Today’s strikes in Athens and Glasgow are in opposition to the neoliberal policies of the European Union argues Reuben Bard-Rosenberg

Last week the Greek banking system was brought to it’s knees, as the European institutions successfully pressured the Syriza government to accept a humiliating settlement. Today, those nominally in charge of governing Greece will be reminded that the ECB is not the only force that can stop the wheels from turning. As the midnight deadline approaches for Tsiparas to ram austerity through Parliament, the working class will be bringing the country to a halt. The public sector union Adedy has called a 24 hour strike and will be joined by a range of private sector unions. Significantly the unions have called for an “active” strike – for workers to come out and take over the streets and squares rather than simply stay at home or picket their workplaces. 

Nearly 3,000 miles away Scotland another group of workers are getting ready to take industrial action against neoliberal Europe. Yesterday members of the TSSA union voted to take strike action after the CalMac ferry services on which they work was put up for privatisation – a move which the SNP say is necessitated by European competition law. Meanwhile 92% of workers in the RMT, which also represents workers on the ferry routes, have voted for strike action – although that Union has now agreed to suspend it’s strike pending the outcome of negotiations. 

The ferry services, which operate between the mainland and the Scottish Isles, are currently controlled by CalMac, a state owned company. The Scottish government insists  that it has no choice but to put the services out to competitive tendering – a process by which businesses compete to provide public services at the lowest possible cost, at the expense of workers and of those who use them. The RMT for its part has said that the government could have appealed  to the European Commission to exempt the service from normal competition law on the grounds that it is a “lifeline service”. Yet, even in this scenario, the future of CalMac would still formally be at the discretion of commissioners who cannot be voted out by those who stand to lose their jobs. The two thirds of Scottish voters who believe that the ferry services should remain in public hands have no power to make any European heads roll. 

It is important here not to let the SNP government off the hook. The unions are right that Scotland’s government has not exhausted all avenues when it comes to averting privatisation. Moreover the European laws can be bent and even flouted. Despite it’s institutional power the European Commission still depends on national and local governments to actually implement its directives. Yet at the very least, European law provides a powerful shield for government’s that wish to screw over workers without taking political responsibility for doing so. 

Across Europe, less and less power is vested in those we elect. Corporations have taken over the running of many of our public services. Meanwhile, control over economic life has been given over to unelected central banks and to the EU, who’s State Aid laws make many forms of economic intervention illegal. Yet as events in Athens and Glasgow demonstrate, even when national governments are chained and humiliated, even when parliaments give up the powers that we have lent them, democracy can nonetheless be carried out by other means. 

Ultimately, the power of the working class is not something that can be signed away. No law, no agreement, no treaty can alter the fact that capitalist society depends upon the acquiesence of those who do the work. So let us fight to win back those limited democratic gains that have historically been exercised through our parliaments. But let us also resist Europe’s neoliberal order by every other means at our disposal.

Reuben Bard-Rosenberg

Reuben Bard-Rosenberg is a socialist activist and radical folk music promoter.