EU- Bad for Britain: a Trade Union view...................
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EU- Bad for Britain: a Trade Union view...................
25th April 2012
The EU: Bad for Britain - A Trade Union View [Paperback]
Britain is today, and has been for nearly a thousand years a sovereign country in the sense that the decisions that matter are taken here not abroad. Sovereignty in Britain belongs and throughout this time has belonged to the people who live in Britain. No foreign power has held sway here. This makes us different from the other EU countries, all of which have been occupied and run by foreign powers in the last two centuries: France, Belgium, Holland, Denmark, Greece, Austria, Sweden, Finland and Luxembourg by Nazi Germany, Italy, Germany, Spain and Portugal by Napoleonic France, Ireland by Britain.
Sovereignty has nothing to do with the ‘sovereign’ monarch. Ever since Magna Carta tamed King John and still more since Charles I’s execution in 1649, the monarch here has been head of state in name only (all head, no body) and a warning has been posted for any would-be tyrant. Sovereignty also has little to do with the attempts through parliamentary democracy to tailor rule by the people to other needs, but it has everything to do with the real democracy that we have where we live and work. From the village councils of the Middle Ages to modern trade unionism, invented by British workers and won against the employers’ opposition, people’s rule has prevailed in Britain. That we the people, the vast majority of the country, have entrusted the day-to-day conduct of affairs in this country to those who form governments does not change this basic truth - we gave them the authority to govern Britain and we can withdraw that authority. The sovereignty, the final veto, rests with us.
The British nation was not created by its rulers or by any economic system. Rather, the British people founded the nation, indeed became the nation, very early in our history.
Britain’s democracy and sovereignty, our power to decide what goes on in our country, is at stake. If we became a province in a European state, we would lose at one fell swoop our sovereignty and our democracy. We must defeat those who would dissolve Britain into a European state.
Our trade unions have to reassert their historic role of upholding and extending our democratic processes. All of us, especially our trade unions, must oppose the EU constitution, uphold our nation’s sovereignty and take responsibility for our country’s future.
About the Author
Doug Nicholls is the General Secretary of the Community and Youth Workers' Union. Will Podmore is a specialist librarian and member of the University and College Union. Both have been active in the British trade union movement, fighting for better wages and conditions and for Britain's freedom and independence.
25th April 2012
I write from America, where those who care about Europe ask one question only. What the hell is going on? What is this "euro crisis" that never seems to end? What has happened to Greece, Portugal, Italy, Spain, Holland and now France? Have we all gone insane?
The economist Paul Krugman has one answer. He suggests that Europe is now replicating the 1930s "in ever more faithful detail". Governments, he says, are "committing economic suicide". When every economic tenet cries for treasuries to restore growth, spend, stimulate, inflate and rebuild confidence, they are advocating ever more austerity and balanced budgets, forcing their economies towards recession. They are doing so not because they believe austerity will generate growth. They are doing it because they are imprisoned in a defunct dogma, the propping up of the euro.
Nothing is more eerie than to read accounts of Europe's economy between the world wars, notably the idealistic "Locarno spirit" year of 1925. It was then that the chancellor of the exchequer, Winston Churchill, returned Britain to the gold standard. Wages would be forced down to compete with America, and Europe's prewar economic stability would recover. Keynes pleaded that this was madness. The pound was 10% overvalued against the dollar and the outcome would be "crippled exports, unemployment and strikes".
Churchill was wrong and Keynes was right. Six years later, a minority Labour government hit financial collapse and failed. In the summer of 1931, with capital fleeing the country and bankers wailing for austerity, a coalition national government was formed and abruptly came off the gold standard. The pound slid from $4.85 to $3.40. Despite forecasts of catastrophe, Charles Mowat's classic history of the period records that "hardly a leaf stirred". There was no revolution in the streets, and devaluation aroused no more interest "than that of a passing sneeze". Within four years British industrial production had risen 25%, while unemployment fell from 3 million to 2 million.
History rarely repeats itself, but its lessons do. The Bank of England and Treasury are trapped in similar orthodoxy to that of their prewar forebears. They hold that inflation is the greatest curse that can afflict the British economy, even as they mastermind the greatest collapse in demand that Britain has suffered since the war. When they do agree to print new money as quantitative easing, they dare not let it leak into consumption for fear of inflation. They do not flinch even when a quarter of high street shops close. They are like doctors laying the sick in the snow to see who will survive. Yet they hurl cash at friendly bankers and watch it vanish into the maws of directors and offshore speculators. And they dole out billions to prop up a euro of which they are not even members.
Keynes was right in 1925 – and proved right in 1931. Flexible exchange rates are a more painless way of forcing down labour costs and promoting trade than government austerity. Inflation is a better way of easing debt. The remedy for depressed demand is increased demand, simple as that. The risk of inflation in Britain at present is trivial compared with that of deflation and recession. And at least Britain's currency can float. Imagine if it were part of the euro and trade had to cope with a pound probably 20% higher in value than now.
Hardly a month passes without another euro crisis and more imposed austerity. It is as if Keynes had never lived. Yet water still refuses to flow uphill. Heavily indebted countries certainly need to restructure their public sectors in the long term – and have plausible plans to do so – but they cannot repay debt, short or long term, when they are in recession. Increasing unemployment and suppressing demand impedes growth and is no use to anyone.
Worse, Europe's drawn-out austerity is undermining the very authority required to enforce it. When governments fall, no package can be enforced. Greece was forced last month into de facto default. Who would now buy a Spanish bond? What is the value of a Dutch finance minister? What price Nicolas Sarkozy's signature on a bailout deal? As long as the euro shackles the continental economy in austerity it will never achieve political stability or a return to growth.
The euro was a Locarno dream. It was the last cry of the 20th century, envisaging a brave new order in which bankers and businessmen, workers and peasants, would stand arm in arm, singing Ode to Joy. All labour costs would become equal. There would be fiscal and regulatory integration across the entire continent. The euro would unlock the door of a united states of Europe. Ireland and Greece would be to Germany what Nevada is to New York. The euro would squeeze and stretch the peoples of Europe until they were one.
This concept of union must rank among the great mistakes of history. Like other pan-continental visions, it has proved no match for the crooked timber of European mankind. Its acolytes cannot bear revisionism or tolerate dissent. They have driven Greece into chaos and Spain into severe depression, with half its youth now unemployed. The Eurocrats do not care. Their incomes are secure. They dance only round the euro and claim its blood sacrifice. They will do anything but admit they were wrong.
The one salvation on the horizon is democracy. Last week the French electorate said no to more austerity and the Dutch government fell for the same reason. Spain faces a similar crisis, and the streets of Athens hold untold dangers. Even in Britain polls suggest an electorate unconvinced by the longevity of what by any standards is mild austerity. The peoples of Europe have had enough. The prospect of imposing on its nations the budgetary disciplines required for more German bailouts is unthinkable.
Europe needs a simple, overnight, collective reordering of debts, defaults and currencies, along the lines of the postwar Bretton Woods deal. Euroland must shrink drastically, and floating currencies be restored. The slate must be wiped clean. A terrible mistake was made, but it can be corrected as in 1931. As then the pundits will predict disaster, but I would bet the opposite. After the adjustment, "not a leaf would stir … no more than a sneeze". We would then return to sanity
12th May 2012
Excellent study of the debate on the EU, 5 April 2012
This W. Podmore review is from: The British Left's 'Great Debate' on Europe. Continuum. 2008. (Hardcover)
Dr Andrew Mullen, a Senior Lecturer in Politics at Northumbria University, has written an excellent and scholarly study of the British left's debates about Europe. As Tony Benn writes in his Foreword, "This is by far the best book about the many long debates that have taken place on the left about Britain's relations with Europe from the end of the Second World War until the present time ... Its greatest merit lies in the fact that it has been meticulously and comprehensively researched. It provides an accurate historical account of all the debates that have taken place ..."
Part 1 presents a brief history of the European project and discusses the global context of the EU's development. Part 2 consists of 13 chapters following the debates about Europe from 1945 to 2005: each looks at what the state was doing and then at the policies of the Labour Party, the TUC, the big trade unions and the wider British left. Part 3 sums up with thoughts on Europe past, present and future.
As John Monks admitted, "People were misled about going into the EU initially. Britain's leaders, from Harold Macmillan onwards, were never frank about what it entails and about the loss of sovereignty. They all said it's just an economic thing; well it wasn't, it was much bigger."
In 1990 the TUC said, "the objectives of EMU should be to promote sustainable development, full employment, and economic and social cohesion as well as price stability." So the TUC denied EMU's real aims, in favour of what it wished they `should be' - classic idealism. All too often, unions took refuge in motions offering `conditional support' for the EU, akin to "if prayer brings peace, then let us pray." This again is idealism.
The pro-EU argument made most often at TUCs in the 1990s was that the Social Chapter would benefit workers - an argument we don't hear much nowadays. Others argued that Economic and Monetary Union, EU Directives, its Social Dialogue process and its Works Councils, would all benefit workers; and that EU membership would increase wages, employment, living standards, investment, the growth rate, benefits and exports.
As Dr Mullen writes, after 1990, "certain sections of the wider British left ... embraced defeatism and the mantra that `there is no alternative'." He reminds us that in 1991 the Labour Party Conference claimed that EMU would disarm currency speculators. In 1993, Labour, under John Smith, could have brought down the Conservative government if it had voted for a referendum on the Maastricht Treaty. Instead, Labour voted with the government and opposed a referendum, saving the Treaty and the government.
Since 1988, the Scottish National Party has backed the policy of `independence in Europe', which is like backing a policy of `peace in war'. The Scottish Socialist Party said, "We promote an alternative vision of a united, socialist Europe." Other groups called for a workers' Europe, a people's Europe, a Europe of the Regions, for a reformed, democratic, socialist, social, progressive, federal Europe.
All made their wishes a basis for policy, as if attaching a nice adjective to the EU made it nice. Even when groups like the SWP say they oppose the EU, they still damn everybody else who opposes the EU as nationalist chauvinists.
In 2004 the TUC Executive Committee claimed that the EU Constitution would lead to full employment and would protect public services. A 1998 Unison conference motion had more realistically forecast that the euro would increase unemployment by 10 million.
14th May 2012
Britain and the EU
The UK joined the Common Market in 1973. The promise advocates made then was that as an open trading area Britain would benefit through securing European markets for its exports. Since then Britain has had an average trade deficit with the EEC/EU running at approximately £30 a day, while remaining in trade surplus with every other continent.
The present Coalition austerity plan was concocted by George Osborne to save (cut) about £7 billion a year. Meanwhile, Britain’s annual gross subscription to the EU is running at around £14 billion.
Two non-EU countries, Switzerland and Norway, export proportionately more into the EU than Britain, while also achieving the highest per capita GDP in Europe. This is a clear contradiction of the argument claiming membership of the EU is vital for trading purposes.
Rather than just being a trading alliance as was claimed in 1973, it is now very clear that there is an intention to construct a federated superstate around the economic core. British governments have been very coy over the last 39 years in divulging the extent domestic law is initiated by the EU. However, an analysis by its Federal Justice Ministry demonstrated that 84% of German legislation originated in Brussels.
There cannot be a vast difference between Germany and Britain when it comes to the legal imbalance. It also comes at a cost, with EU regulation outweighing the benefits of the single market by up to 180 billion euros every year, according to the European Commission’s own calculations.
Nor does Britain benefit from the Common Agricultural and Fisheries Policies. The former costs families approximately £1200 a year due to food prices being artificially higher than they needs be. At a time of pay freezes that are really wages cuts due to inflation, this is an utterly unnecessary burden.
Similarly, Britain could be regulating its North Sea fish stocks if it reasserted control over its waters out to a 200 miles limit. Conservation and harvesting need to be balanced, a task made much easier by a national government working with a national trawler fleet.
The fundamental issue lying behind all these points is sovereignty. Outside the EU Britain could make decisions in its own interests based on the assessment of its own needs. Without the EU’s Common External Tariff Britain could much more easily negotiate trade agreements with economically emerging countries such as Brazil.
Of course trade with the EU would continue as it presently does for Switzerland and Norway. However, economic links could also be forged with developing trading blocs such as the emergent Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) with its 600 million people and a GDP ranking it third in the world.
The economic disaster that is the unraveling of the euro threatens the economic well being of all EU states, even those such as Britain outside the currency. Just recently the British government, in contradiction of its own avowed austerity, handed over another £10 billion to the IMF to bail out failing economies such as that in Greece.
As long as Britain remains a member of the EU it will have to accept not only the persistent threat of economic disaster beyond its control, but also the continuance of the development of federalism. Britain will be absorbed bit by bit as the EU strives to assert political control over all its member states. Indeed, they will cease being states and become regions: Britain will become merely a region of the EU.
Alternatively, the British people will insist upon its democratic demand for a referendum. Once that is secured the present self-serving cabal of politicians at Westminster – Coalition, Labour, Scottish Nationalist et al – can be confronted by the demand:
OUT OF EU NOW!
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