Sunday, 10 September 2017

Support The Labour Campaign For Free Movement

That Tony Blair has come out to call for restrictions on the free movement of Labour, as a means of trying to win a majority, in Britain, for a policy of remaining in the EU, is no surprise. It is a typical lack of backbone in opposing reactionary nationalism, and bigotry and sacrificing workers rights, as a means of protecting the interests of a section of capital that is typical of the conservative social democratic politics that Blair and other Blair-rights have pursued over the last thirty years. 

Politics can essentially be divided into four trends. On the right there are the reactionaries of the type of Le Pen, Farage, and the Tory nationalists. They seek to turn the clock back to the age of small private capitals, operating within a national economy, and protected by a national state.

Then there are the conservative social democrats of the type of Blair, or Cameron. They recognise that the days of those small private capitals have passed, and that economies are dominated by large socialised capitals, and that to function rationally they have to operate on a wider than national basis, with not only the nation state, but broader para-state regulation and intervention creating a protective framework within which for them to operate. But, they are conservative in that they essentially say this far and no further, or only within a narrowly defined Overton window, that they define as the “political centre-ground”. They accept the dominant role of the owners of fictitious capital, as shareholders in controlling the activities of capital, and they see the protection of this fictitious capital, by the blowing up of asset prices bubbles, as central.

Third, there are the progressive social democrats. They also see the interests of workers and capital being essentially the same, with workers interests only advanced as a result of the advance of capital itself. But, they recognise that the socialised capital that dominates the modern economy, necessitates its development on an ever wider, at least EU wide level, and requires ever greater regulation and planning of the economy, so as to provide the kind of long-term stability, required by huge capitals, as the framework within which to make decisions about investments running into hundreds of millions of Pounds.

Fourthly, there are socialists who whilst recognising the reality as accepted by the progressive social democrats, also recognise that the owners of fictitious capital will not give up their political power, and the control it gives them over capital without a fight, and that so long as the interests of that fictitious capital are allowed to exert control, it will act to limit the accumulation of capital, to promote instability via financial bubbles and crises. The primary driver for socialists is the rights of workers as opposed to capital.

That Blair should be prepared to sacrifice the rights of workers to free movement in order to defend the right of capital to free movement is then no surprise. But, the starting point for both socialists and progressive social-democrats must be the right of free movement of workers. That is why I support, and call on others to support The Labour Campaign For Free Movement.

From the very origins of mankind, humans have had the right to free movement. Indeed, unless the first humans has moved from the African savannah, and gradually settled every part of the Earth, we would not be here today. No one owns, or can own any specific piece of the Earth. Possession of land was effected by usurpation, and made legal by the monopoly of political power by ruling classes as they arose. For hundreds of thousands of years, humans moved across the Earth freely. Only when that basic human right, the right to freedom was taken away, and some humans were turned into slaves or serfs, was that right to free movement also taken away with it. For centuries, slaves, serfs, and workers fought for the right of freedom of movement alongside the fight for freedom itself.

For freemen, the right to free movement always existed. Not only did they move across Europe and Asia, as witnessed by the great journeys of people like Marco Polo, but they moved freely to Africa, to North and South America. It was only slaves, whose movement was controlled by the slave owner, and serfs who were bound to the land by Lord of the Manor, that were denied this basic human freedom of the right to free movement. The fight for that basic freedom, for all, is inseparable from the fight for human liberty itself, and so it was undertaken by the socialists of previous centuries. To give up on that basic human right of free movement, today, would be a betrayal of every socialist, and even liberal, struggle of previous centuries.

Capital itself enjoys free movement, and of course, those such as Blair have no intention of imposing restrictions on the free movement of capital. Nor should socialists or progressive social-democrats be willing advocates of such restrictions on the free movement of capital either, for the reasons that Marx himself set out, in his writings of free trade. The only such restrictions that socialists and progressive social-democrats should support would be as part of a general reconstruction of society on a wider scale, as part of regulating and planning economic activity. But, under the existing conditions, imposing a restriction of movement on workers simply means enabling capital to move to wherever it can make the biggest profits, and to be able to allow the movement of workers only to the extent that it meets the need of capital, whilst denying workers that same right to be able to sell their labour-power where they can obtain the best price for it.

In a discussion on The Daily Politics, last week, former CWU General Secretary, Billy Hayes, and a supporter of the Labour Campaign for Free Movement set out the case for free movement. Labour Leave supporter John Mills, raised the same old arguments about the undercutting of wages, but there is no evidence that wages are undercut by workers having the right to free movement. If we take some of those low paid jobs such as fruit picking, if domestic firms cannot obtain the labour they require, at wages that enable them to make profits, they will simply move to some other activity. Rather than raise wages, they will either introduce technology to replace labour, or they will simply move their capital to other parts of Europe, where land and labour is available. The only way to prevent that would be to impose capital controls, and import controls, which would drive the economy into a recession and drive up living costs. That is also why those reactionary nationalist perspectives put forward by some proponents of Lexit, as with the Alternative Economic Strategy of the 1970's, would be disastrous, and damage the name of socialism for decades to come.

Mills also argued that to argue for the continuation of free movement, only in respect of EU workers, was inconsistent, because why not then argue for the abolition of all immigration controls. That is correct, we should argue for the abolition of all immigration controls. But, we have to begin somewhere, and currently the right to free movement already exists within the EU. We should argue for it to be defended, as a starting point. The argument put against it, is also that it enables workers from poor EU countries to come to Britain to take advantage of higher benefits. In fact, there is no evidence of that. The proportion of EU immigrants claiming benefits is lower than that for UK citizens. Moreover, the answer is to create an EU wide benefits system, as part of an EU wide, fiscal and monetary system, within a federal United States of Europe.  Or better still, we should follow the advice of Marx and Engels, and the First International, and create our own workers' social insurance scheme.

In terms of immigrants from outside the EU, the answer is also quite clear. If we followed Marx and Engels' opposition to the creation of welfare states and national insurance systems, and instead developed our own worker's social insurance scheme, we would have control over who was paid benefits from it, and under what conditions. As Marxists we should be in favour of promoting the interests of workers not non-workers, not those who leach off the working-class whoever they might be. A worker's social insurance scheme would be able to make emergency payments where required, and make longer term payments to workers suffering ill-health, or unemployment, or simply to those who had retired. But, it would be able to do so whilst ensuring that those to whom such payments were made also gave something back to the worker's fund in return. They would be required to undertake work for their local community, for co-operative and labour movement organisations, and so on.

Such worker owned and controlled social insurance schemes can be undertaken across the EU, and act to build working-class solidarity across the EU to fight for workers interests. They can be used to build up worker owned co-operative property, and co-operatively owned and controlled communities.

It looks likely that the TUC is also going to vote to stay in the single market and customs union, potentially on a permanent basis. That is also a step forward, following Labour's decision to also back remaining in the single market and customs union, at least on a transitional basis. But, for socialists, the primary goal is to defend the right of free movement, not to have to accept free movement as a part of staying in the single market, and customs union. On the contrary, whilst we should also seek to stay in the single market and customs union, Jeremy Corbyn has been quite right to be critical of the existing EU. Right not only because the EU itself is bureaucratic, and in need of a democratic renewal, but right also because since the 1980's, when conservatives like Thatcher became dominant, the underlying ethos of that single market, became to promote the interests of capital, at the expense of workers rights. For Thatcher and other conservatives, it did not go far enough, given the EU's protections over working hours etc. But, the rules and regulations of the free market limit the ability of the EU, and of national governments to intervene in the economy, to regulate and plan it, in the way the founders of the EEC initially intended, and undertook in relation to the Coal and Steel Community etc.  That regulation and planning is also objectively in the interests of real capital accumulation as opposed to the interests of the owners of shares, bonds and other forms of fictitious capital.

What is required is not a retreat from that to the nation state, but a democratic renewal of Europe itself, and the introduction of a new ethos that plans and regulates the EU economy, at least in the interests of real capital accumulation, rather than in the interests of fictitious capital. Even progressive social-democracy, let alone socialism, is only possible an at least an EU wide basis. Our fundamental interests lie with our fellow EU workers. We should support the Labour Campaign for Free Movement, but we also need motions to Annual Conference, overturning Labour's acceptance of the reactionary Brexit vote, and committing the party to oppose it by every means.


George Carty said...

According to some commenters I read today on the 48% Facebook group, there isn't really a level playing field where Freedom of Movement is concerned because some countries stealthily discriminate against foreign workers.

For example, many employers in Germany won't recognize foreign qualifications: a Briton living in Germany mentioned they knew a Bulgarian cleaner who has a degree (from her own country) in hotel management, but could never get a job as a hotel manager unless she repeated her entire degree study at a German university!

Would you support encoraging similar restrictions here in Britain to level the playing field, or would you rather call out the hypocrisy of continental countries when they use practices like this to subvert the spirit of Freedom of Movement?

Boffy said...

I would focus on the need to create EU wide qualifications, along with common rights and benefits etc.