Britain and the European Union. Photo: Pixabay

Where are the economic arguments for anti-austerity and a new equality across Europe, asks Brian Heron

The hysterical pitch of Britain’s public ‘debate’ about remaining in the EU or ‘Brexiting’ has had no room whatsoever for those on the left who argue that Brexit is in the interests of working class people of Britain and Europe and neither have the left who argue for remaining in the EU had any space. The only ‘progressive’ points on the side of Remain that surfaced at all in any of the large scale media were hyped up comments from Labour leaders about the merits of EU legislation on working hours, etc. (All of which are under attack in their own countries from the current European leadership!) Sadly, it would appear from the remarks made by those who follow it, that the on-line discussion has, on this occasion, largely taken its cues from the previously despised ‘middle aged men’ now in blue (not grey) suits.

Besides reflecting on the realities of the political relationship of forces in the UK and the wretched domination by billionaires and their frightened toadies that run the traditional British media, this absence of the voice of the left, and especially its most radical part, in Britain’s European debate shows two things.

First, much of the left in Britain has no purchase on either of the two key questions on which the European debate has now centered. The Labour and the trade union leadership, while supporting Remain, have spent most of their time gleefully keeping out of what they immaturely believed was simply Tory bloodletting. Finally and belatedly, realising that a huge section of their traditional social base is in danger of being lost to a new right wing led by Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage, they have simply defended the economic status quo ‘for fear of something worse’.

There has been a call for ‘more’ reform in the EU, but nothing about the need for the root and branch overthrow of its leadership and structure as a loathed, unaccountable symbol of the worst of capitalism. Where are the economic arguments for anti-austerity; for a new equality, across Europe? Where are the demands for driving deep inroads into the power and wealth of the great corporations that, together with the banks, bestride it? Britons, like the inhabitants of many individual countries, are regularly told that if they do not continue with austerity then they will be punished by international capital. How is the call to remain in a European alliance used by the Labour and trade union leadership to offer the hope of a bloc of countries that might use their power to break the chains on labour and the poor across Europe, being forged by globalisation and the power (political and otherwise) of the super rich?

Similarly, but with one honourable exception, the left and its more radical component has had little to say on immigration. The honourable exception is the action mobilised by the Peoples Assembly to rally for Calais, in defense of the rights of those who are in the camps barring entry to Britain. This is already a hugely successful response to the terrible terms of the public debate about immigration in the UK. Otherwise and again, the Labour and trade union movement has been rehearsing the old mantras about the contributions made to the British economy by immigrants and reinforcing the view that British employers need cheap foreign labour! Labour’s Deputy leader is now calling for a ‘review’ of the EU’s policy of free movement.

This utterly defensive approach by Labour and the trade unions is a failure (rapidly) waiting to happen. It is already established that some of the greatest antipathy to immigration in the UK comes from areas like Sunderland in the North East of England – where immigration is small. In London, which has the highest levels of immigrants as part of its population, there is the least antipathy. What this shows is the fluidity in society and the potential weight of a fierce anti-racist policy; a policy to pull together a working class movement that unites against poor wages, which demands organisation and fair living standards for all, employed and unemployed, across the whole of Europe.

Ultimately, the timid failure of the leadership of the Labour and trade union leadership to give its own unique lead on the economy and on immigration, despite Jeremy Corbyn’s (delayed) efforts, dramatically illustrates why Corbyn’s victory in Labour’s leadership elections is nothing like enough. In fact it shows that even Corbyn’s leadership is, by itself, not even sufficient to rally what was Labour’s traditional base before Blair destroyed it, much less to create a ‘new politics’ different enough to challenge our society. The huge numbers of British people and the large parts of the population who now oppose austerity and reject Britain’s fear of immigration have not been brought together or nurtured by Labour or the unions and that is a failure that further opens the door to a more rabid right wing in British politics.