is far from perfect. It has long been dominated by right-wing and pro-business policy, however, the UK’s own government policies are no better. Despite the EU’s flaws, the European working class enjoys the best wages, best working conditions, and best welfare in the world. These rights were hard won by Trade Union activism, but have been and are being, eroded.

The huge drops in living standards suffered by British workers, especially women and particularly BME women, were caused by austerity policies not by the EU. The British economy is interwoven into the European economy, and vice versa. We call for joint action across Europe for a minimum wage, for workers’ rights, for women’s rights, for migrant rights and for anti-racism, as well as for environmental protection. Working people have the power, should they wish to use it, to change the world.

Migrants do not cause low pay. Low pay is caused by government and employer policy. Agricultural wages are sometimes quoted to support the notion that the employment of migrants lowers wages. However, in reality the dreadful wages in agriculture are the product of Conservative UK government policy, namely the abolition of the Agricultural Wages Board in June 2013. Drops in public sector wages are another example of deliberate wage reduction policy on the part of UK government. This deliberate driving-down of wages would be more difficult if there were a European Minimum Wage.

The example of the dreadful oppression of Greece is used to condemn the European Union. Though we acknowledge the injustices suffered by Greece at the hands of the EU, the UK government has inflicted similar policies on its own workers. Indeed, the privatization inflicted on Greece mirrors British government policy.

The European Union faces serious problems with the rise of the right; as Gregor Gysi says:

‘The European Union is at a turning point that will have a significant impact on future generations. Throughout Europe, right-wing populist and right-wing nationalist parties are on the rise. The ‘Axis of the Willing’ ,consisting of Germany, Austria and Italy, is a repetition of history we will not accept.

‘We are fighting against these developments both at the European level and in the individual states and see ourselves as the counterpart to the right-wing in Europe. By closing borders (within the EU), national attempts are made to shift the problem having its roots in global capitalism, which has made the social question a global one. Yet, this question cannot be answered purely on national level anymore.’

Left Unity believes in the free movement of people, not just for the rich but for the ordinary person. We are not serfs (an agricultural labourer bound by the feudal system who was tied to working on his lord’s estate), tied to the land on which we were born. We are freeborn humans with rights. We should have the right to live, to love, to work and to study, where we choose. This should be a free choice not one driven by violence or want.

Millions of people in the UK have suffered grievously from anti-migrant rhetoric and policy, particularly the government’s so-called ‘hostile environment’.  We call for the closure of Yarl’s Wood and the ending of cruel detention policies. We call for full rights for the Windrush generation.

We all need houses, schools, hospitals, transport, real urban regeneration, youth services, good care for our elders and decent social security. This means real investment in the needs of ordinary people. Yet huge corporations and immensely rich landowners push for low wages and precarious employment. Left Unity stands for decent pay and conditions for all.

The British economy is interwoven with the global economy. The UK remains the premier financial capital of the world. The dominance of finance has meant that the extent of de-industrialisation in the UK has been masked. Public services, and much of the manufacturing industry are often owned by multinationals and foreign companies. The interconnected nature of global finance means that no individual nation can stand alone.

This interconnected world depends on migration, whether caused by economic factors or by violence. Global capitalism produces huge movements of people through war and forced economic inequalities. Solidarity has to be global, not just based in Europe. Population movement is produced by refugees fleeing war and by workers looking for better conditions for themselves and their families. Brexit won’t stop this.

Left Unity is part of the European Left Party and works with the Left in Europe for a better Europe and a better world.

Left Unity is active in movements and campaigns across the left, working to create an alternative to the main political parties.

About Left Unity   Read our manifesto


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