revolutionary reflections | For Another Europe (Part 2) The European Social Model (ESM), Social Partnership and the ETUC

With Brexit the EU has never been a more controversial and critical issue for left political strategy. In the second of a two part piece Ray M. looks at the incorporation of the leadership of the labour movement within the EU project and draws conclusions for left strategy.

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In part 2 we will move on to explore some of the important issues that Carchedi has raised. The final chapter of ‘Another Europe is Possible’ is devoted to EU Social Policy, however, there is no significant discussion about the role of the ESM as part of the hegemonic project of EU integration and the role of the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC), is barely mentioned. The lack of discussion in this area means the reader has to go elsewhere or work out for themselves what, if any, impact the labour movement has had in response to or in shaping European integration. This requires a further look at the EU’s imperial role and the important issues of racism and freedom of movement.

The European Social Model (ESM) and Hegemony

European Integration is a hegemonic project. To achieve its aims it must create a hegemonic bloc that commands sufficient support to maintain an integration process.

For any hegemonic bloc to be successful, it must have class and social compromise built into its fabric. It must be able to accommodate critical and potentially opposing forces by giving them a shared vision with which they can identify. For example, many trade unions have supported European integration but never unconditionally. While aware of the negative consequences of the Maastricht criteria and stability and growth pacts, they have continued to support it. European politicians have frequently invoked the ESM which is associated with social progress and high labour standards by trade unions as part of a strategy for maintaining support for a predominantly neoliberal integration program. These references to the ESM have been important in winning the continued support of trade unions and in pacifying left wing opposition to the EU integration process. The fact that the ESM is so ill defined has made this task so much easier.

For example, Tony Blair made a speech during his presidency of the EU in 2005, where he asked what kind of social model led to 20 million unemployed in Europe; productivity rates that were falling behind the US and fewer graduates being produced in Europe than India. He outlined his vision of the social model, one which should enhance the ability of Europe to compete and help people cope with globalisation. This contribution symbolised the essence of social neoliberal thinking that increasingly dominated social democratic thinking in Europe.

According to this strand of social democracy, the social model exists not as the ETUC would have it, to improve living and working conditions, end inequality, guarantee fundamental social rights and decent minimum standards to labour, but to make Europe more competitive and help workers cope with globalisation.

The ESM shifted from symbolising an alternative to the unregulated market towards legitimising further EU integration on increasingly neoliberal terms. In this sense the effectiveness of the ESM has been less as a genuine social project to benefit labour and more as the ideological cement to help European capital achieve hegemony for the EU integration project.[1]

In 1994 the European Commission published a paper on social policy. The Commission talked about ‘shared values’ which included democracy, individual rights, free collective bargaining, the market economy, equality of opportunity for all and social welfare and solidarity. This stood in stark contrast to the cuts in social benefit policies demanded from Maastricht deficits.

The adoption of the Lisbon Agenda in 2000 came with a familiar pattern of repeated references to ‘social cohesion’ this time using the ESM to justify radical restructuring of existing European welfare systems. Using the language of social neoliberalism, the European Commission argued that the forces of globalisation meant that Europe had to be more competitive. The argument continued that to protect future generations we had to reform pensions and welfare systems or they would simply collapse. Reform of the labour market also became a priority. Increased flexibility became seen as essential to improving competitiveness. Higher levels of equality would be sacrificed for greater levels of employment. The Southern European model which delivered greater equality was deemed unsustainable and the focus of the EU would be on driving up the ‘labour utilisation rate’. This has meant that the issue of equal opportunities for women became reduced to female employment rates with the unequal distribution of paid and unpaid work and other forms of discrimination no longer being an issue of concern. Employment legislation, collective agreements on wages, hours worked and conditions in the workplace to protect workers from increasing commodification and the instabilities of the market were seen as barriers to increased competition.

It is also notable that failure to meet social targets was never threatened with sanctions in the way that failure to meet convergence criteria was. However, in this period prior to Masstricht, there was at least a debate about defining the terms of the social model. Today, the social neoliberal view of the social model is the one that predominates in the EU institutions.

The European elites have for a number of years been saying that citizens can no longer rely upon the state to compensate them for the disruptions caused by an increasingly volatile market economy. However, for any hegemonic project to be successful, it must be built with a greater degree of consent than coercion. This balance has been shifting in recent years as the EU’s economic prescriptions reflect those that predominate in the latest phase of neoliberalism, where austerity measures increasingly resemble punishments to the most vulnerable on the receiving end or ‘fiscal waterboarding’ when implemented on nation states by the EU institutions. As the practitioners of neoliberalism seem less concerned about maintaining popular support for these measures, it appears as though the EU is moving towards a new phase.[2] In this situation it is worth looking at how supporters of the EU increasingly rely upon an ideological framework to try to maintain continued support for the institutions and continued expansion and integration.


Europeanism is the notion that Europeans share common interests which transcend national or state identity. This ideology is supportive of further integration of the European Union. In transcending national identities, it attempts to develop a single European identity. This identity translates into widespread references to ‘European values’, ‘European culture’, to the idea of a ‘European way of life’ or the notion of a specific form of ‘European solidarity’.

As popular hostility towards the EU grew, a key strategy deployed by the EU’s architects has been to emphasise the ‘social values’ of the ESM. This has been used to great effect to maintain the support of European trade union leaders for the EU project. On the left many also promote the EU as offering a cosmopolitanism that transcends national boundaries.

In the UK, no group propagated better the mythology of Europeanism than New Labour. They presented Europe and its history as being characterised by the enlightenment, liberty and social justice. In its modern form the cosmopolitanism and ‘social values’ are promoted through the EU which becomes both the logical and desirable expression of these values. This narrative attempts to identify these common historical and cultural values as the core of the ideology of Europeanism.

The impact of this ideology becomes particularly clear when assessing the forms of marginalisation it produces. The official narratives of Europe have been based on a notion of Europeanism which is premised on the idea of a distinct and recognisable European culture that is used to separate Europeans from non-Europeans. This ‘progressive cosmopolitanism’, is inclusive for some and exclusive for others, in particular Islam. Europe’s long history of militarism and colonial violence was where the European identity was first formed. In its confrontation with non-Christian societies, Europe sought to construct a hegemonic identity as one ‘representing freedom, progress, civilisation, and Christian Humanism’.[3] This ideology was first used to justify European imperialism. Racism is not incidental to Europeanism but has been a central feature in its foundation as an ideology.

New Labour’s support for Europeanism, gave it a bridgehead into the trade union and wider labour movement. The ideology of Europeanism became rapidly influential amongst the leadership with the vacuum created by the absence of utopian or emancipatory politics. The influence of Europeanism in the movement can be attributed to the TUC’s support for the ESM, the residual influence of New Labour, the absence of a radical left narrative and any significant level of struggle for which leaders of the labour movement must take a large degree of responsibility.

The European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC)

Europe’s trade unions came together to form the ETUC, to allow European workers to speak with a single voice and exert more influence in the decision-making processes of the EU. Today ETUC membership comprises 89 National Trade Union Confederations from a total of 39 European countries, and 10 European industry federations, covering some 45 million individual trade unionists. The ETUC’s main objective is to raise demands for a Social Europe. Their home page states:

The ETUC aims to ensure that the EU is not just a single market for goods and services, but is also a Social Europe, where improving the wellbeing of workers and their families is an equally important priority. The ETUC believes that this social dimension, incorporating the principles of democracy, social justice and human rights, should be an example to inspire other countries.[4]

The ETUC is one of the most enthusiastic supporters of European integration. It is also one of the most reliable partners of the Commission. One of the reasons for the ETUC’s close affinity to the Commission is the significant levels of subsidies the ETUC receives from the Commission.[5] Another is its raison d’être as a ‘social partner’ within the EU. The other less commonly discussed reason is ideological, that is the commitment to Europeanism. As mentioned earlier, the idea of the ‘Social Europe’ is related to the ideology of Europeanism. It embodies notions of progress, equity and a cosmopolitan internationalism alongside the pragmatic need to feel responsible for the regulation of the growing European economy. Trade union leaders conceptions of a Social Europe also tend to be defensive rather than offensive which undermines any possibility of the Social Europe becoming a vehicle for a radical or emancipatory agenda.

Social dialogue has resulted in European framework agreements; on parental leave, flexibility in working-time and fixed term contracts, work-related stress, harassment and violence at work amongst others. The symbolic value of these agreements is high, however, the benefits for workers are limited due to most of these issues already being subject to statutory regulation in most member states. Agreement between European ‘social partners’ has tended to focus on issues where there is already common ground. Therefore, each agreement reached between the ‘social partners’ has been in areas where there is no fundamental disagreement. In essence, capital is happy to reach agreement on a social agenda when both sides interests coincide or where social concerns do not interfere with the interests of capital. The social dialogue has proved less effective as a means of handling more contentious matters.

The most widespread argument in favour of social partnership within the labour movement is that it reduces conflict and brings economic benefits for all ‘social partners’; while the most common against are that it is undemocratic and unrepresentative. While true, this critique goes deeper, to demonstrate that the social partnership relationship is corrosive and threatens the continued existence of effective, independent trade unions, making it a key strategy for capital.

Leading members of the European labour movement have supported the ideas and practices of social partnership for some time. From the outset of European convergence, there has been a clear strategy from capital to co-opt trade union leaders who were appointed members of the ECSC High Authority in 1951. This meant that as time passed, union bureaucracies became increasingly dependent for their survival on institutionalised internal routines and formalised external relationships with employers and governmental institutions. This has resulted in a state of ‘industrial legality’ which has brought organisational and material advantages at the expense of maintaining a relationship with the base of the workers. The terms of such engagement with the EU has led to the abandonment of a confrontational agenda at the European level. The process has diminished the spontaneity of unions and encouraged the development of the Unions’ bureaucratic tendencies. The European Commission has systematically cultivated these developments with little apparent opposition from within the labour movement.

Social partnership makes the assumption that the ‘social partners’ share the same interests and that there is no conflict. The ‘shared interest’ in the social partnership begins with the acceptance of the market and capitals rationale. It abandons the autonomy of the labour movement and confirms the logic of neoliberalism through ‘progressive competition’. Social partnership also denies the existence of conflict, which has the effect of undermining labour due to the perception that the avoidance of conflict is beneficial to workers and employers alike. However, conflict is vital for renewal in the labour movement and for the assertion of workers power.

Rejecting conflict and seeking consensual relations with management also comes with the acceptance of competition as a shared goal. First, competition has an asymmetric class impact. When inefficient companies lose out to more effective competitors, the employers as a class emerge stronger as market priorities dictate the terms of survival – often at the expense of workers. We have seen this on a global scale where the market increases inequality between advanced and developing capital. For workers, competition undermines our most vital assets – collectivity and solidarity – leaving the working class weaker. Second, the emphasis on competition puts employers’ concerns ahead of those of workers making it more difficult to develop an independent strategy for labour. Finally, increasing competitiveness typically leads to measures that undermine labour legislation, wages levels and social rights. Many union leaders have internalised being competitive as one of their goals, rather than seeing it as a constraint that undermines the development of effective workers’ organisation. Many union leaders believe a more consensual approach is responsible for delivering ‘mutual benefits’ for both sides as we see with the outlook of the ETUC.

In 2015 the ETUC made the bold claim that ‘The European social model – until the onset of the crisis – helped Europe to become a prosperous, competitive region with high living standards.’[6] Putting aside the fact that this statement is untrue for most European workers, for the leadership of the European labour movement to celebrate their role in making Europe competitive begs the question – competitive with whom? In any competition there are always winners and losers. The market is responsible for the growing inequality between advanced and developing countries and it is clear who loses in this competition. However, the statement also assumes that European workers have been beneficiaries of the social partnership when in fact growing unemployment, underemployment and rising inequality was a feature of development within the EU prior to the ‘onset of the crisis’. The Committee on Employment and Social Affairs (EMPL) is a committee of the European Parliament. They have found that:

The low growth performance in the European Union (EU) over the recent decades has increased concerns regarding an increasing wage dispersion, income inequality at large, and social exclusion. Using different indicators, there is clear evidence that income inequality has increased markedly since the mid-1980s, and the Euro area debt crisis together with fiscal consolidation programmes adopted by several EU countries could worsen the situation in the short and medium run.[7]

The European Courts and austerity

In recent years, Berlin’s goal has been to shift budgetary powers, normally reserved for parliaments, into the hands of judges.[9] The preferred mechanisms are treaty changes at the supranational level forcing member states to adhere to strict fiscal discipline, with sanctions automatically applied if the framework is violated.  Some recent examples show the direction of travel with directives and judgements from the EU and their impact on labour. In December 2007, the European Court of Justice (ECJ), issued two decisions – Viking and Laval, on the extent to which EU internal market law may impose restrictions on collective action by trade unions.

An early example of these principles being applied by employers was provided at British Airways. The British Airlines Pilots’ Association (BALPA) had intended to take industrial action in spring 2008 in order to object to British Airways’ plans to open a separate entity (OpenSkies). This company would be based in other EU member states, flying routes to the USA with BA airplanes, but its pilots would not enjoy the same terms and conditions as BA pilots. BA threatened legal proceedings if BALPA proceeded with the industrial action, citing principles established in the Viking case. BALPA subsequently suspended the industrial action after 3 days for fear that it might be unlawful, with the risk that the union would be liable for all the losses suffered by the employer as a result of the dispute.[10] The ECJ ruling concluded that trade unions or collective bargaining may not in principle hinder the exercise of market freedoms protected in the treaties. This and later judgments have effectively made collective bargaining an illegitimate obstacle to the unhindered functioning of the single market.

A further attempt at undermining labour came with the ‘Bolkestein Directive’ which is an EU law that aims to establish a single market for services within the European Union (EU). According to the Commission:

the objective of the Services Directive is to realise the full potential of services markets in Europe by removing legal and administrative barriers to trade….The Directive was adopted in 2006 and implemented by all EU countries in 2009. The European Commission is now working with EU countries to further improve the Single Market for services.[11]

The first draft of the Directive sought to remove obstacles to free competition in the service sector across the EU. It would have allowed employees from a member state where wages were low to be employed in another at the same rate, simultaneously undermining whatever social legislation was in place and pitting workers against each other. The ‘country of origin’ principle in the Directive would give employers the legal right to import inferior terms and conditions with the free movement of migrant labour from poorer countries with weaker labour legislation. The Directive would lead to competition between workers in different parts of Europe resulting in what has been unfortunately termed ‘social dumping’ leading to hostility to migrant workers by creating the view that they are to blame for undermining indigenous workers’ rights. It is worth noting that the UK Labour government, with Tony Blair as chair of the EU presidency, supported the unamended draft which included the ‘country of origin’ principle.

The Directive provoked opposition across the European labour movement leading to mass protests in various EU countries, including France, Belgium, Sweden and Denmark. In March 2005 nearly 100,000 people marched in Brussels to protest. The 30,000-strong CGT contingent left no doubt that it was implacably opposed to the neoliberal constitution, in marked contrast to the attitude of the ETUC’s own general secretary, John Monks. During final negotiations in February 2006, MEPs finally voted to accept a revised version from the Commission. One of the decisive factors in helping bury the more contentious sections of the directive was the French left’s successful campaign for a ‘no’ vote in the EU constitution referendum in May 2005. The radical left linked the Constitution to the proposed Bolkestein Directive, which was widely opposed in France. Jim Wolfreys describes the scale of the left mobilization:

The unity forged among activists from the various currents of the left was crucial in building the movement for a No vote. Activist networks from previous strikes and protests were reactivated and plugged into the existing networks of the parties and associations participating in the campaign – Attac, the Ligue Communiste Révolutionnaire (LCR), the Green and Socialist left, the trade union movement, the Communist Party (PCF), and the myriad grassroots groups of the so called ‘social movement’…During the fortnight that preceded the poll some of the biggest rallies held on the left for a generation were organised by the No campaign. Over 5,000 people met in Toulouse, 1,200 in Dijon, 3,000 in Rouen, 5,000 in Martigues and 15,000 in Paris.[12]

This setback for the Commission transformed the political landscape in France and focused the minds of MEP’s from all sides in both France and Germany. As the debate began on 14th February 2006 about 50,000 trade unionists demonstrated against the ‘country of origin principle’ in Strasbourg. The majority of members of the two largest groupings in the Parliament, the conservative European People’s Party (EPP) and the centre-left Party of European Socialists (PES) voted in favour of the revised draft.

On the day of the vote, 16th February the ETUC press release claimed a ‘major victory for European workers’[13] against the Bolkstein Directive, where John Monks celebrated the MEPs who ‘have succeeded in finding a compromise that allows for the opening up of the services market, while at the same time safeguarding the European Social Model.’ Unsurprisingly, there was no reference to the social forces way beyond the control of the ETUC that had been responsible for forcing the Commission to remove the ‘country of origin principle’. Today, the Directive could still have a negative impact on labour. The original ‘country of origin principle’ was replaced with the much more ambiguous freedom to provide services principle, which leaves considerable room for interpretation by the ECJ.[14]

A further, more recent example is provided with the ‘Fiscal Compact’ of 2012 which is an extension to the ‘Growth and Stability pact’ of 1997. It is a regime of permanent fiscal surveillance. The preamble states that all signatory governments must include in their legislation a ‘balanced budget rule and an automatic mechanism to take corrective action’. With this legislation, the EU has effectively outlawed Keynesianism and made neoliberal economic policy binding on member states with the ECJ given the central role of ensuring that countries adhere to the rules.[15] This focus on legality provides a seemingly non-political and non-national rationalisation for Berlin’s preferred policies. ECJ judgments were generally favourable to workers’ rights in the 1970’s; however, these examples show how the ECJ is now used to enforce market discipline over the labour movement and national governments regardless of the social consequences.

The ETUC’s attempts at engaging capital as a ‘social partner’ have been relatively successful in areas where there is little opposition from capital, however, where the EU has decided to give capital more freedom and the impact has been to level down wages and conditions or undermine workers right to strike then the ETUC has been extremely poor.

The huge symbolism that is attached to the positive but uncontroversial agreements that are achieved through ‘social dialogue’ ensure that the ETUC appears on its own terms to be quite successful. The ‘social partnership’ relationship and ‘social dialogue’ are more important to the ETUC functionaries than the actual outcomes for workers who are on the receiving ends of the agreements, judgements and directives. This strategy can disorganise the workers movement and demobilise resistance against capital as judgements and directives are interpreted in an increasingly hostile manner against labour.

Having internalised ‘competition’ as a shared goal, along with the social neoliberal interpretation of the ESM and the values of Europeanism, the ETUC has provided much of the political cover for the continued support of the labour movement for the neoliberal integration process. In this process any notion of a genuine ESM has been lost. The ETUC hailed the Lisbon treaty, which was signed in 2007 as a ‘balanced and integrated approach between economic, social and environmental policies’. At the last ETUC congress in Paris in 2015 they adopted a manifesto that rejected austerity and laid out demands for enhanced trade union rights, improved social dialogue, and ‘fair globalisation’. Despite the delusional reference to ‘fair globalisation’ the horizons of the ETUC bureaucracy have become more limited. However, the real problem is that there has been no attempt to assess past failures or to articulate strategies that may realise these somewhat more limited aims. This is because the ETUC sits in a constitutional vacuum within the labour movement and it is accountable to no one except the European Commission who maintain its existence with generous subsidies.

There is no escaping from reality. The ETUC strategy has been a failure. Even in more prosperous times, social partnership led to growing inequality and greater social exclusion.

As European strike figures decline, social dialogue and partnership or ‘strategies of retreat’, as Kim Moody has called them, undermined the workers movement at a time when the movement possessed significantly greater fighting capacity.[16] How can continuing to adopt this strategy help rebuild workers organisation today? How can it help us deal with the growing offensive from capital? Surely a fixation with social partnership will only embolden employers as they introduce further measures to increase profitability? As capital pursues a more aggressive strategy that further undermines any genuine social agenda, the pursuit of ‘social dialogue’ within the social partnership disarms workers who want to resist the growing demands of capital.

The fact that the minimum standards and the EU social partnership are held up in Britain by the TUC as critical for defending workers against the employers says more about the structural location of the trade union bureaucracy, their notoriously poor vision and the lack of any organised opposition to the trade union leadership at the base of the movement. They see no alternatives to partnership and declared the proposed Social Chapter – ‘the only game in town’.

The TUC even invited a bemused Jacques Delors to their conference in 1988 where he was treated to a standing ovation and a rousing chorus of Frère Jacques.[17] The TUC ended up lauding one of the principle architects of market deregulation and labour flexibility as if he was our saviour because the EU had become for them a bastion against neoliberalism! Many on the left do not grasp the significance or symbolism of this event. Little wonder that there is so much confusion in the British labour movement and the wider left concerning the class nature of the EU and its role in undermining labour. When the official leadership are prepared to devote significant resources to campaign for continued membership of the EU as if it is the only way we can halt Tory attempts to undermine labour at home and then devote negligible effort and resources on mobilising workers to oppose the latest anti trade union bill we get a measure of the practical consequences behind the symbolism of the ‘Delors moment’.

Defining the terms of any social model needs to take place outside the structures of the EU, in the workplaces, streets and communities. The resistance to the Bolkestein Directive shows that it is possible to influence the Commission with direct action and a political campaign against the neoliberal direction of the EU. This example shows how workers will have to rely increasingly upon their own strength and national coordination independent from the ETUC to challenge the neoliberal policies that emanate from the EU. The agitation around the EU referendum in France and the huge demonstrations that coincided with votes on the Directive show how we ‘influence’ the Commission.

The Institutions

The relationship between the EU’s institutions and national governments are deliberately concealed, just as the relationships with the ECB and ERT are with the EU institutions.

The European Council, or European Summit, has no formal legislative power. It is a strategic body made up of heads of state that provides the union with general political direction and priorities. The European Commission is the most important body of the EU. It is completely unelected and members are nominated from member states. The Commission proposes all legislation, issues directives, decisions and resolutions, which are binding on all member states. Despite regular elections, the European parliament can only modify these proposals, and in contrast to national parliaments lacks a power to legislate.

The co-decision making process is at the heart of how the EU does business. What does this mean in practice?

Its objective, as the term suggests, is consensus – three-way agreement between the Commission, which alone can initiate European directives and regulations, the Parliament, which can amend them, and the Council, the inter-state body which has the ultimate power of decision. The Parliament thus has a choice between being consensual – offering acceptable amendments – or being ignored.[18]

The mechanisms of co-decision are managed by the leaders of the political groups. The two largest are the centre right European People’s Party and the centre left Socialists and Democrats. The scale of their joint majority ensures that whatever they can agree is automatically voted through. The group leaders and their staffs are the real centre of influence in the Parliament. This group brokers and negotiates all of the appointments to the two dozen committees that draft the amendments to the Commissions directives and are consequently the target of lobbying groups such as the ERT. Once the committees agree the wording of amendments they are submitted to the Commission. Co-decision enforces certain etiquette that ensures cooperation and avoids disagreement, resistance or conflict.

Most social democratic parties previously had a hostile or ambivalent approach to the EU. This partly stems from the fact that Christian Democratic politicians initiated EU integration. The positions of these parties changed over time with pro integration policies becoming the norm with Euroscepticism becoming a mainly right-wing phenomenon. This pattern is also true of those parties further to the left, where Communist and Green parties have moved from being hostile to the EU to taking positions that see the EU as a space for developing a strategy of reforms or alternative politics that take up the mantle of ‘another Europe is possible’ within the EU

When opposition parties such as the Greens or radical Socialists have been elected to the Parliament, they are offered lavish funds, offices and support staff to join the party-group system. Rebels are usually absorbed into the Parliamentary system, isolated from their base and depoliticised. Even where attempts are made to enact policy commitments from election manifestos the co-decision making process makes this impossible.

For a period in the 1990’s the centre left enjoyed a 60 seat majority and tried to mobilise the ‘progressive majority’ to support positive social measures and workers’ rights. In the prevailing anti-labour climate of the Maastricht convergence criteria they were unable to build a consensus with the Commission and Council and made no headway. They finally abandoned their social agendas and retreated showing the limits of a non-consensual strategy.

The Parliament’s function is mainly symbolic as more power is transferred from national parliaments to the increasingly powerful and unaccountable institutions of the EU. As pointed out earlier in part 1, the main problem is not with the lack of democracy of the institutions. From the outset, the institutions and trade agreements have all been developed primarily to serve the interests of large European corporations. The lack of democracy is hard wired into the EU to protect and conceal the overwhelming influence of capital. The EU is a set of institutions and relationships that are shaped by capital

The Single Currency, Trade, War and Imperialism

The common currency is a further attempt at securing privileged terms of trade with the political aim of using the Euro to challenge the Dollar as an alternative world currency. This strategy is the best possible explanation for the fact that the European policymakers are prepared to run the highly risky strategy of maintaining an economy of permanent underemployment, in order to attempt to supplant the dollar with the Euro, in regions of the world economy. This strategy leads its central bankers and politicians alike to develop and support ruinous monetary and social policies, which have left over 21 million or 8.6 percent of workers in the EU unemployed today. The unemployment rate for young workers is even more stark at 4.3 million or 18.8 in July 2016.[19]

For the Euro to be treated as a world currency and a rival to the dollar it is not enough to be the currency of a large trading bloc. It is necessary that the currency is backed with credible military strength that has the ability to impose the will of EU countries to protect investments and enforce the terms of trade agreements which already disadvantage developing countries. Clearly the EU can compete economically with the US but the same is not true with military competition. The US regularly uses its military power. The EU does not function as a united military state, although individual EU nation states are intervening militarily on a more frequent basis. Furthermore, it is conditional for EU membership that nation states are initially members of NATO, the military arm of western imperialism which is dominated by the US.

A good example of how both the EU and the US can use NATO to serve common economic and geopolitical interests was in the former Yugoslavia. NATO’s ‘humanitarian’ intervention in 1999, is better described as an aggression which was begun to ensure that the Balkans fell under the EU and US sphere of influence. The war was led by the US with German, French and British forces playing more junior roles. It was the weakness of the European labour movement that allowed the social democracies of the EU to play a role under the NATO umbrella in prosecuting this war for geopolitical and economic gain. The EU may be an imperial power, however it is second rate when compared with the US. Nevertheless, it was with social democratic leadership in the majority of the major member states, that the EU became a protagonist for imperial aggression in former Yugoslavia.[20]

In recent years Berlin has taken the leading role in the Ukrainian crisis as Paris and London have been sidelined. The German Chancellor has established herself as the principle co-ordinator of the West’s sanctions against Russia. In 2008, France and Germany called for Ukraine and Georgia’s entry into NATO to be delayed. Today, the German Chancellor takes a more aggressive stance towards Russia. Since Maastricht, the NATO-EU configuration has a built in expansionist logic to the member states with the most aggressive Eastern policies – Sweden, Poland and the Baltic states, who agitate for a greater build-up of forces on the Russian border.[21] France sought a closer European union to try and curtail the development of Germany as a powerful opponent within Europe. The EU is moving in a direction integration was designed to prevent.

The imperialism of the EU is bound up with the imperialism of the EU member states. Once imperialist relations have been established in the industrial sphere, with a colonial or dependent relation, all other relations can be seen in the same light. The unequal shares in value from trade between the EU and non EU countries is split up among the EU member states, with the bulk of the surplus typically going to the richer member states. The EU institutions set the legally binding rules, laws and agreements with developing countries that make these relations possible.

The African, Caribbean and Pacific countries (ACP) that were Europe’s former colonies and have reached some level of development with established trade relations have regressed. The share of imports to the EU from these ACP countries has been in decline, while other developing countries that were independent of the EU have performed more successfully. Furthermore, there is no evidence of how these dependent countries can break free from their reliance upon EU countries that import their main commodity, which, apart from people, are raw materials.

Value transfer in trade between technological leaders in advanced countries from technological laggards in developing countries, is a process Marxist economists describe as unequal exchange. One mechanism is the objective appreciation of the currency of the former countries and the depreciation of the currencies in the latter countries. This process increases the capital accumulation of the technological leaders against those countries trying to catch up. There are further examples of the institutionalised appropriation of international value from developing nations to EU member states as we saw in part one with the Common Agricultural Policy. The Schengen system, which is used to police migrant labour at the EU’s borders is dealt with later, but it is also used to regulate the reproduction of EU labour power according to the needs of EU capital with the controlled migration of skilled workers from developing countries to EU member states.

Free movement

One of the conditions of membership of the European Single market for member states is the free movement of EU nationals throughout EU countries. The effect of this cooperation has been contradictory.   While significantly improving the lives of ordinary people in Europe, who are now free to live, work and travel across the continent, capital uses free movement to deal with labour shortages and put pressure on rising wages.

Moreover, citizenship of the Union is dependent upon holding a member state nationality. It gives EU nationals’ rights such as the right to vote in European elections, the right to free movement, settlement and employment across the EU. It makes securing these limited rights dependent upon national legislations, which tend to be aimed at excluding immigrants from nationality. Exclusion from labour organisations, civil and political rights drive foreign workers into illegality. This makes them easy prey for unscrupulous employers who can use them to blackmail and weaken the negotiating power of established workers.

Millions of legally resident citizens from developing countries live and work in the EU, not to mention the significant numbers of illegal immigrants who try to also find work and shelter. The racist Schengen system and the even more regressive Dublin convention on asylum applications has resulted in a fortress Europe that in recent months has led to thousands of migrants and refugees drowning in the Aegean and Mediterranean Sea.

Schengen unleashed a vast surveillance system to track, monitor and control those deemed ‘illegal’, which included the creation of a Europe-wide database, the Schengen Information System. Meanwhile, the Dublin Agreements have introduced a central register of fingerprints of all who claim asylum at the borders of member states which has since been updated into a vast biometric database. The Dublin regulations force migrants to apply for asylum in the first member state they arrive in. However, many will try and evade the authorities as they try and reach the country of their choice. States use detention to enforce the transfers of asylum seekers from the state where they apply to the state deemed responsible.

It is almost impossible to prove which countries an asylum seeker has passed through on the way to the UK or any other EU member state. This leaves asylum seekers in a ‘no-man’s land’ while member states wrangle over who is responsible for the application. These people have become known as Dublin transfers leading to the separation of families and the denial of an effective mechanism to appeal against transfers. The Dublin convention also allows member states to apply their own national laws. This can mean that one member state may return an asylum seeker to a member state and then to a country outside of the EU that is not considered ‘safe’. This way, asylum seekers can be returned to the countries they are fleeing from and to even greater danger.

The enforcement of the Dublin Agreement has played a major role in the prolongation of the Mediterranean crisis as it increases pressures on the external border regions of the EU, where the majority of asylum seekers enter the EU and where states are often least able to offer asylum seekers support and protection. For example, irregular migrants find themselves trapped by the Dublin Agreement in countries such as Malta or Greece, whose asylum procedures are notoriously poor. It is hardly surprising that many evade the authorities by going underground, while others resort to desperate measures, such as deliberately damaging their fingertips to avoid detection and their profiles being recorded in the growing European wide database.

Sometimes racist parties will try to blame EU and non EU migrants for lower wages, unemployment and poor services. Some have claimed there may be some short term ‘advantage’ for indigenous workers to be gained from expelling ‘foreign workers’. However, any jobs that are available for indigenous workers after the expulsion of migrant workers would simply lead to the redistribution of existing jobs to those who remain and not the creation of new jobs.

The notion that wages could rise for indigenous workers for a temporary period is false and even if this were true, lower wages and unemployment would return once market mechanisms ran their course. Once unemployment and low wages returned, there would be no ‘foreign workers’ left to blame. Labour’s fighting power would be greatly weakened since labour would have accepted capital’s view that unemployment and crises are caused by migrant labour leading to ‘too high a labour supply’, which resulted in lower wages. The crisis would be seen to be caused by labour rather than by capital.

In an attempt to counter support for forced repatriation, others have argued that immigration, by lowering wages, increases profitability, with a positive impact on growth. This is essentially the Blairite position in Britain and was apparent from the Blair government’s support for the ‘country of origin’ clause in the original Bolkestein Directive. For these people it is high wages, which are the cause of crises. Again it is not capital which generates crises but labour, with insufficient supply. Both accounts rest on different strands of orthodox economics and both are wrong. Crises and unemployment are not caused by either too high or too low wages.

An explanation of how wages are not the cause or remedy of economic crisis is important for helping us deal with arguments about ‘foreign labour’ being the source of unemployment or low wages. Those who accept orthodox economic ideology within the labour movement become paralysed and unable to develop a strategy from the perspective of labour.

Only by breaking from the straight jacket of economic orthodoxy is it possible to develop a consistent strategy that sees indigenous and migrant workers interests as being united against capital. Moral arguments, while welcome, are insufficient. We need to challenge the economically bankrupt and ideologically self-defeating arguments about migration within the workers movement to build a genuine internationalist opposition.

Recently, rank and file socialists in the British construction sector who opposed the racist ‘British Jobs for British workers’ slogan were involved in leading a strike at the Fawley refinery to fight and win equal pay for migrant workers. Notably it was Gordon Brown and British trade union leaders who enthusiastically adopted this disgusting slogan which if left unopposed would have let employers use migrant labour to drive down pay and conditions in the sector.[22] The Fawley victory is only the latest in a sector where rank and file construction workers have resisted these divisive tactics with internationalist solidarity.

The Schengen Agreement appears at odds with the thrust of EU trade policy which is to promote free movement within the EU. However, it is important to compare the internal policy with the external policy. The Schengen Agreement abolishes internal frontiers and displaces them to the external frontiers. Both the greater freedom of internal migration and the increasing restraints upon non-EU citizens from entering the EU are shaped by capital’s needs. For capital the labourer’s freedom of movement and residence needs to be regulated so that mobility remains functional to capital. The limited mobility permitted within the Schengen Area may resemble a progressive right to movement when exercised by privileged EU citizens. Yet freedom of movement within the Schengen area was designed to express capital’s need for cheap labour and the exploitative labour relation linking the more advanced Western and Northern European countries to the poorer Southern and Eastern countries. The hypocrisy of capital when it comes to free movement is apparent with the approach taken to workers from Southern Europe and those suffering from oppression within European countries.

As Europe’s racism primarily targets migrants entering the EU, it also identifies those who are indigenous Europeans that it deems to be inferior. The Roma, who have been victims of systematic persecution for decades and genocide under the Nazis have faced extreme forms of marginalisation in recent decades. In Central and Eastern Europe, the post-1989 transition has led to heightened racism, violence and pogroms against Roma communities. Many Roma people coming to Western Europe have suffered from sustained abuse, violence and expulsion, in spite of many of them being EU citizens.

European identity is therefore created both at its external and internal borders – in its regime of visa and residence permits, detention centres and discrimination towards migrants in member states, it also has a different set of criteria to measure EU citizens who originate from outside the more developed EU economies against the cultures and values of Europeanism.[23]

The EU has at best an inconsistent approach to European identity. The use of the derogatory acronym PIGS (Portugal, Italy, Greece and Spain) to refer to the Mediterranean countries of the EU is an example of the marginalisation of those from Southern Europe.

Europeanism can therefore never be the basis for the development of a genuine internationalism from below. It is a contradictory cosmopolitanism that is shaped and defined by the needs of European capital. It is capital that defines who is an illegal immigrant. This is not only those who have been criminalised, but also those immigrants who are now of no use to capital. So capital needs the free mobility of people as labour power but only as far as the movement of labour power across national borders is convenient for capital.

The ‘Social Europe’, which is the basis many on the left have for defending the EU, is inseparable from ‘Fortress Europe’. Richard Hyman points out that:

The origins of many national welfare systems in Europe were inseparable from the rise of militarism and imperialism (one need only think of such names as Bismarck and Chamberlain). Likewise, images of ‘social’ and of ‘Fortress’ Europe can readily overlap: the welfare of those within the boundaries being conditioned by the exclusion of alien outsiders.[24]

The ESM has long ago ceased to offer any significant material benefits to labour as the model is increasingly altered to suit the needs of capital. Its main purpose today is ideological and, as Hyman notes, is tied to the border regime that is responsible for excluding ‘outsiders’. The labour movement should demand full EU citizenship for all legal immigrants as well as quick and transparent procedures for the legalisation of illegal immigrants. Labour should demand the de-criminalisation of immigration and asylum, the dismantling of the Schengen and Dublin agreements and other repressive apparatus. An approach that unites fighting for equal access to social welfare for both EU and non EU migrants can take the issues of access to welfare and migration beyond the needs of capital and can begin to establish a strategy that begins with the needs of labour on an internationalist basis

Conclusion – Can we develop a credible left critique and alternative to the EU?

General comments

In the introduction the case was made for the need to develop a left critique of the EU to help us argue in the movements for a strategy that could take Britain’s exit from the EU in a different direction. One of the problems we face today is that we live in an increasingly complex and dangerous world. Capital develops structures and ideologies to hide the processes behind the extraction of surplus value. The EU is one of the most complex institutions we face and it has been deliberately constructed this way.

It was demonstrated part 1, that the EU with its subsidies, transfers of resources and privileged trading arrangements is not an example of equilibrium theory in practice, but is a carefully crafted set of institutions that have a calibrated relationship to the world market. This relationship allows it to redistribute value on favourable terms to its members while hiding its class content with political interventions and a set of constructed ideologies.

If the EU was a model in practice of equilibrium theory then it would drop its agricultural subsidies and open up its markets to developing economies on the same terms of trade. If it didn’t have imperial aspirations, it would drop its ruinous policies for workers. Once we understand the real mechanisms at work it becomes far easier to understand what the EU distributes – apart from misery – and that is plunder.

Few on the radical left would disagree with the analysis of the class content of the EU, however, for many years the role of the EU hasn’t been at the forefront of the British left’s agenda. This is partly because the negative impact of EU policies tended to apply in the main to underdeveloped countries outside the EU. However, it is also because many on the left see the EU as bulwark against the worst aspects of neoliberalism and Tory austerity that opposition to the EU is muted. A key aim of this piece has been to explain why such a view is mistaken.

Today, in the latest phase of neoliberalism, an increasing number of EU citizens are being subjected to harsher market measures. For example, many of the requirements imposed by the recent ‘Memoranda of Understanding’ for Greece and Ireland are being used to impose a wide range of liberalising ‘structural reforms’ that will weaken the labour movement, privatise public services, liberalise the professions and open public health care and education to commercial service providers. Earlier, reference was made to the Greek experience of ‘fiscal water boarding’. The Scottish socialist Cat Boyd famously abstained in the EU referendum. Speaking about her visit to Greece she remarked:

Almost everyone seemed to know a friend, relative or neighbour who had committed suicide, and some students spoke darkly about sitting on regular suicide watch for friends who had abandoned hope. Rates of depression had trebled, and the country’s mental health services were inundated. Those who still had hope often didn’t have jobs, and youth unemployment then sat at nearly 60 percent. If they had jobs, they often hadn’t been paid in months, and when they got paid they took pay cuts that started at 20 percent… Brussels used Greece’s bankruptcy to force the government to install a border regime that’s widely compared to the Nazi occupation. The EU has been forcing refugees into camps that Greece’s interior minister has called ‘a modern-day Dachau.’[25]

Of course the Greek example is extreme due to the scale of crisis the country faces, however, this social experiment is being attempted across much of southern Europe. Faced with this growing crisis, the radical left cannot abstain from taking a clear position on the impact of EU directives and policies.

Social partnership and reformism in the EU

Across Europe, the strongest support for European integration comes from professional, and business elites, including the leaderships of social-democratic, Christian-democratic parties and trade unions leaders. Since Delors, has been taken into the bosom of the TUC it’s been very difficult to develop an honest assessment of the EU within the labour movement.

We have seen how the ‘social partnership’ championed by the ETUC undermines those who want change from within the EU institutions. For labour this uneven playing field is compounded by the increased bureaucratisation and detachment of those who represent workers in Europe.

Strike figures are in decline across the continent[26] as protest against structural adjustment programs takes place in the street or workplaces that are directly affected. However, there has been no let-up in the offensive from European capital as wages stagnate and inequality continues to rise, as high unemployment, youth unemployment and underemployment become a ‘price worth paying’ for a competitive currency as far as capital is concerned.

Developing an independent vision for a genuine social Europe would mean challenging the growing tendency towards the bureaucratisation of trade unions embedded within the institutions, opposing the official ideology of Europeanism, ‘social dialogue’ and partnership. These ideas permeate the movement in Britain too. It is not that being in the EU is the sole reason for the ‘social partnership’, however, the European model is a major prop for union bureaucracies in Britain who advocate a less confrontational approach.

The corporate agenda sets the terms of any social dialogue, and has dangerous implications which affect many on the left. Having accepted capital’s rationality, labour movement leaders are another step closer to accepting the solutions capital advocates for the problems created by the market. On both the ‘leave’ and ‘remain’ sides some leading figures on the left have made unnecessary and damaging concessions to racism. These positions were common to both sides of the referendum campaign and come from various ideological sources – explicit racism, Europeanism or an acceptance of orthodox economics which all lead to bogus arguments about jobs. Within the labour movement we see leading figures fall for ideological positions that undermine labour. For example, Len McCluskey, Unite general secretary has repeated much of the mythology about the ESM in his support for a ‘remain’ position. However, in recent months he has also accommodated to the racist arguments that undermine free movement.[27] Alex Gordon, RMT President who was a leading figure on the ‘leave’ side has recently adopted the racist conclusions that freedom of movement is responsible for problems in the labour market.[28] Both McCluskey and Gordon find themselves capitulating in various degrees to racism as the influence of the ‘social partnership’ and straightjacket of economic orthodoxy restrains their political outlook. Partnership with employers is more appealing to many trade union leaders than a genuine solidarity with migrant workers fleeing persecution or simply seeking a better life for their families. Both Unite and the RMT are leading some of the most consistent resistance to the employers in Britain and many will challenge the view that they are going soft on the employers’ agenda. However, the alternative explanation that they are accommodating to the growing demands of the racist right is even less palatable. It is not for us to explain why these dangerous concessions have been made to racism. The point is to challenge the spread of racist ideas in the movement.

As many previously hostile left groups and parties have moved towards qualified support for the EU, both Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell have also abandoned their long standing opposition to the EU. This is despite there being no convincing strategy for reform. Earlier it was highlighted how in the 1990s, social democrats and Greens failed despite having a majority in the parliament to pass meaningful reforms. It is well understood that parliament puts huge pressure on the left to conform to the institutions they were initially sent to oppose or change. This experience shows the same processes at work in the European Parliament. However, the pressures to renege on policy commitments are far greater within the European Parliament where mechanisms for challenging the Commission do not exist and the opportunities for making MEP’s accountable to their base are not available.

Interventions made by social democracy in recent decades are in the main negative. With their social neoliberal outlook, party leaders and MEP’s working within the institutions have become useful tools in the pursuit of the EU’s market oriented and imperialist aims. At best, the left pro-EU parties have provided a left cover for compression,[29] growing inequality, social exclusion and the increasing involvement of EU member states in imperialist aggression. At worst they have been the most vocal supporters of these measures leading to a genuine crisis of representation for the oppressed and working people in many EU member states.

This is a central issue for labour, but it is also increasingly becoming so for the environmental movement too. In Britain, prominent environmentalists champion the EU in a similar way to the leadership of the labour movement. There’s no doubt that the EU has forced Britain, known as ‘the dirty man of Europe’ in the 1980s to make significant improvements in environmental legislation. However, just like health and safety or employment legislation, the bar is set very low in Britain. In the same way labour’s interests are managed within the ‘social partnership’, the influence of the ERT and business interests on the Commission ensures that environmental policy is determined within the remit of business needs. The EU goal that industry grows from the current 16 to 20% of GDP[30] comes with commitments to clean technologies which are similar to those made for improving ‘social policy’. They are set within the framework of the needs of capital and unlikely to merit serious consideration without significant social forces being brought to bear upon the Commission. Developing an effective challenge to runaway climate change will mean breaking from the suffocating structures and insufficient compromises of the EU

Free movement and racism

The EU operates in ways that implement racist measures against ‘outsiders’ and EU citizens who are deemed not to share ‘our values’. The European Commission recently struck an illegal deal with Turkey, which forced Greece to deport hundreds of thousands of refugees and Hungary is leading the way in building wire fences to keep out refugees in the name of upholding Christian values, while Romany people living there suffer some of the worst persecution in Europe.

The radical left can patiently explain the class interests that drive the EU and lift the veil that masks its actual role in society. Accepting that the free movement of labour is the problem in the single market or that the oppressed, and in particular Muslims, are to blame for undermining or attacking ‘European values’ will only play into the hands of the right. The struggle against racism has to be seen as a wider issue than just defending EU citizens in the UK. As well as defending the freedom of movement of EU citizens, the left should be aiming to support resistance to the increased measures to control EU borders that are leading to record deaths in the Aegean and Mediterranean seas?[31]

To effectively fight racism, we will have to challenge the racism of the EU as well as the racism of the British government. Cosmopolitan Europeanism, or the ‘class consciousness of frequent travellers’,[32] cannot be the basis for the development of a genuine internationalism from below. As we organise resistance to austerity, racism and imperialism, it undermines our ability to unite non EU and EU migrants with indigenous workers.

The radical left in Britain has to be prepared to take on difficult arguments and press for a genuine class based, internationalist position that sees the defence of all migrants as a central feature of its strategy. Defending and organising migrant labour in the UK is something that a number of unions are beginning to seriously address. In recent years we have seen grassroots movements against racist border controls develop alongside campaigns to oppose islamophobia and racism. Linking the strands of these initiatives could help us build an effective movement.

The EU crisis today

The EU’s growing centralisation and influence over national economies is building a culture of disenchantment with both the EU and the elites in Britain. The EU is facing a growing number of challenges and the right are currently the main beneficiaries in the absence of a coherent left alternative. In Italy the forthcoming referendum threatens to destabilise the government, the Austrian and French presidential elections are likely to also have an impact on the stability of the EU. There is no sign that these pressures will dissipate. What does the left have to say about this?

Many on the left supported a ‘No’ vote in a small ‘Lexit’ campaign seeing opposition to the EU as the overriding priority. Others campaigned for a ‘Yes’ vote seeing the question of resisting racism in Britain as being the key strategic issue. Others abstained, identifying problems with supporting both sides and taking a ‘plague on both your houses’ position.

Simply acknowledging but not dealing with these problems is not an option if we want to stop the right being the main beneficiaries of the growing crisis. If the left wants to co-ordinate and lead resistance to austerity and racism in Britain it cannot ignore the role of the EU and those who accept its ideologies. The consequences of such acceptance, is to leave unchallenged ideological positions which begin with an acceptance of orthodox economics and conclude with labour being the source of failures in the market. The radical left have the conceptual tools to effectively challenge these arguments and develop a coherent analysis that identifies capital as the problem. We also have good practical examples of where workers have opposed British employers attempting to exploit migrant labour using EU directives.

The experiences of construction rank and file militants opposing employers using migrant labour to break existing agreements provide lessons for us all. Starting at Lindsey in the summer of 2012 they rejected the divisive ‘British Jobs for British Workers’ slogan presented by the Unite bureaucracy. Then in Meadowhall near Sheffield in June 2013 where Unite produced a leaflet with xenophobic content the activists rejected this and produced their own internationalist leaflet. In Ferrybridge in West Yorkshire in October 2013 the rank and file once again rejected unsuitable leaflets from Unite and again produced their own internationalist material, while in Fawley on the South coast in August this year where they won an outstanding victory for both migrant and indigenous workers. These struggles show in practice how we build an effective cross-border response to the racist policies of the EU with militant and sometimes illegal tactics. But crucially, also how we oppose the British agency employers while challenging the British union leaders on the left of the movement who campaigned to ‘remain’ in the EU but who all too readily accommodate to racism when faced with employers using EU directives to exploit migrant labour and break union agreements.[33]

More widely, we have seen the anti-globalisation movement in the early years of this century, the European Social Forum, the anti-war movements, the mobilisations against the Bolkestein services directive, the EU Constitution referendums and more recently the anti-austerity movements that have grown across the continent. In Britain, our involvement against the impact of EU policies and directives has not been on the same scale as mainland Europe. The attraction of Europeanism is stronger here partly for this reason. The confusion is greater in Britain, where the bulk of the labour movement leadership describe the EU as ‘the only game in town’.

Supporters of the EU have fought hard to maintain its dominance as a hegemonic institution by drawing in many of the labour movement leadership to its hegemonic project. However, as the EU increasingly prevents the nation state from providing an adequate welfare state, positive employment legislation and compensation or protection from the increasingly disruptive dislocations of the market economy, it increasingly relies less on consent and more on coercion, which is undermining its ability to maintain hegemony. Developing a counter-hegemonic project will mean engaging with the ‘common sense’ of civil society in order to transform it rather than merely residing within its sway.[34]

On both sides of the EU debate, the radical left tend to be more preoccupied with discrediting each other’s arguments and avoiding the difficult job of confronting the myths accepted by supporters on both sides of this debate about the role of the nation state and the EU. Understanding and engaging with the ideas of those who either abstained, voted ‘leave’ or ‘remain’ will be central to developing an effective radical left strategy. How people voted in the EU referendum is not a precondition for organising against austerity and racism. However, if we begin with a class-based analysis, it is difficult to see how we cannot see opposition to the EU as a strategic priority from which tactical positions must flow.

As Corbyn and McDonnell attempt to develop a strategy for a ‘People’s Brexit’, the radical left will want to use the political space this provides to develop a genuine internationalist approach to resisting austerity and racism from both the Tories and the EU. We want to defend the free movement of EU and non-EU nationals from both the Tories racist policies and the internal border controls of the EU. This will mean rejecting the compromises from both Gordon and McCluskey where they both seem prepared to varying degrees to defend their corporatist interests at the expense of developing a strategy based upon the needs of labour. It is not a new situation for the radical left to be developing independent positions and fighting for them within the movement. Very few on the radical left attempted on both sides of the referendum debate to develop a genuine internationalist ‘bottom up’ strategy based principally upon the needs of labour. Of course this is difficult, but we have another opportunity to build a united left approach to developing a ‘People’s Brexit’. As we aim to build the widest possible unity against austerity and racism in all its forms, we also have an opportunity to rebuild a principled radical left.

Our rulers in both Britain and the EU are trying to develop a coherent approach to Brexit. Nothing is yet set in stone. The Tories have tried to characterise their current malaise as an example of ‘constructive ambiguity’.[35] They currently have no clear or agreed way forward and are clearly split suffering setbacks each week as they try to move forward on article 50.

Meanwhile, UKIP are trying to reconsolidate their support with Paul Nuttall’s recent leadership victory, Corbyn and McDonnell will come under increasing pressure to accommodate to ‘genuine concerns over migration’. The radical left cannot ignore the wider questions of the EU if we hope to build a coherent left alternative.

The British left have another opportunity to take advantage of the Tory’s EU crisis. But we will only be able to develop a coherent and effective opposition if we begin with a clear analysis of the class nature of the EU. Instead of sowing illusions in the EU as a defender of social policy, the environment and migrant workers, we can develop a vision for another Europe, one that transcends neoliberalism, Europeanism, racism and imperialism. The question for those on the radical left who still support the EU is – how do you pose a credible alternative to the right while defending Britain’s membership of the EU?


[1] Chrisstoph Hermann and Ines Hofbauer, ‘The European social model: Between competitive modernisation and neoliberal resistance’, Capital and Class 2007.

[2]William Davies, The New Neoliberalism NLR 101

[3] Gerard Delanty (1995), Inventing Europe: Idea, Identity, Reality, (Palgrave Macmillan, Basingstoke). For a general discussion of Europeanism as ideology, see Céline Cantat, ‘The ideology of Europeanism and Europe’s migrant other’, ISJ, 152.


[5] Hyman, Richard (2005) ‘Trade unions and the politics of the European social model. Economic and Industrial Democracy,’ 26 (1). pp. 9-40.



[8] Michel Husson “Le partage de la valeur ajoutée”, PowerPoint presentation, August 2009

[9] Gareth Dale and Nadine El-Enany, ‘The Limits of Social Europe: EU law and the Ordoliberal Agenda’, German Law Journal v14, 05, 2013.



[12] Jim Wolfreys, ‘How France’s referendum caught fire’, ISJ 107


[14] Mads Dagnis Jensen and Peter Nedergard, ‘From ‘Frankenstein’ to ‘toothless vampire’? Explaining the watering down of the Services Directive’, Journal of European Public Policy 2011.

[15] Gareth Dale & Nadine El-Enany, ‘The Limits of Social Europe: EU law and the Ordoliberal Agenda’, German Law Journal v14, 05, 2013.

[16] Kim Moody (2014), In Solidarity: Essays on Working-Class Organization and Strategy in the United States, (Haymarket, Chicago).

[17] Susan Watkins NLR 100

[18] Susan Watkins NLR 90


[20] See p.198, Guglielmo Carchedi (1991), For Another Europe.

[21] Susan Watkins NLR 90


[23] Haynes, Mike, 1999, “Setting the Limits to Europe as an ‘Imagined Community'”, in Gareth Dale and Mike Cole (eds), The European Union and Migrant Labour (Bloomsbury Academic).

[24] Hyman, Richard (2005) ‘Trade unions and the politics of the European social model. Economic and Industrial Democracy’, 26 (1). pp. 9-40.


[26] The Losing Battle, Jacobin, Christakis Georgiou






[32] Craig Calhoun, ‘The class consciousness of frequent travellers, Towards a critique of actually existing cosmopolitanism – Debating Cosmopolitics’

[33] Personal correspondence with Brian Parkin

[34] Stuart Hall (1988), The Hard Road to Renewal, (Verso, London).

[35] Constructive ambiguity’ is a term generally credited to Henry Kissinger. It refers to the deliberate use of ambiguous language on a sensitive issue in order to advance some political purpose.

Ray M is a Unite rep in the Aerospace and Shipbuilding sector. He is currently involved with other trade unionists in developing a class struggle approach to how we break the relationship organised labour has with nuclear power and nuclear weapons.


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