Socialists and the European Union
Discussion Needed In the Labour Movement.
The discussion taking
place in the media in relation to the European Union and the question of
a single currency has centred around the deep divisions within the Tory
Party. However, there are divisions within the Labour movement over the
questions raised by the Maastricht Treaty and the prospect of a common
currency for the member states. Considering the importance of the issues
there has been a dearth of serious discussion in the Labour and trade
has decided to produce this Bulletin in an effort to promote discussion
in the local labour movement. The opinions contained within are those of
the author. We are prepared to circulate material with a differing
viewpoint. The questions raised have a crucial bearing on what action a
government elected by working people will be able to take, or will be
restricted from taking. Also posed are questions about the ‘global
market’, which has created massive unemployment both in Britain and
internationally under the pressure of increasingly cut-throat
international competition. The growing tensions within this market,
recently took the United States and Japan to the brink of open trade
necessary that we all are fully aware of the implications of the
decisions which politicians will make over the next 5 years, supposedly
in our name. Most importantly it is necessary to have a conscious
discussion about the interests of working people (including the
unemployed and the impoverished) and what policy would best serve those
interests. What follows is intended merely to be the first contribution
to the debate.
1. The European Union - The
During the Second World
War US aid took the form of Lend-Lease. The Mutual Aid Agreement of 1942
signed by recipients of Lend-Lease, reflected US objections to trade
barriers of any kind, including Britain’s system of imperial trade
preferences. The signatories thus agreed to “the elimination of all
forms of discriminating treatment in international commerce” and to the
reduction in tariffs and trade barriers. This was an ultimatum from the
US which would utilise the War to build its international economic
domination. From a position of overwhelming strength, ‘free trade’ was
to the advantage of its giant monopolies. This ‘free trade’ approach
would be enshrined in the General Agreement on Trade and Tariffs, signed
in Geneva in 1947 by 23 states.
The US had
benefitted enormously from the war. The level of production of its
economy doubled. However, the change to a peace-time economy presented
it with the threat of contraction. There was a debate in ruling US
circles as to how to overcome this danger when faced with a war ravaged
Europe which did not have the resources to provide a post-war outlet for
the goods of a much expanded US economy. Some elements amongst these
ruling circles, for instance, wanted to reduce Germany to an
agricultural country rather than to rebuild its advanced industrial
economy. However, this faction lost out and the Marshall Aid Plan was
agreed (actually called the European Economic Recovery Plan) in 1947. In
the following year the Foreign Assistance Act released the US funds
agreed. However, Marshall Aid was not given country by country. As part
of the deal it was agreed (US imposition, of course, since the recipient
countries could hardly afford to turn down the conditions) that those
receiving the aid would coordinate their economic activites and planning
in order to gain the full benefits of the program. The 16 countries
involved agreed to meet as a Committee of European Economic Cooperation.
The US insisted that the CEEC be a permanent organisation which would
administer the program. This was the origin of the Organisation for
European Economic Cooperation, set up in 1948. Its immediate
preoccupation was to allocate the funds.
of Ministers from the participating countries was formed, with British
involvement. A series of special committes were set up, including a
European Payments Union in 1953.
initial impetus towards European union came from the efforts of the US
to rebuild the European economies and to open up international trade to
its businesses. Moreover, as one writer has put it:
...it was apparent that
to all intents and purposes the program was the economic complement of
President Trueman’s expressed political intent to organise western
Europe in an ideological alliance against the Soviet Union and
(Derek Urwin, The
Community of Europe.)
there were those elements within Europe who had a political belief in a
European union. In 1947 these forces were brought together in an
International Committee of the Movements for European Union. In May of
1948 A Congress of Europe was held in The Hague and demands agreed for a
European Assembly, a Charter of Human Rights and a European Court.
Britain signed the Treaty of Brussels, a 50 year pact “for collaboration
in economic, social and cultural matters and collective self-defence”.
It was agreed to form a Council of Europe “consisting of a ministerial
committee meeting in private and a consultative body meeting in public”.
The statute of the Council of Europe was signed at the Treaty of
Westminster in 1949 by 10 states, and arrangements agreed for the
establishment of offices in Strasbourg.
of Ministers was set up together with an unelected Assembly which could
only make recommendations to the Council of Ministers. In May 1950 the
Assembly, frustrated by the lack of response from the Council of
Ministers, sent a list of proposals directly to the national
parliaments. They were positively received in the six countries which
would form the EEC in 1957. The British Parliament reiterated the view
that the Council should merely be a meeting place for discussion.
Effectively, 1950 marked the end of the efforts of the pro-Europeans to
involve Britain in moves towards political and economic union. Robert
Schuman, a French Minister, proposed a pooling of coal and steel
reserves to be administered by both the national states and a
supra-national authority acting together with the aim of eliminating all
tariffs in these industries. The plan was seen as a first step towards
European integration underpinned by a rapprochement between France and
Germany. Schuman’s declaration stated:
The pooling of coal and
steel production will immediately provide for the establishment of
common bases for economic development as a first step in the federation
of Europe, and will change the destinies of those regions which have
long been devoted to the munitions of war, of which they have been the
most common constant victims.
Hence the long term aim
of federation was at the base of the document.
refused to join the ECSC. The Labour Party rejected it as something
which would limit its ability to strive for democratic socialism in
Britain “and to apply economic controls necessary to achieve it”. Prime
Minister Clement Attlee reiterated that it would be impossible for
Britain “to accept the principle that the most vital economic forces of
this country should be handed over to an authority that is utterly
undemocratic and is responsible to nobody”.
Treaty of Paris was signed by 6 states in April 1951, with the objective
of a common economic market and the political aim of a supra-national
authority. The institution to run it was an High Authority with the term
of office of Commissioners of 6 years. Jean Monet the driving force
behind European union was appointed President. This body could direct
investment or actual prices and production, and punish those who ignored
its decisions. It could influence the national coal and steel industries
without being countermanded by national government. Funding for the HA
was not from governments but from taxation levied on coal and steel
production directly from the firms concerned.
The EEC was
set up in 1957 when the Treaty of Rome was signed. It was founded on the
concept of a ‘free market’ and the progressive reduction of trade
barriers so that a common economic market would be formed and in the
long term a political union. There were a number of ‘social’ aspects to
the Treaty, including a declaration in support of equal pay for equal
work, and the establishment of a Social Fund to provide for retraining
and resettlement. However, the main content of the treaty was to create
the conditions for the eradication of national barriers to trade within
the EEC. As one writer commented:
The Community had to be
seen to be more than a device to enable capitalists to exploit the
common market; otherwise it might not be possible to persuade the
peoples of the community to continue to accept the disciplines of the
Social Policy Today & Tomorrow. Pergamon Press, 1977.)
Millions of people
would later suffer under those ‘disciplines’, with the re-emergence of
mass unemployment on a European level.
1970s the EEC adopted a Social Action Program which produced directives
on equal pay, equal treatment of work, collective dismissals, and
transfer of employment. These directives stemmed from the Treaty of Rome
which aimed for harmonisation of laws and regulations in member states
which directly affected the functioning of the common market or were
deemed necessary as community objectives.
Hence the social policy had more to do with equalising conditions
affecting competition, you could say rules governing the exploitation of
labour, rather than any deep seated concerns with the rights and
conditions of working people.
They wanted to ensure there was no ‘unfair competition’. But in any case
action under the Articles which these directives flowed from required
unanimity. This would present obstacles, as we shall see later.
The Heath government
took the decision to enter the EEC. This was ratified by thereferendum
organised by the Wilson government in which there was a 2 to 1 majority
in favour of entry. British alloofness has been based on the
international nature of British trade (with its far flung colonial
markets) not to mention the national arrogance of a ruling class which
was slow to accept the decline of what was once the world’s leading
imperial power. However, the post-war decline of Britain convinced its
ruling circles that in order to survive economically it had to place
itself inside the emerging European market.
there were divisions within the British ruling class and the employers’
ranks, so there were divisions within the labour movement, with pro and
anti groupings both within the Labour Party and the unions. Not only did
the Labour Party Prime Minister call for a ‘yes’ vote when his Party
called for a ‘no’ vote but members of his cabinet campaigned in opposite
labour movement there was much talk of the EEC as a “capitalist club”
and the fact that it was founded on ‘free market’ ideas. Yet many on the
left expressed their opposition in terms of defence of ‘British
sovereignty’. That is why you had the spectacle of Labour and Tory MPs
appearing on the same ‘no’ platforms, as if the main problem was
‘national’ rights rather than the social and political interests of
working people. As a youngish delegate to Reading Trades Union Council I
can remember some heated debates on this issue of sovereignty and unity
with right wing Tories as if we had the same interests as them.
At any rate
the referendum sent Britain into the EEC.
The Trades Unions.
So far as
the trades unions were concerned their hostility to the EEC remained, as
indeed it did amongst the majority of the membership of the Labour
Party. As late as 1981 the TUC Congress passed a resolution for
the 1980s wore on and the EEC introduced a series of social policies, it
began to look like Nirvana compared to the dire situation in Britain
where the Thatcher government organised a systematic political and legal
offensive against the trades unions. To trade union officials who had
previously been welcomed into ‘the corridors of power’, for ‘beer and
sandwiches’ in Downing Street (when Wilson was PM), and had been
involved in tripartite bodies (trades unions, employers and government)
such as the National Economic Development Committee, European talk of
‘social partnership’ and ‘dialogue’ seemed very attractive indeed.
In 1985 the
EEC Council of Ministers approved a white paper which included 300
measures intended to remove physical, technical and fiscal barriers to
the free movement of capital and labour within the EEC, with the aim of
creating a Single Market by the end of 1992. Early in 1988 the Council
of Ministers established a Committee to discuss the timetable for moves
to economic and monetary union.
1987 election defeat the Labour leadership overhauled its policy and
became pro-European, dragging the TUC General Council in its wake. In
1988 Jaques Delors (the French Socialist Party EEC Commissioner) was
invited to speak to the TUC Congress. His speech was well received by
many, if not most trade union leaders. He spoke of the moves to monetary
and economic union. He declared that social dialogue and collective
bargaining were essential pillars of a democratic society.
Congress Ron Todd, TGWU leader declared.
The only card game in
town is in a town called Brussels and it is a game of poker where we
have got to learn the rules and learn the fast.
later the 1990 TUC declared that:
It will be impossible
in the long run to successfully conduct economic policy in isolation
from the moves towards economic and monetary union within Europe.
Maastricht Treaty which prepared the practical implementation of the
Single Market (enshrined in the Single European Act) was supported by
the Labour Party and the TUC, although there were critical voices. NALGO
and MSF opposed, whilst the TGWU was critical, but overall the majority
of unions supported “further integration through a common currency and a
central European bank” The majority view was that despite unpalatable
aspects of the Treaty “the only alternative - a Britain outside the EU -
was simply not a viable option”.
Why the ‘Single Market’?
look at the various aspects of EU policy and what the attitude of the
unions ought to be, it is necessary to consider what is the motivation
behind the formation of thet Market. Whilst it is true that the Treaty
of Rome looked towards this end the practical difficulties of
governmental differences and conflicting ‘national interests’ made the
process much slower than had been hoped: the 1970 target proved to be
impetus for the formation of the Single Market in the 1980s was the
economic conditions which existed on the international scale. The
increasingly cut-throat competition in the ‘global market’ has led to
the creation of economic blocs. The European Single Market is
fundamentally a means of fighting off competition from North America and
Japan. The Japanese, of course, have used Britain as a means of getting
inside the EU and taking advantage of the free movement of capital and
committee set up by the Council of Ministers in 1988 to report on moves
towards economic and monetary union thus stated:
Costs will be down.
Prices will follow, as business, under the pressure of new rivals
previously protected, is forced to develop new responses to a novel and
permanently changing situation...The Single European Market will propel
Europe onto the blustery world stage in the 1990s in a position of
comparative strength and on an upward trajectory of economic growth into
the next century.
In other words the end
of all protectionism would create an intensification of competition
within the EU. The ‘spur of competition’ would make businesses more
efficient and innovative in this Darwinian struggle for the survival of
therefore based on free market logic and the struggle for the success of
‘European’ capital. The cost of this competition has been heavy and
borne by working people who have suffered the results of
rationalisation, restructuring, and what is now politely called
‘down-sizing’. That is why unemployment has been so high in Europe.
Unfortunately, the TUC and Blair’s New Labour fully accept this
framework - ‘the realities of the global market’.
The Global Market.
What is this ‘global
market’ which receives so much attention now in the media and is spoken
of by ‘New Labour’ leaders? According to one financial journalist:
People may be in chains
but in the 1990s capital has become free. It has burst out of the
restrictions imposed by national governments and now goes virtually
where it will, whatever the consequences on individual economies.
Perhaps for the first time it is now possible to speak of a single
world financial market.
(Philip Coggan, How
The City Works, Penguin.)
Dennis Healey makes a
good witness to judge this ‘new world’ insofar as he cannot be accused
of being a left winger and was at the heart of political events in the
post Second World War situation. In his memoirs he has written:
The financial disorder
of the last ten years...started, I believe because the oil crisis led to
a massive accumulation of bad debt by the private banks, which they
tried to offset by increasing their lending to other clients. It then
got completely out of control with the introduction of computer
technology into the financial markets. This produced a triple revolution
in which globalisation was accompanied by deregulation and innovation,
making the international financial system exceptionably vulnerable to
The instability of this
international financial system which Healey refers to resulted from the
decline of the Bretton Woods system which was introduced in 1944. Under
this system international finance was based on the dollar (convertable
to gold) and fixed exchange rates related to it. This system based on
the dollar reflected the economic domination of the giant US economy.
In order to
sustain its levels of production the US was forced to launch the
Marshall Aid plan to rebuild the war ravaged economies of Europe and
Japan. Over the course of the next decades the rise of West German and
Japanese economies in particular, undermined this US domination. In 1971
the Bretton Woods system collapsed. Nixon unilaterally ended the
convertability of the dollar into gold in order to defend it. This
marked a new era of floating exchange rates which brought to an end a
period of relative stability.
crisis, when OPEC countries quadrupled the price of oil, threatened to
push the world economy into recession. OPEC countries were estimated to
have effectively taken $68 billion dollars out of the world economy.
Obviously the oil buying countries had considerably less money to invest
whilst the oil producing countries did not have the population to import
goods to such a level. Most of this money was held in dollars in
European banks. In an effort to prevent a recession, billions of dollars
were lent to Third World countries, which built up enormous debts. Hence
developed the international debt crisis which has weighed on the world
economy ever since.
of the global financial markets in a regime of floating exchange rates
has had a profoundly destabilising effect. Healey comments:
These capital flows
from one country to another were managed by young men in the dealing
rooms of big companies as well as in financial institutions, who had
square eyballs from watching their computer screens. Their minds were
square as well; they treated money as a commodity, like coffee beans or
grains of rice, and made a market in money without any reference to the
underlying economic realities it was supposed to represent. Yet the
flows of capital managed by these gilded young lemmings had become the
main influence on exchange rates, and through exchange rates on trade,
prices and interest rates which in turn influenced the rates of growth
in every country.
These ‘gilded young
lemmings’ were taking decisions which would impact on the lives of
countless millions of people without the least consideration of the
consequences of their actions. With the ‘international financial
revolution’ we truly entered the era of ‘Casino capitalism’, with
futures markets and ‘junk bonds’: little more than gambling, making
money out of money. Even a died in the wool social democrat like Healey
The finance revolution,
and the computer revolution which has made it possible, have produced a
world all too reminiscent of Britain two or three centuries ago when
greed infected honest citizens with a speculative fever, which produced
strange collective madnesses like tulipmania and the South Sea Bubble.
At that time the consequences were limited largely to the speculators
themselves. Today the consequences of a similar speculative fever have
produced a global financial system so fragile and yet so interdependent
that it is vulnerable to many possible sources of breakdown and its
breakdown could plunge the western world into a recession quite as
damaging as the Great Slump of the ‘thirties, with political
consequences even more dangerous.
competition in the global market has of course, led to a massive
destruction of jobs as companies strive to ‘make themselves lean’,
engage in round upon round of ‘restructuring’ and ‘down-sizing’.
consequences for Third World countries weighed down by debts most often
incurred by military regimes for gigantic prestige projects, have been
absolutely catastrophic. Under instructions from the IMF and the World
Bank these countries have been forced to carry out deflationary
measures, cuts in social services and state funding for local industries
and so on. Whole industries have been wiped out and vast sections of the
population impoverished, forced to struggle to survive in the ‘informal
sector’. These brutal measures have been imposed in order to prevent
bank failures in the west as a result of defaulting on loans by these
countries. They have been forced to turn to export crops in order to
raise money to repay the interest on their debts. Countries which were
previously self sufficient in food have been reduced to begging as the
majority of their population is malnourished in some cases teetering on
the brink of starvation. The big powers and the international financial
institutions have imposed what might without exaggeration be described
as a disguised holocaust on Third World populations.
1973 and 1982 Third World Debt rose from $130 billion to $610 billion.
In 1987 it broke through the $1,000 billion barrier. Between 1982 and
1990 $418 billion dollars more than was received was paid over by the
Third World countries to the rich nations. Writer Susan George points to
the fact that this is the equivalent of six Marshall Plans being
squeezed out of the poor for the benefit of the rich, in order to stop
the big western banks collapsing as a result of their lending to Third
World military regimes. Despite the fortune paid over to the North the
debtor countries found themselves with 61% greater debts at the
beginning of the 1990s than in 1982. Susan George accurately identifies
this as “a resource outflow on a scale far outstripping any the colonial
period could command”.
this relate to our discussion on the EU? The fundamental point is that
the official leaderships of the labour movement accept entirely the
framework of the ‘global market’. Or as Blair himself has put it in his
The single biggest
transforming element in the context of defining economic policy is the
globalisation of the markets. If economic policy is constructed in
defiance of that then it won’t work.
In other words economic
policy must be based on competing within this global market as a given
condition about which nothing can be done. A Labour government within
the context of the EU has therefore to base its policy on out competing
Japan, the US and others. Such an extraordinary position of prostration
before the ‘realities of the global market’ means acceptance of the
relation of forces between the TNCs and the Third World countries, the
IMF and World Bank. In a recent speech Shadow Foreign Secretary Robin
Cook. spoke of ‘relieving’ this burden on these countries. However, he
was not speaking of cancelling debts for which the populations have no
responsibility, but of merely limiting the amount they continue to pay.
In other words he accepts that they must continue to pay billions to the
big banks, on debts for which the population of these countries are not
responsible, in order to keep afloat these banks!
between labour and capital on this national terrain means not only the
abandonment of the interests of working people, but also those of the
impoverished millions who have been thrown into a state of oppression
and despair in order to preserve the profits of the western banks and to
preserve a financial system based on super-exploitation. And the
purveyors of such views have the audacity to call themselves socialists!
In her book “The Debt
Boomerang”, Susan George exposes the cost to the general populace in the
major capitalist countries of this debt regime, the money that is
effectively charged to the general populace in order to sustain the
The impact of third
world debt fallout in the North is much less well known - doubtless
because the consequences of debt are far more serious and life
threatening in the South than in the North. Nevertheless, we believe it
is vital to show how such a seemingly distant phenomenon in fact harms
nearly everyone in the North...ordinary citizens of debtor and creditor
countries have every interest in joining forces to demand an entirely
new approach to third world debt. Although people in the South are far
more grievously affected by debt than those in the North, in both cases,
a tiny minority benefits while the overwhelming majority pays.
Instead of seeking to
unite ‘ordinary citizens’ of these countries the Labour leadership
places itself in the same camp as the very forces which are responsible
for the dire circumstances suffered by the majority of the population of
the planet. Instead of solidarity with the poor they accept common
interests with European capitalists in their struggle to win in the
2. EU - The Political & Social
Social Partnership & Business Unionism.
The TUC has
supported the idea which is common currency in the EU of ‘social
partnership’; that is, that the employers, employees and government all
have a common interest and should work together for ‘economic success’.
To a large degree this is based on the German model which is supposed to
have fired the post-war economic success of what was a ruined country.
In our view
this subordinates the interests of workers to the profitability of
capitalist firms. Moreover, it accepts that workers have the same
interests as their own employers and compete with workers of other
nationalities. It therefore presents our friends as our enemies and our
enemies as friends.
trades unions this has found the worst expression in the case of the
AEEU where they agreed a deal with Hoover to concentrate production in
Cambuslang. In return for extra jobs, for a wage freeze, flexibility
and a host of other concessions, they connived in the closure of the
factory in France at Dijon. Despite the protests of the French unions
and the Scottish TUC, Jimmy Airlie, long-time ‘left winger’ defended the
deal in his usual robust and boorish way. So much for international
not all unions have sunk to the level of the AEEU, bolstered as it is
now by fusion with the scab outfit the EEPTU. However, there are already
clear indications that acceptance of the concept of ‘social partners’ is
dragging the trades unions rightwards towards business unionism. It was
the EEPTU which pioneered business unionism in this country. In place of
the usual efforts of recruiting workers at the factory/office level, the
EEPTU sold itself to the employers as a ‘responsible’ union seeking
partnership with them. In reality it was offering a docile union in
return for the right to collect subs from the workforce. The EEPTU was
the extreme wing of business unionism, as is now well known, conniving
with the owners of the Sun. It was granted recognition in return for
helping them to cobble together a scab workforce during the Wapping
unionism was pioneered in the United States where it has succeeded in
reducing union density to 15% of the working population. During the
recession years of the 1980s business unionism in the US agreed to a
host of ‘take back’ agreements: cuts in jobs and wages which were
considered necessary as a result of ‘market conditions’. Business unions
have been prepared to see working people pay the cost of mass
unemployment in order that the union apparatuses can survive.
union leaders have revered the results of close collaboration between
employers and the unions. Jack Adams of the TGWU was recently in Swindon
to visit Rover. He praised the success of the firm which was supposedly
based on this collaboration. Of course, in monetary and market terms
this is undeniable. However, this success has been at the expense of the
destruction of a large percentage of the jobs which existed in the old
British Leyland, and the destruction of the independence of the unions.
So long as
the trades unions continue to accept that profitability and market
competition are the key criteria then they will fail to defend the
jobs of their members.
For many years now,
especially since the miners’ strike, there has been no significant
resistance to redundancies, with a line of least resistance (no
compulsory redundancies) being followed.
considerably reduced workforce in many companies the remaining workers
have often had improved wages but at great social cost to the
working class as a whole, through virtual acceptance of mass
unemployment. ‘Social partnership’, based as it is on the concept of the
common interests of workers and employers, in the context of fighting
the good fight in the conditions of the ‘global market’, can only serve
to worsen the employment situation since a labour movement which
subordinates workers’ interests to ‘economic success’ will fail to fight
for the social interests of working people, the unemployed, and the
poor. Those interests can only be fought for on the basis of a
rupture with capitalism and a policy based on production for social
needs rather than profit (more on this later).
All Aboard the EU Partnership Express?
TGWU and other unions are hardly about to adopt the measures that the
EEPTU did, there are worrying signs as to their direction having
swallowed ‘social partnership’ whole as a desirable aim. In February of
this year, it was reported in the Guardian that four trades unions (the
TGWU, the GMB, RMT and ASLEF) had agreed ‘in principle’ to the proposal
put to them by a consortium comprising two major German businesses,
together with Costain, which was seeking to bid for the contract to
build the Channel Tunnel Rail Link. According to the report, in return
for an investment of £300,000 they would get a seat on the Board.
wins the bid to build the Rail Link will not only own it but would be
given European Passenger Services, the company which runs trains through
the Tunnel. Involvement in such a scheme would pose the obvious
contradiction of unions supposedly opposing rail privatisation and yet
supporting the building of a private Rail Link (should they take the
plunge). Their policy is for the renationalisation of the entire network
yet if they were to follow this course they would not only be supporting
a privatised rail link, but sitting on the board of the company owning
it; a company running it not for public service, but to make a profit!
union involvement, however, would have implications reaching far beyond
the question of the railways. Any unions participating in such a scheme
would in effect be buying union recognition from the consortium.
Some would no doubt point out that trades unions have financial
investments in private companies. The author of this bulletin is opposed
to such investments. However, leaving that aside, such a deal is
entirely different. The unions would be buying the right to recruit
from a private company. What would their representatives on the
Board be there for? To defend the interests of their members or to see
their investment flourish? Such involvement would necessarily mean
subordinating the interests of the union members to the profitability
and ‘success’ of the firm. This is the whole logic of ‘social
For any of
these trades unions to take the decision to buy their way into this, or
any other consortium, would be a fateful decision. It would place
them into the camp of business unionism. Such a decision would have
its own logic. If you invest your members’ money into a private company
in order to win recognition, why not do it in other companies, or in
relation to other projects? There would be no reason not to, other than
financial constraints. Such a step would pose a dangerous precedent for
the labour and trade union movement.
wrote a denial in the Guardian, though it is a source of some worry that
it did not express any opposition to the idea, merely saying that if any
such offer was received the union executive committee would decide on
it. The recent RMT AGM overwhelimngly opposed any involvement and
determined to campaign against any other trades unions following this
executive committe had not even discussed the issue, though Jimmy Knapp
failed to deny that he or some other union officer has been involved in
meetings, even though such involvement would be completely at variance
with union policy and without the authority of the executive committee
which is the ruling body of the union in between AGMs. The recent AGM
overwhelmingly opposed involvement in this or any similar scheme and
called for the TUC to oppose any union involvement.
trade union leader to comment publicly was John Edmonds of the GMB who
said that the offer was a reflection of the fact that in Europe
businesses recognised the benefits of working with the trades unions.
Long live Social Partnership and get ready to count the profits (or the
losses, of course)!
Enter King John.
leadership, from 1987 onwards has promoted the concept of ‘social
partnership’. It was under the impetus of the moves towards a single
market, that erstwhile proletarian rabble rouser and bruiser John
Prescott, together with Robin Cook and Gordon Brown, brought out a
policy document on ‘Public Sector - Private Sector Partnership’. This
now forms the cornerstone of Labour’s economic policy.
the premise that the resources that a Labour government would have at
its disposal would be severely limited, it argued that it would be
necessary to draw on private investment in order for Britain’s decaying
infrastructure to be rebuilt. Labour did not want to be seen as ‘the
party of taxation’, therefore they would not fundamentally alter the
taxation regime that the Tories had introduced. They would therefore
create this Public Sector - Private Sector partnership.
document also included a number of other ideas such as leasing
arrangements, whereby, for example, private sector companies might build
new trains and lease them out rather than sell them outright. This
would, ran the argument, enable new stock to be built which otherwise
might not be built because of lack of funds.
already seen what this means in relation to the London Underground
Northern Line. The new stock is to be built by GEC which will own the
trains and lease them back to LU for £20 million per year. Staff
currently employed by LU to maintain trains and carriages will be
transferred over to GEC. In other words this is a means of
back-door privatisation. This is the content of the Public
Sector-Private Sector partnership.
big infrastructure projects are launched, such as the rebuilding of the
West Coast Main Line, it is most likely that whoever wins the franchise
to build the new track will own it.
undoubtedly a trend which is growing across different industries.
Recently in Swindon we heard of the prospect of a new wing of the
Princess Margaret Hospital being open to tender from private firms,
including Tarmac. According to local trade union officials, if this
project does go ahead then the new building would be leased to the NHS
and most likely all the staff, except the medical side, would be
employed by the private owners.
means in practice that Labour has gone over to privatisation, as a
result of its refusal to support increased taxation (even on very high
earners) as necessary for funding public services, and under the
pressure of its European policy.
The Social Charter.
leaders who consider the EU to be ‘progressive’ point to the Social
Charter. It was adopted in 1989 as “a declaration of principles”. It
covered conditions of employment, minimum pay, freedom of association,
right to bargain and strike, training, and Health & Safety. This was a
very nebulous document full of high sounding but amorphous language,
with references to ‘fair remuneration’ and ‘a decent standard of
living’. It was in any case, under pressure from Britain, watered down
considerably. It was accompanied by an Action Program supposed to
facilitate its implementation. But as one writer has indicated:
eliminated all references to collective bargaining and freedom of
association as objectives of EU community action. This was justified by
the developing principle of subsidiarity.
Thus many of the
‘principles’ were left to be implemented, or disregarded, by the member
states. Of the principles which were seen as suitable for EU action many
were to be introduced by ‘recommendations’ or ‘opinions’ but in reality
were not binding on member states. Hence, despite all the hype, of 17
draft directives subsequently introduced, 10 dealt with Health & Safety
alone. At the Treaty of European Union agreed at Maastricht in December
1991, a Protocol on social policy was signed and an agreement reached by
11 of the 12 states, with the British government ‘opting out’.
of the Treaty redrafted Article 117 of the Treaty of Rome. The
objectives of the EU now included ”promotion of employment, improved
working conditions, social protection and dialogue between management
Article 2 ‘qualified majority voting’ was extended to cover not only
Health and Safety, but working conditions, information and consultation
of workers, equality between men and women, and the integration of those
excluded from the labour market. However, all this was severely limited
by Article 2,3 which demands unanimity for legislation on social
security and social protection of workers, protection on termination of
employment, collective defence of the interests of workers, conditions
of employment for third country nationals residing in the EU and
financial contributions for job creation. In addition Article 2,6
excludes from the EU legislative process, “pay, the right to
association, the right to strike, or the right to impose lock-outs.”
Thus the crucial issues for working people are excluded from EU
Even in the
article which extends ‘qualified majority voting’ we have merely
requirements. It stresses the need “to avoid imposing administrative,
financial and legal constraint in a way that would hold back the
creation and development of small and medium sized undertakings.”
of the legislation that has been introduced, which we can use to our
advantage, centres on Health & Safety, rather than employment rights and
trade union rights in general. In any case, paper rights are not
necessarily enforced, as the case of women’s wage levels shows two
decades after equal pay legislation was introduced.
any legislation which gives us the opportunity to drag up our conditions
from the parlous state into which they have sunk, must be seized.
However, that is no reason to promote illusions that the Social Charter
will offer some wondrous world in which workers will have a host of
rights, and bring about an end to inequality and the loss of democratic
and trade union rights. As we have indicated earlier the Social Charter
is both a means of propaganda to sell the EU to the mass of the populace
and a means of an ‘equal playing field’ on which competition takes
place. In any case it subordinates social policy to neo-liberal
economics. The gap between the rhetoric and the reality of this
competition - destruction of jobs and impoverishment of large sections
of the population - is massive.
The TUC and
many trades union leaders look to the extension of the Works Council
system to the UK as a progressive step towards ‘social partnership’.
They look to the German model where such Councils have been in existence
for many years. They are supposedly a means of giving workers a stake in
the firm. In reality Works Councils are a forum for identifying the
interests of the workforce with the success of a company. They are
organised on the basis of elections not of union reps but from the
workforce overall, although in Germany 76% of Works Council reps are
trade union members. They are a forum for ‘consultation and information’
rather than negotiation.
European directive of September 1994 makes it obligatory for Companies
with more than 1,000 workers in their base country, plus more than 150
in two other EU countries, to set up a European Works Council. More than
100 large British companies will be covered by this directive as well as
companies such as Ford, Philips, Nissan, Sony. They have two years to
set them up. Although they will not have to include British
representatives owing to the government’s opt out, most companies will
probably include reps from factories here.
Biscuits has already reached agreement with the unions on a European
Works Council, whilst Coats Viyella has said it will follow suit. The
viewpoint of the UB Human Resources Director gives an interesting
indication of the usefulness of such bodies so far as the management is
We believe that a
workforce that understands the objectives of the business and the
pressure on it is better able to respond to necessary operational
The agreement reached
with the unions says that:
both the management of
United Biscuits and its employees and representatives believe that the
interests of the business, and therefore the welfare of all those
involved in it, are best served by there being a joint understanding of
the performance of the business, of its operating environment and market
places, and other matters of genuine mutual concern.
words it will be an arena for informing the workforce reps of
pre-determined decisions taken according to ‘market needs’ and promoting
‘necessary operational change’ (job loss and speed up).
Works Councils can be an arena of conflict, but they were founded on the
basis of the supposed common interest of workers and employers, and the
participation of British trades unions will undoubtedly be on such a
basis which accepts ‘social partnership’. Should such Councils be set up
then it is probably in the interests of the unions to seek to win all
positions on them, but without illusions as to what they are, and
at all times defending their complete independence from the employers.
They might be used to develop links with trades unions in the other
countries in which a particular company operates, but defence of the
interests of employees requires a break from the idea of common
interests with the employer.
3. Monetary Union.
institution of a single currency will divest elected national
parliaments of powers in relation to economic policy. Monetary policy
will be under the control of a European Central Bank. The monetary
criteria on which the single currency will be based is:
deficit not to exceed 3% of Gross Domestic Product.
debt not to exceed 60% of GDP.
implement such criteria many countries which are currently well outside
these targets will have to either raise taxes substantially or make
massive cuts in social spending, or a combination of both.
country exceeds these strict monetary limits then the Council will make
recommendations to its government to remedy the level of deficit. Should
a government refuse to follow these recommendations or fail to bring its
deficit ‘under control’, then sanctions could be imposed, including
In fact the
European parliament has pointed out that the recommendations of the
Council for dealing with the problems of member states will not be
published, nor even declared to the Parliament of the state in question.
The European Parliament, which supports monetary union, has pointed out
...when economic policy
making takes effect (under monetary union) the scope for parliamentary
influence will suffer at national and European level since national
Parliaments will lose their ability to discipline national governments
because the Council will act by qualified majority, while the European
Parliament will only be notified after the event...
consequences of this will mean the dictation of deflationary policies,
cuts in government spending which will affect the social conditions of
working people and the poorest sections of the community.
European Parliament has also bemoaned the fact that:
Union appears to be exclusively geared to stability; (the European
Parliament) while acknowledging the importance of
stability, calls for deflationary effects to be prevented when the
member states meeting the strict convergence criteria gear their policy
to these criteria; calls for the objective of responsible growth and a
high level of employment and social protection to be taken equally
seriously, even though there is no provision as yet in the Treaty for
specific binding measures in this regard.
Such protection and
employment policy is of course, in contradiction with the strict
monetary criteria on which Maastricht is based. Moreover, it is
whistling in the wind when the European Parliament which had been
seeking ‘co-determination’ with the Council has neither achieved that
nor has it any legislativery powers whatsoever.
voting for ratification of the Maastricht Treaty the EP, in addition to
the above comments, made some scathing criticisms of it. Its statement
on the Treaty drew attention to “major shortcomings”.
It fails to provide any economic policy authority “with
adequate democratic legitimacy” to counterbalance the power of the
European Central Bank.
It does not provide a ‘co-decision’ making power whereby
the Parliament and the Council of Ministers would have the same decision
making powers over legislation. The Council will be able to act
unilaterally in the absence of agreement with the European Parliament.
It fails to provide for Parliamentary assent for future
Treaty changes or measures concerning citizenship.
It introduces a provision allowing Council unilaterally
to repeal international agreements to which both Parliament and Council
had previously given their assent, and to adopt sanctions without
“Deplores the fact that when economic policy making takes
effect, the scope for national parliamentary influence will suffer at
national and European level since national Parliaments will lose their
ability to discipline national governments because the Council will act
by a qualified majority, while the European Parliament will only be
notified after the event; is shocked by the provision that
recommendations to the individual Member States will normally not be
disclosed, even to the Parliament of the Member States concerned.”
consider that these are the criticisms of supporters of monetary union
it indicates the problems that a single currency will create. It would
be impossible to carry out a policy based on the broad interests of
working people, the poor and the unemployed when a strict monetarist
policy was imposed by a European Bank over which we had no control. They
key question here is not ‘national sovereignty’ but the fact that the
social and political interests of the mass of the populace of all
European countries would be undermined by such a policy. For these
reasons the labour movement should oppose monetary union on such a
Does all this mean that
withdrawal from the EU is the only option for a labour movement wishing
to follow a socialist policy? No. It is my view that to campaign for
withdrawal from the EU would be to take a nationalist direction.
We do have to face up to the realities of the ‘global market’,
though not by capitulating to them like Blair and co. A socialist
government in Britain, or any other country, would have to base its
survival, in the face of the efforts of international capital to
undermine it, on building international support amongst the working
population, the labour and trade union movements. A socialist policy
would inevitably bring it into conflict with the EU institutions, based
as they are on the ‘free market’ and the strict monetary criteria.
Social spending involving a deficit above the 3% level would lead to
demands to ‘control’ its spending and sanctions might follow.
government would have to appeal to all those political and trade union
forces throughout Europe which are opposed to the existing political
basis of the EU. It would have to seek to build a Europe wide movement
in support of pro-working class policies and for a break of the EU from
its ‘free market’ and monetarist basis. It would be foolish to
underestimate the scope of such a task. Nevertheless, it would provide
the only hope of survival in the face of efforts by the American rulers
and European capitalists to destroy what they have always feared -
the example of another road. Their effort to destroy the Nicaraguan
government, for instance, was not based on some fear of its power (this
is a country the size of Wales) but that the example it set based on
attempting to serve the needs of the impoverished population might light
a spark which would flare up elsewhere.
proposing to withdraw from the EU those forces in the labour movement
here, which are opposed to its political and economic basis, should
concentrate their efforts on building links across Europe with
like-minded people and engaging in debate about what the EU is, and the
need for an alternative based on social needs and not on subordination
to the ‘global market’ at the expense of the majority of the population.
mean that it is possible to reform the EU with the prospect of a
socialist Europe? This will be tested out in practice. However, if the
insularity of the British labour movement is to be overcome then there
has to be a multiplication of Europe-wide and international contacts at
every level, to open up a practical road to European and international
working class solidarity. We should have a perspective of a political
challenge to the institutions and pro-capitalist foundations of the EU.
Such a challenge, if it takes the form of withdrawal, would only mean
isolation rather than the building of a movement within the EU which
would support such a challenge.
Schengen agreement reached by 5 countries - France, Belgium, Luxemburg,
Italy and West Germany aimed to create a border free zone within the EU.
This ‘Schengen space’, expanded to nine countries, came into operation
on March 26th 1995. Whilst it was presented as the closing down of
barriers to the movement of people it presented another aspect to
‘aliens’. The French paper Le Monde observed:
The initial object of
Schengen, the free movement of persons across the space formed by the
nine countries signature to the accord, has shifted to the other aspect
- an air-tight (common) external frontier and stricter controls on
concrete goals of the Schengen accords were:
generalising the criteria for accepting and rejecting
visa applications, and fixing a common list of countries from which a
visa would be required.
each state to refuse admission to any person considered
“undesirable” by any other member state.
a central computer system to be set up to record the
identity of and information about all persons subject to control or
fining airlines and ferry boat operators if they carry a
passsenger into the ‘Schengen space’ without the necessary documents. As
a result transport operators now carry out their own checks outside the
Schengen area, and refuse passage to anyone they suspect does not meet
the entry criteria.
the Schengen committee pilot group has been working in three areas:
enlarging the number of signatories to the agreement, standardising
police legislation in each country, and organising the Schengen
Information System - a massive computerised surveillance system which
already carries 5 million files, largely of “undesirable aliens”.
force of every member state and the visa issuing consular offices of
non-EU countries now have a link to this ‘electronic fence’. The
supra-national database is not subject to the data protection acts of
the frontiers have been taken down even long term residents who are not
EU passport holders are supposed to report their presence through a
written Declaration of Entry on the Territory of each member state!
supposed ‘struggle against illegal immigrants’ has been used to justify
the extension of police powers. In France, spot checks can be carried
out within twenty kilometres of any border. Schengen also gives national
police forces the right of pursuit across national boundaries. In
Britain, of course, the Tory government has strengthened powers to deal
with ‘illegal immigrants’ much more quickly, denying them the right of
past few years the growth of fascism and racism in Europe has been very
marked. The electoral success of barely disguised fascist parties
together with the increase of racist attacks, notably in the reunified
Germany, but in other countries also, has been a cause of great concern.
However, there is an almost universal state racism which has been
employed against immigrants. Whilst guaranteeing free movement of EU
citizens, ‘Fortress Europe’ presents barriers to people from outside the
Union. In practice that means black people. The racists pose the problem
of immigrants as the cause of most of the problems faced in Europe. The
Schengen accords and the methods they apply in practice, despite
the anti-racist words of the European governments, feed this racist
propaganda by pandering to the view that Europe is faced with a flood of
immigrants coming in to take ‘our jobs’ and ‘our houses’. In reality
immigrants in Europe, from the ex-colonial countries have served as a
source of cheap labour, tending to do jobs which the nationals will not
do. Schengen tends towards the criminalisation of people fleeing from
poverty or violence from countries exploited by the old imperial powers.
movement of working people across national boundaries should be
counterposed to what is in fact a racist policy. It is black people who
languish in camps for ‘illegal immigrants’ such as the new one at
Campsfield in Oxford. The labour movement should challenge the notion
that we are threatened by a massive wave of immigrants, and demand full
political rights for immigrants.
At the recent RMT AGM
there was a big debate on the question of the EU and monetary union. One
of the resolutions spoke of the defence of ‘British sovereignty’. The
mover of the resolution quoted Lord Tonypandy to indicate the breadth of
opposition to monetary union. He referred back to the debate in 1974 and
derided those who had opposed joint platforms with Tory MPs. Just
because you agreed with Enoch Powell on Europe, he said, it did not mean
you agreed with him on anything else! This sort of motivation for
opposition to Maastricht enabled Jimmy Knapp to say that opponents of
the EU within the labour movement would end up in the camp of John
Redwood and the little Englander opponents of further integration.
It is one
thing to talk of defending the national sovereignty of an oppressed
country, such as Cuba or Nicaragua, which the United States has
attempted to undermine. Such national sovereignty socialists should
defend. But the sovereignty of an imperialist country like Britain,
albeit a declining one, is another matter entirely. When the right wing
speaks of defending British sovereignty they are defending Britain’s
‘global role’, defending the position of British capital in relation to
its major competitors; hence their fears of ‘domination’ by the
Deutschmark. Yet they were never bothered by the domination of the
the interests of working people with defence of ‘British sovereignty’
confuses the real issues at the heart of the debate over the EU. The
interests of working people are international or they are nothing. This
is even more so today where the globalisation of the money markets and
the power of the Trans-National Corporations limit the ability of any
government to control a national economy. There are no national
solutions to these problems. That is why it is necessary to
endeavour to build a Europe-wide opposition to the ‘free market’ EU on
the basis of the social and political interests of European and other
workers as a whole. This can only be done through an internationalist
opposition to the EU as currently constituted. If the ‘global market’
and the Trans-National Corporations are to be challenged it will not be
done on the national terrain, but through the combined efforts of
workers across the globe who break with the so-called ‘national
interest’ which binds them to ‘their own’ rulers.
At the RMT AGM, Jimmy
Knapp said that we could only influence the direction of the EU from
inside. But the question is, in what direction do the labour and trade
union leaders want to influence it. The majority of them accept the
basis on which the Single Market was set up: to compete in the dog eat
dog ‘global market’. Instead of approaching the question from the
standpoint of the interests of the working class, the oppressed, the
impoverished (not to mention the starving) on the international level,
they tie the interests of workers to the coat-tails of their exploiters
and ‘success’ of ‘our’ capital. These leaders have yet to challenge the
monetarist basis of Maastricht and they appear to accept that global
competition in its most modern form is a fine thing!
So far as
this writer is concerned ‘influencing the direction of the EU from
inside’ can only have any socialist content if it means challenging its
free market basis, the monetarist basis of Maastricht and opposing such
a monetary union.
should not be based on British withdrawal because it is necessary to
unite with other European workers in challenging the
capitalist foundations of the EU; challenging the
anti-democratic nature of the EU institutions and building a united
front to fight for the interests of working people against the efforts
of the employers in all the countries to make us pay the cost of the
increasingly cut-throat international competition which has destroyed
millions of jobs.
would isolate Britain and its labour movement. As we have indicated
earlier the application of a socialist policy would inevitably lead the
employers and their governments in Europe (and the US, of course) to
seek to isolate and destroy such a government. To apply a socialist
policy would ubdoubtedly bring us into conflict with the EU institutions
and the political basis on which they are founded. It would be necessary
to prepare for such an eventuality by building practical links across
Europe, with those forces who understand the anti-democratic and
pro-capital basis of the EU.
seek to build a European movement of trades unions and political
organisations which would:
‘free market’ basis of the EU.
monetarist basis of the Maastricht Treaty.
undemocratic domination of the European Commissions and the Council of
legislative powers for the European Parliament.
political rights for all immigrants and the pulling down of the walls of
single currency controlled by unelected bankers.
campaign for a
job creation program and the introduction of a 35 hour week.
privatisation of the railways and public utilities.
9. seek international collaboration
between trades unions and political organisations to tackle the
domination of the ‘Third World’ countries by the TNCs, the IMF and World
10. support the demand of workers in
‘Third World’ countries for the cancellation of the debt.
On such a basis working
class organisations would begin to counterpose their own solutions in
contrast with the ‘free market’ policy of the EU. Jobs cannot be
defended nor new ones created without a fundamental break from ‘social
partnership’ and ‘global competition’.