As UKIP’s popularity continues to rise, we asked Nick Evans and Hanif to discuss what arguments socialists should be making in the run up to the European elections this month. Continue the discussion in the comments section. If you’d like to write a longer piece on the debate, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
NO BORDERS, NO EU
As internationalists we should argue for an end to border controls. This means we must oppose the racism of UKIP, but also argue for the dismantling of ‘fortress Europe’ as a whole. The left needs to confront the way the EU’s structures have been used to drive through neoliberal austerity regimes in its core and periphery. But this is made harder by the politics of immigration, caught between the cynicism of Europe’s neoliberal elites and the rise of far-right nationalism. We need to argue for an alternative.
In Britain, the discussions leading up to the European parliamentary elections are dominated by UKIP. The multimillionaire Paul Sykes has funded its racist posters about the threat to British jobs from migrant workers from other EU member states: it is good to see this challenged, from Plymouth to Newcastle. There can be no question of socialists supporting anything that would make it impossible for Polish, Romanian or any other workers to migrate to and remain in the UK. But we can’t ignore the wider context of European migration policy, with its elaborate architecture of security forces, detention centres, naval patrols, courts and surveillance technologies.
NO FRIEND TO WORKERS
During the European parliamentary elections, protesters will be marching from Strasbourg to Brussels in demonstration against ‘fortress Europe’. Those killed trying to enter the Spanish outpost of Ceuta this February, or trying to reach the Italian island of Lampedusa last October are among tens of thousands of migrants who have died trying to enter the EU since 1993. The UK government has been an active participant in the creation of the EU’s militarised frontier system. Although the UK is outside the Schengen area, in 1999 Jack Straw did sign up to the sections of the agreement relating to policing of borders and information-sharing on migrants, and talked about using the EU as a curb on the ‘over-liberal approach’ to asylum cases of British judges. The EU is no friend to migrants.
The EU is also no friend to its own workers, especially in its periphery. Its technocratic institutions have been designed from their inception to be unaccountable to the working classes of Europe. These institutions have been tools for the implementation of neoliberal policies across the continent in a way that systematically reproduces inequalities between its core and its peripheries. The euro in particular has entrenched the dominance of German capital, while wages for German workers remain stagnant. But even outside the Eurozone, regulatory ‘harmonisation’ programmes have been used to drive through neoliberal reforms in countries such as Sweden where social democracy was once strong.
The EU bears huge responsibility for the social crisis unfolding in countries such as Spain and Greece, forcing its workers to pay with their jobs, wages and public services for a crisis partly of its making. It has relied upon these same states to police its southern borders, creating the culture of state violence against migrants that has helped to foster the rise of Nazi parties such as Golden Dawn. A similar role played for the EU by the security services of neighbouring states such as Ukraine has contributed to rise of the far-right there. Now the crisis is feeding their rise still further.
WE NEED AN ALTERNATIVE
The people of Europe’s peripheries desperately need a way out of the spiral of EU-imposed austerity and far-right insurgence. The reluctance on many on the European left to challenge the EU itself has made it harder to create a serious alternative to the neoliberals or the fascists. But last year, one of the euro’s ‘architects’, Oskar Lafontaine, called for it to be scrapped. Costas Lapavistas and Heiner Flassbeck wrote in The Guardian calling on the British left to join with others across Europe in working to put forward ‘a coherent leftwing critique of the monetary union as well of the EU’. We should echo that call, and work to ensure that anti-racism is at the heart of that critique.
NO TO EU: THE WRONG SLOGAN FOR THE LEFT
As we approach the European elections, it is clear that the results will be seen as an indication of the outcome of an in/out referendum that may take place in the future. While socialists should have no illusions in the EU, setting up a left-wing ‘no to the EU’ campaign during the referendum would serve little purpose. This article sets out the arguments against both the left liberal notions of a progressive EU, and against a strategy that would join in with the chorus of ‘EXIT!’
NOT A PROGRESSIVE BULWARK
There are three EU membership narratives that feature in the media. The right wing narrative uses xenophobia and calls for a swift exit; the neoliberal argument promotes the EU as a protector of British capital, and the left-liberal position paints the EU as a bulwark of progress, against reactionary Tory governments.
As socialists, the first two positions need no rebutting. In terms of seeing the EU as a progressive counterweight to the British establishment, it’s easy to see why some on the left come to this conclusion. The EU has often been quicker to move on Green initiatives while British tabloids pander to climate change denial. The freer movement of EU citizens appears as a nod towards open borders, in defiance of the hardline eurosceptics.
However this view is superficial. It ignores the walls that the EU has thrown up between itself and non-EU migrants, as well as austerity is has forced upon its own citizens. Can anyone really say that EU financial diktats handed down to Athens has helped ordinary people in Greece? Has EU membership stopped the UK from introducing draconian laws that curtail civil liberties? Did the EU stop Italy introducing finger printing for Roma people? The EU is no friend of the European working class.
So what should our strategy be in a referendum?
ORGANISE AROUND THE ISSUES NOT A NO VOTE
We must accept that the activist base that can organise around a left wing No campaign is tiny, and that that particular narrative is not represented in the media. This is somewhat unlike when French voters rejected a neoliberal treaty to create an EU constitution in 2005. In the 2002 Presidential election, revolutionary socialist candidates polled 2 million votes.
Whilst being small should never preclude agitating around principles, it does have an affect on how we agitate. A No campaign based around a few tiny left groupings with very limited trade union support will have little impact. Is our time best spent trying to persuade people to vote to leave? Or is it better spent challenging racist myths and exposing UKIP’s anti-worker policies?
The TUC has organised the Stand up to UKIP campaign and there are already a number of anti-racist and migrant-rights groups. Engaging these forces in a grassroots issues-based campaign would be easier and more productive than organising around a ‘vote no’ campaign.
We must also face the facts that this referendum will be seen as a referendum on UKIP’s politics. UKIP is dominating the debate, from news coverage, to poster campaigns, to televised debates. At best the Tories and Labour leadership will court the anti-immigrant vote, as we know they are willing to do. We cannot abandon our principles and fail to make the left-wing case against the EU, but neither should we join in with the screams of ‘EXIT’! The bigger the vote to leave, the more of a victory this will be seen for UKIP, and the bigger the chance of a Tory or Labour government further restricting the free movement of people from other EU states and attacking international students.
Whether we wake up after the referendum in or out of the EU the fight of socialists will be fundamentally unchanged. We will be fighting attacks on working conditions be it from Boris Johnson or an EU directive. We will be challenging immigration controls, whether against international students or African migrants. The question is how to build a side against the xenophobic hysteria that will dominate the referendum campaign. We do that by focussing on challenging migration myths and exposing UKIP, even if it means working alongside people voting to stay in the EU.
No to the EU should be our principle. No to Xenophobia and Stand up to UKIP should be our slogans.