Thursday, 30 March 2017

A Disastrous Day For Workers

Yesterday, the day that the Tories instigated Article 50, will go down in history as a disastrous day for workers.

Already, after the referendum result last June, there was a spike upwards in racist attacks on workers in Britain.  The bigotry that provided the core support for the Brexit vote, but which, until then, had largely been subdued was invigorated, and emboldened to come out in the open.  The Tories have disgracefully turned EU citizens living in Britain into bargaining chips, a human shield for their reactionary policies, and its no wonder that those EU citizens, along with other immigrants, and even other members of ethnic minorities that were born and bred here, now feel like aliens under perpetual threat.  It acts to divide workers living in Britain, and makes building workers unity against the real enemy, the capitalists, and immediately the Tories, that much harder.

And the same applies to workers in Europe.  It is inevitable that the resentment that foreign workers in Britain will now feel, as a result of this ill-treatment and bigotry, will be transmitted to their family and friends.  Brits in Europe already have a bad reputation, largely arising from the activity of right-wing football hooligans, but also resulting from the loutish behaviour of many other Brits on holiday on the Continent, whose boorishness and bigotry, resulting from the mindset created by centuries of its colonial past, contributed to the deluded fantasies let loose in the Brexit debate.  That antagonism is likely to be reversed, and poisoned, as the reality begins to bite that Britain is no longer a significant global power, but is a rapidly declining, second rate power, whose bargaining power vis a vis an EU that is ten times its size, in terms of population, and economy, is negligible.  Those in Britain that cling to that delusion of grandeur are likely to react like every other dying organism, by lashing out wildly, and indeed Brexit itself represents such a death spasm.

Such reactions create further sharp divisions within society that detract from workers focussing their attention on the real enemy.  And Britain has experience of such divisions over a long period.  For decades the division in Ireland, led to serious communal violence, and a prevention of normal class politics.  The entry of both Ireland and Britain into the EU, and the opening up of borders, as a result of it, was a precondition for the Good Friday Agreements, and the political arrangements of the last 20 years.  The Tories and other Brexiteers openly lied when they were questioned about the problem that Britain leaving the EU would cause in relation to the Irish border.  It is clear that they have no idea how to resolve what is an irreconcilable problem.

They claim to want a frictionless border between the North and South of Ireland, but that is impossible given that that border will be the only land border of Britain with the EU, and thousands of people move across the border on a daily basis.  In effect, the problem of the unification of Ireland was resolved in practice over the last 20 years, as a result of the EU.  Now that resolution is being removed, and the problems that were highlighted during the EU debate, and which the Brexiteers, including the Northern ireland Secretary denied, will break out.

Last week, the 24 hour news channels had wall to wall coverage for nearly 48 hours of a fairly limited attack by a disturbed individual, who ran over a group of people on Westminster Bridge, and was misguided enough to take a knife to a gun-fight.  It looks like this individual had no association with any Islamist terror group, but even where such groups have undertaken attacks they have shown themselves to be very amateurish compared to the attacks of the Provisional IRA during the 1970's, 80'2, and early 90's.  Brexit poses a severe risk that such violent attacks may return, as the peace of the last 20 years breaks down, with the restoration of the border, the ending of the period of gradual coming together of both parts of the island, and a growth once more of an assertion of the old colonialist mentality, that bred Loyalist supremacism.

The obvious solution to that problem, given that a sizeable majority of people in Northern Ireland voted to remain in the EU, would be for Ireland to be reunited, but although the Unionists have lost the majority in Stormont, its likely that the old supremacism will assert itself to oppose the reunification of Ireland, and the struggle over which would make the Scottish Independence referendum look like a Sunday School, discussion.  A restoration of these divisions, and a descent of Britain into vicious and violent communalism, not seen for perhaps a century, or more, when most major cities, across the whole of Britain, still had regular conflicts between Catholics and Protestants, would be added to by the further communal violence that the unleashing of bigotry against all ethnic minorities is added to the mix, will make Britain a very unpleasant place to live.  Many British workers will crave free movement, in order to escape.

And, for those stuck in Britain, its rapidly declining economy, and rising cost of living will be another reason for those workers who can escape to do so.  Those who propose to end free movement of labour, of course do not propose to end free movement of capital.  The fruit and vegetable pickers, unable to obtain labour to be competitive, can easily shift their capital to Romania, or Bulgaria where there is plenty of land, if the workers from those countries are no longer able to come here to work.  Britain will then lose all of the spending of those workers, adding to its aggregate demand, and providing additional work for British workers, as well as losing all of the tax revenue those foreign workers provide to pay for the NHS etc.  Even more easily, the food processors, unable to bring in those foreign workers will easily be able to shift that processing work to Ireland, or to an independent Scotland within the the EU, or across the Channel, and the consequence will then also be a further deterioration in Britain's trade balance, as these activities currently undertaken here, will be undertaken inside the EU, and the resultant production then imported.

Brexit and the intransigence and supremacism of English Toryism has already provoked a restoration of calls for Scottish independence.  That once again means immediate divisions between workers in Scotland, and between Scottish workers and workers in England.  Its important that English workers mobilise, and make clear from the start that we will have no truck with the Tories attempts to prevent Scotland exercising its democratic right to self-determination if they so choose.  The Tories are quick to assert that right for Kosovo, for Crimea and elsewhere, but always reluctant to implement that right when it comes to Ireland or Scotland.

Socialists could not advocate an independent Scotland, whilst Britain was in the EU, but a situation of Scotland inside the EU, with England outside the EU changes the calculus.  For the reasons described above, an independent Scotland, desperate for immigrants to boost its population and economy, for example, would be an obvious place for many English businesses to relocate to, when they could not obtain EU labour, and when they were outside the EU single market and customs union.  The large Scottish coastline, for example, would provide the basis for a renewal of the Scottish fishing, and fish processing industries, especially with EU regional support for such investment and development; it would take very little for the financial services industry, which is already heavily located in Scotland, in places like Edinburgh, to relocate from London; Scotland has always been a leader in education and technological developments, and there is considerable scope to develop Silicon Glen.

But, as the Tories comments about developing a bargain basement economy demonstrate, the English workers would be the ones to pay the price for that, as the Tories sought to attract capital to stay, by offering them low taxes, and cheap labour, along with poor working conditions, the undermining of environmental safeguards, and a further removal of workers rights even beyond the Tories existing attacks via the Trades Union Act.

As Marx describes in Capital III, large scale capital favours higher wages, because it provides an advantage compared to small-scale capital.  But, that is only true within the context of a closed system, where the average rate of profit operates.  It is one of the reasons that we should be in favour of the removal of borders, and a regularisation of taxes etc, so that the average rate of profit applies on a wider basis, so as to allocate capital accordingly.  But, the existence of borders, and imposition of restrictions, prevents that operation, it means that capital operating on one side of a border, may obtain advantages over capital operating on the other side of the border, as a result of lower taxes, weaker regulations and so on.  It thereby drives competition to reduce conditions to the lowest common denominator, at the expense of workers, or else it drives to an intensification of protectionism, which leads initially to higher living costs for workers, reduced levels of capital accumulation, and so of employment, and ultimately leads to trade wars turning into shooting wars.  In all events, the losers from such situations are workers, who pay through their pockets, if not with their lives.  

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