Sunday, 29 May 2016

Reasons To Remain – Solidarity

The Punchline

Workers have a different reason for voting to remain in the EU than does Cameron and many Labour politicians. History has shown that we are weak when divided, and strong when united. Our interest lies in unity with other workers across the EU, on the basis of a common fight for decent conditions, against austerity, and to build a different kind of future. We need to remain to build greater unity and solidarity with other EU workers, on the basis of a fight for that better future for all of us, not to be diverted into the false idea of “I'm alright, Jack.”

In this series of posts on the EU, I'm providing a new format. First, the punchline, so that you can decide whether to read on, then a short version that summarises the main points, and a longer explanation of the arguments, for those who have the time to read in more detail.

If You Are In A Rush

  • United we stand divided we fall
  • Workers created trades unions, because they quickly realised that they needed to combine so that instead of competing against each other, for jobs, they were stronger when they co-operated with each other.
  • The more people joining together in an organisation, be it a trades union, a sports club or anything else, the stronger the organisation and its members are.
  • Workers created trades unions that were based not just in one workplace, but in entire industries, because they realised that they didn't just need to avoid competition, with each other, in the workplace, but to stop one workplace being set against another, one firm being set against another. Only then could they defend wages and conditions across the entire industry.
  • When firms became transnational and multinational, that understanding and principle was extended. Workers created Combine Committees, so that they could co-operate with workers in the same firm in different countries, and in the same industry in different countries.
  • Workers found that there were some things that they all had in common, whatever firm or industry they worked in, and which it was logical to negotiate as a whole, with the state, rather than individually with employers. For example, it is rational to have a common set of minimum holiday entitlements, maximum working hours, health and safety regulations, working ages and so on. Workers are in a stronger position when they negotiate these things collectively, and also its easier for employers to agree to them, when they all have to abide by some legal set of minimum, civilised rules of behaviour, many of which are in their own longer term interests.
  • Its not that the EU Commission are friends of workers that leads them to introduce the measures on Working-Time, Maternity and Paternity Entitlement and so on – though, as happened in the past, with the Factory Inspectors, in England, in the 19th century, for example, these state functionaries can often see what is in the overall, longer-term interests of firms than the individual firms can themselves – it is rather that workers across the EU, are stronger together to be able to press for such minimum standards, and firms operating within the EU are more likely to agree to them, if they all have to abide by the same requirements, than if one country can try to undercut others, to gain advantage for its businesses, at the expense of its workers.
  • The problems facing workers in Greece and other countries are not problems created by the EU, or by the Euro, but by the conservative policies that have been implemented. The source of those conservative policies of austerity is not the EU, but conservative forces in each nation. The EU did not force austerity on the Liberal-Tory government in the UK, after 2010, for example, which sent a growing economy into a recession, which lasted for four years, until Osbourne was forced to change course, and start spending money on capital investment.
  • Workers across the EU need greater unity, greater solidarity so as to oppose those conservative policies, and to demand higher minimum standards. Separating ourselves off into smaller individual national units is the opposite of the direction we need to travel, and goes against every lesson of solidarity we have learned over the last 200 hundred years.
  • The election of Syriza in Greece, of the Left Bloc in Portugal, the success of Podemos in Spain, and of Jeremy Corbyn in Britain, shows that many workers are fed up of austerity and conservative policies that have caused stagnation across Europe for the last six years. But, those conservative policies can only be defeated, and governments like Syriza not be isolated, if workers come together across Europe to fight for their common interests.

If You Have Time

As I wrote a while ago, workers have completely different reasons for voting to remain in the EU, compared to those put forward by David Cameron, or even some Labour politicians. The latter begin by viewing things from the perspective of what is best for Britain, by which they really mean, what is best for British businesses, not for British workers. But, workers found out, 200 years ago, that their interests are collective interests; interests shared by all workers, irrespective of what firm they work for, industry they work in, or where they live. They can best defend those interests when they are able to join together rather than compete against each other. That is why they created trades unions.

But, under capitalism, workers have to sell their labour-power, and as capitalism is a system based upon competition, that competition not only means that one firm competes with another, one industry with another and so on, but also workers themselves find that they too are forced into competing one with another in order to obtain work. It also means that one area of a country sometimes tries to gain advantage for the economy in that area at the expense of others. For example, in the 1980's, Local Councils were encouraged to compete against each other for government funds to set up Enterprise Zones. The zones were based on the idea of giving low paying, small firms advantages, by excusing them from various regulations, or paying business rates and so on. No wonder the UK economy today suffers from low levels of productivity, low pay and high levels of household debt, because that was the kind of backward looking economic model that Thatcher created.

What is worse, and most annoying, is that those kinds of conservative, backward looking policies are actually against the longer-term interests of the accumulation of capital and development of the productive forces. That is why, those policies, which seem rational from the perspective of each individual firm, particularly the small firms that depend on penny-pinching measures, and have a short-term outlook, lead to the kind of problems of low productivity, and high levels of household debt that holds back economic development that we see today.

Firms themselves understand that idea. They don't compete against each other if they can avoid it. There are lots of examples of collusion between firms to keep up prices, for example, even when its illegal! Its not just workers who recognised the benefit of joining together, and co-operating. Besides all of the various cartels, trade associations and so on, firms created organisations like the CBI, Chambers of Commerce and so on to pursue their collective interests. At an international level, capitalist countries formed collective organisations such as the IMF, the World Bank and so on. In fact, the EU itself represents such a collective organisation, just as the many similar economic and political blocs of countries being created in various parts of the globe, like NAFTA, Mercosur and so on, show that there is an underlying logic towards such larger scale collective organisation and co-operation.

Wherever, individual firms can, they try to get bigger, and take over other firms, so that they can reduce the competition they face. Workers have no interest in arguing for firms A,B and C to get together to form one big firm ABC Ltd, because what workers really need is for themselves to have ownership and control of those businesses, but if firms A, B and C do join together, workers within the new firm ABC Ltd. would have every reason to oppose it being broken up into individual small firms, because generally speaking, workers in larger firms are able to obtain better pay and conditions, because those firms are more efficient, but also the larger number of workers organised together within the firm are stronger than if they are divided into smaller competing businesses.

The argument that the EU itself is a capitalist club is not an argument for breaking it up, any more than workers would be in favour of breaking up a large business, into smaller, less efficient businesses that paid lower wages, and forced workers across those individual firms into competition with each other. In the 19th century, nation states were formed, which were themselves capitalist clubs that facilitated capitalist development within their borders. These nation states were required to create single markets, single currencies, taxes and so on that all businesses within their borders shared, so that they reduced a range of costs, and so that all businesses within their borders operated on the basis of a common set of laws, rules and regulations, so that they competed on a level playing field.

But, no rational person would propose that, because these nation states were created as capitalist clubs, that facilitated capitalist development, they should be broken up and that we should go back to smaller regional states, whereby Yorkshire competed with Lancashire, in a repeat of the Wars of the Roses, that there should be border controls between different counties, different currencies in each area and so on! The creation of these nation states was a vital part of the development of capitalism, but that development of capitalism is also a necessary condition for the development of the working-class, of the productive forces that we require to create Socialism. We are only opponents of capitalism, because we are impatient at its limitations, and slow progress, because we want to move forward, not because we want to turn the clock backwards to some more primitive era!

The EU, and other similar blocs being created across the globe represent simply the logical progression of that historical process, as capitalism has gone beyond the limits of national borders, with multinational firms operating in a range of countries across the globe. Rather than looking backwards, what workers need is more Europe, not less. Our complaint against the capitalists is that they are not developing the EU fast enough, as such a rational state. We need workers across Europe to come together to push that development forward, and in the process to do so by organising to defend their own interests, and to work towards the development of a new kind of European state that is based upon their interests.

Instead of people like Cameron and some Labour politicians talking about what is in “Britain's interest”, or even what is in “British workers' interests”, our interests, as workers, wherever we live, is in coming together in common organisations across the EU, to defend our common interests, and to promote the development of this different kind of Europe. We can only do that from inside, and on the basis of building those much bigger EU based organisations of workers. Just as workers organised in a big union are stronger than those organised in a smaller union, and as workers are stronger organised in a Confederation of Unions than in competing individual unions, so we are stronger as a single huge European working-class, working together in solidarity than in individual competing national divisions.

Co-operative International College
In the past, workers realised that too. In the 19th century, the more advanced workers across Europe created organisations such as the Communist League, and the First International. The Co-operative Movement in Britain, quickly took up the idea of internationalism, creating links with workers across Europe, and establishing the International Co-operative College. Later workers created the Second, and Third Internationals. But, more recently, workers extended the lessons they had learned in the trades unions on an international scale. A multinational company like Ford, or GM has workers at plants in a range of EU countries, as well as in the US and elsewhere. Workers created Combine Committees, so that Ford or GM workers in Britain could co-operate with their fellow workers in these other countries.

But, such co-operation will always be limited so long as firms are able to operate in different countries where different laws and so on are in existence. A good example of that, at the moment is with VW. In Germany, laws going back to the 19th century, but more developed since WWII, require large companies to have half of their supervisory boards comprised of workers elected by the trades unions. The VW unions in Germany, together with the UAW in the US, are demanding that the same requirement be met at the VW plant in Chattanooga. The move is being opposed in the US, because no such law exists there, and other big money-capitalists fear that if their power is undermined in this case, it will encourage workers in other large US companies to demand seats on the boards.

In the 1970's, the EU Commission drew up proposals for similar measures of industrial democracy across the EU. In the end, they were never developed, because like the similar proposals of the Bullock Report in the UK, they were shelved when conservative parties took over the reins of government. But, it is clearly in workers interests to be able to have such common laws established across a large area like the EU, than for workers in each country to have to fight for them separately, and for their own national parliaments to have to introduce such measures, because history shows that, if they are allowed to, each nation state will play off the workers in one country against another, and a race to the bottom ensues. Just look at the excuses that are raised over collecting taxes, where each country says, we can't implement a sensible tax policy, because if we do, firms will move elsewhere. An EU wide tax regime would make that impossible unless every firm wanted to undertake no business at all within the EU, the biggest single market on the planet!

That applies to a whole range of things. In the 19th century, individual firms were forced by competition to try to keep their workers employed for ridiculously long hours, and in poor conditions. Although Robert Owen showed at his factories in New Lanark that higher productivity could be achieved by other means, generally no individual firm was going to give an advantage to its competitors by employing its workers on higher wages, shorter hours, or better working conditions. Yet, it was extremely short sighted. Before the introduction of the Factory Acts, three generations of workers were killed off in the space of what was previously the lifespan of one. Workers life expectancy plummeted by half from around 50, to around 25, and population was only kept up by workers marrying from around the age of 12, and having large families, as well as the industrial population being topped up by migrants from the countryside.

The source of capitalist profits, the working-class, was being killed off by the short term drive for profits, driven by competition. It was often the state functionaries, such as the Factory Inspectors, cited by Marx, who were able to take a longer term rational view of what was in the interests of capitalist development, more so than the politicians, who had to get elected. But, it was legislation, such as the Factory Acts, which meant that the collective interests of capital in preserving the workforce were able to proceed, because they meant that a level playing field was established within which each firm had to operate. But, Marx also showed that in having to work within these minimum, civilised limits, the firms themselves had to come up with new innovative ideas, which also acted to raise productivity, which actually raised profits and made faster economic growth possible, at the same time as providing workers with better conditions, and pay. What applies in that regard within national borders applies across borders within the EU too.

Its not that the EU Commissioners are friends of workers, but the fact of establishing common laws, rules and regulations across the EU, makes it easier for firms in the EU to all accept them, compared to if firms in one country think they can gain a competitive advantage by avoiding them. Moreover, if tens of millions of workers stand together to demand such minimum standards, they are in a better bargaining position than if workers in Britain, or France, or Germany or Greece stand on their own to try to demand such standards. Marxists do not favour provision of welfare by the capitalist state, because we favour the workers themselves having ownership and control of the social insurance funds required for those purposes, but such welfare states already do exist across Europe. Our starting point, is not to call for them to be disbanded, but is that simple rationality calls for them to be provided as a single EU wide welfare state, provided on an equal footing to all EU workers wherever they live, and funded from a single EU social insurance fund.

One of the reasons that we have things such as the Working Time Directive, or the EU laws on Maternity and Paternity Leave and so on is not the generosity of the EU Commission, but is the fact that workers across Europe have pressed for those things. In fact, whilst workers in Britain were being beaten down by Thatcher, who introduced the anti-union laws, and a series of other measures to weaken workers rights, workers in France and elsewhere in Europe were winning the right to a 35 hour week and so on. That is under attack in France, at the moment, precisely on the basis, that employers there point to the need to worsen French workers conditions so as to compete with the lower conditions of workers in Britain. That would intensify if Britain were outside the EU. People like Farage and the Tory Right make no secret of the fact that one of their main reason for wanting out of the EU is to press ahead with a further attack on the rights and conditions of British workers. It shows that what we need is greater European integration, greater collective organisation of workers across the EU.

That can also be seen in respect of Greece, and other peripheral EU economies. The problems for Greece, Portugal, Spain, Ireland and so on were not caused by the EU, or by the Euro. They were caused by the measures of austerity introduced by conservative governments after 2010. Parties like Syriza and Podemos, and the Left Bloc have understood that, but they cannot defeat the forces of conservatism across Europe on their own. Left isolated, they will be defeated by that same power of competition driving division. Only solidarity of workers across Europe can prevent such isolation and division. The last thing we need is greater division, and any suggestion that workers could be stronger by voluntarily dividing their forces, and each seeking to gain their own national advantage.

Rather what we need now is trades unions organised on an EU wide basis; the national Trades Union confederations like the TUC, should be nothing more than the equivalent of the current regional bodies like the West Midlands TUC, with the central power residing within an EU Trades Union Congress. The same applies to the workers parties. It is high time we had a single European party of labour, call it a European Labour Party, European Socialist Party, or European Social-Democratic Party. The name is irrelevant, the point is that it should convey the idea that we are now one single European working-class with common interests, aims and objectives, and it should fight elections throughout the EU, at all levels, on that basis.

Workers should vote to remain because our interests are those of other European workers not of British bosses, our future lies in collective action with those other European workers, and in building a Workers' Europe, not in looking backwards to a capitalist Britain, or the utopian and reactionary idea that workers interests could be furthered within the constraints of national borders.

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