Monday, 20 March 2017

WIN INDEPENDENCE FOR WORKERS' RIGHTS: don't rely on EU bosses bearing gifts!

The SNP government's declaration of a second Referendum, including its timing - and the brutal, dictatorial response of unelected Tory Prime Minister, Theresa May - has framed the whole debate about independence around EU membership and Brexit. 

As the Scottish Greens, rightly, help the SNP vote for Indy Ref2 in the Scottish parliament, they both - wrongly - make Brexit and membership of the EU and its Single Market the centrepiece of the case for Scottish independence.

Socialists unequivocally support Scottish independence - but not as a means of making life more comfortable, more obscenely profitable for the capitalist elite, whether home-grown or multinational.
We want to win independence as a means to end Tory dictatorship from Westminster, on behalf of the bankers and billionaires, wielding the butchers' knife to public services, pay, job security, rights at work, and our civil rights. 

The SSP's call for an independent socialist Scotland is an inspiring goal that would transform the lives of the working class majority of the population, from the cradle to the grave. Independence would empower a Scottish government – provided it was a government with the principles, policies and political will to confront the capitalist powers at home and abroad – to redistribute wealth and power from top to bottom.

That also makes the case for a socialist Scotland an indispensable weapon of persuasion in the battle for self-rule. Without that message being heard loud and clear, working class people won't be inspired to vote for change, and could be thereby imprisoned in at least another decade of Tory savagery, especially given the enfeebled, war-torn state of Labour. 

Separate Fight for Indy from the EU 

Socialists and trade unionists need to wrestle the case for independence away from being about membership of capitalist Brexit Britain or the capitalist EU. 

It's true enough indeed that the 62% Remain vote in Scotland being ignored by the Blue Brexiteers adds to the case for the Scottish people being empowered to make their own decisions, through independence. But that alone will never win independence; for starters, calling on the 400,000 pro-Indy voters who chose Leave to now vote for independence so Scotland can Remain in the EU is utterly divisive and counterproductive.

I strongly believe we need to demand two key things alongside describing the transformational vision of what could be achieved in an independent socialist Scotland, to decouple the case for Indy from the divisive, confusing issue of the EU. 

Firstly, call for a separate decision on an independent Scotland's relationship to the EU to be fully debated in democratic forums AFTER winning independence, including a post-independence Referendum on the options then available. 

And secondly, here and now broadcast that we want an independent socialist Scotland to help forge cooperation between equals, on the basis of an alliance of socialist democracies across Europe - instead of either the Blue Brexiteers' capitalist, isolationist hell-house, or the EU of brutal big business interests. 

Tell the Truth - about Brexit

In fighting to convince a majority of working class people to vote Yes, we need to tell the truth - including on what needs to be done to defend and vastly enhance workers' rights, at work and in their communities. 

Those who imagined a Brexit vote would turbocharge a wave of united workers' struggle against the Tories and capitalist bosses are indulging in a dystopian version of La La Land. Whilst for many the Leave vote was a raging against years of neglect by the capitalist machine, the Brexit outcome has sown even more confusion and division, including the scapegoating of migrant workers, and handed the Tories an unexpected golden opportunity to bludgeon to death the flimsy rights workers cling onto. If we let them away with it!

Tell the Truth - about the EU 

But when the SNP and Scottish Greens advocate the gushing glories of Scotland keeping its place in the EU, they are at bottom advocating a continuation of the capitalist Age of Austerity, and the interlinked attacks on workers' rights. 

Whilst most ordinary people who voted to Remain in the EU did so for honourable, internationalist ideals – and in rejection of the axe-wielding, service-slashing, pay-cutting Tories, plus the ugly racism of Farage, Boris Johnston and their Leave leadership - many also shared the SSP's view that it was the lesser of two evil choices in the binary EU Referendum. 

One of the key tasks of socialists, including in our workplaces and unions, is to unmask the debilitating, demobilizing nonsense peddled not only by the SNP and Greens, but especially (and more importantly) by most trade union leaders, that membership of the EU is the road to salvation for workers' rights. 

Struggle is the only Guarantee 

Our fundamental message needs to be that united, collective struggles by workers is what's won the all-too-limited rights we have; not some benign handouts from the EU and its ruling, unelected executive, the European Commission (the selected heads of 28 Member states). 

And whether in or out of the EU, it will require massive resistance and action by workers and their organizations to halt and reverse the tide of assaults on our rights and conditions. Just as we need to hoist high the case for a Scotland run by its working class majority, a socialist Scottish republic, so too we need to enhance people's understanding that class-based struggle is the only guarantee of decent wages, workplace conditions, equality, humane public services, environmental protection...

Evolution of the capitalist EU 

Like any institution, the EU has changed over time, reflecting wider trends throughout the capitalist societies it was founded to uphold and develop in the first place. And those changes are reflected in the EU Directives, Regulations and policies - issued by the European Commission, or sometimes ruled on by the EU's Court of Justice (ECJ). Some have been helpful to those struggling for better rights andconditions for working class people in the various member states; others have been downright dangerous, obstructive and regressive. 

Space prevents a full description, but suffice to say in an earlier period of the EU, particularly from the late-1980s - some progressive regulations were issued, encapsulated in the term 'Social Chapter'. But the EU never pretended to be a socialist institution; it preferred the term 'Social Market' - the model of post-War Germany, with some limited state regulations over the excesses of the capitalist market.

Social Chapter - a Passing Phase

Compared to the red-in-tooth-and-claw savagery of Maggie Thatcher’s monetarists of the 1980s, EU President of the time, Jacques Delors, won rapturous applause at the 1988 TUC conference, for his promises of what became the Social Chapter at the following year’s Strasbourg Summit. What Delors carefully concealed, of course, to the assembled TUC delegates, was his role – as its Finance Minister - in helping the ‘Socialist’ Mitterand government of France abandon all the promised reforms that had enthused millions in the previous elections.

In the face of subsequent defeats at the hands of Thatcher’s civil war against workers’ rights and livelihoods, culminating in the defeat of the 1984/5 miners’ strike, a big majority of union leaders sheltered behind the mildly progressive rules and Directives issuing from the EU Commission in that period. It was a substitute for giving leadership in struggle. It ran in tandem with their constant refrain during the 13 wasted years of Tory rule: “Wait for a Labour government”. It was one feature of the defeatist, class-collaborationist philosophy of far too many union leaders at the time – which aided and abetted the biggest wealth transfusion to the rich from the rest of us over 30 years of them discouraging a more combative course by workers.

As the crisis of capitalism intensified, the EU’s phase described as the Social Chapter died; morphed from being a sweetener to bitter pills, to being the poison of austerity and deregulation of the market itself; from being a partial shield from Thatcherism in Britain to being a vehicle for the spread of ‘Thatcherism’ across the EU.

The EU's lifelong adherence to the interests of monopoly capitalism has increasingly meant the Commission, European Central Bank, and European Court Justice have helped national governments enforce vicious austerity, particularly since the 2008 bankers' crisis. 

European Decency Threshold Downgraded 

A few examples illustrate the general trends, and the central lesson that we need to rely on working class struggle, not the EU, to resist the savagery of the capitalist class and their pliant politicians. 

In the past, the European Decency Threshold, which called for the national minimum wage in each EU country to match 68% of the national average wage, was a very useful weapon in the hands of those of us fighting against the growing theft of wages for profit. But it was only ever an aspiration, not legally enforceable on each state's government. And as social democratic parties and governments converged with the traditional conservatives in unabashed defence of capitalism - as in New Labour - the EU reflected this and drastically downgraded the Decency Threshold, rendering it almost useless in the fight for a decent living wage here or abroad.

Workers Won Reforms, not EU bosses 

Many of the positive rights attributed to the EU by its zealous advocates are either the product of class struggles by workers in one or more EU state, or actually have nothing whatsoever to do with the EU! 

When the TUC General Secretary, Frances O'Grady, last year wrote that "It's the EU that guarantees workers paid holidays, parental leave and equal treatment of part timers" - a claim repeated almost verbatim by Jeremy Corbyn, who added "equal pay" to the list - they were at best misleading workers.
Dangerously misleading, in a fashion almost designed to make workers rely on the benign EU Commissioners rather than defend our rights and conditions through the organised trade unions and their allies. 

Nothing to do with the EU!

Entitlements to paid holidays vastly predate the very existence of the EU, or even its EEC predecessor. French workers won guaranteed annual paid leave of 12 days back in 1936, when they forced the elected Left Front government to take action by occupying the factories and striking! 

Trade union struggles in the UK won the Holidays Pay Act in 1938. 

And even today, organised union pressure has meant UK workers are guaranteed 5.6 weeks paid holidays, well better than the 4 weeks the EU demands.

Equal Pay 

Equal pay - still disgracefully denied to millions of women in practice - was legislated for in the UK in 1970, well before Britain even joined the Common Market/EEC, in 1973. And the Equal Pay Act was forced upon the British government by the ground-breaking strike action of women workers in Fords Dagenham plant in 1968. Furthermore, the same women had to launch a more prolonged strike years after the Act was passed, to actually get the equal pay it promised! 

So whilst anti-discrimination Directives from the EU are welcome, they merely reaffirmed what was won on the picket lines and workers' demonstrations. 

The EU Directives guarantee 14 weeks paid maternity leave; decades of campaigning has won the concession of 37 weeks here. 

Health and Safety laws in Scotland are based on the 1974 Act that was conceded on the wave of industrial struggles that overthrew Ted Heath's Tory government in February 1974; it was not a generous handout from either British capitalists nor their EU co-thinkers. 

Some EU Regulations, like the Working Time Directives, acted as a dented, limited shield in the face of savage attacks by Thatcher's, and subsequently Blair's governments. In terms of capping compulsory hours of work at 48 and insisting on guaranteed minimum break times during and between shifts, they are welcome reforms. 

But all along the British government insisted on opt-out clauses, and can do so entirely legally, within the framework of EU regulations and rulings. For instance, the Tories' railroading laws to remove doctors and nurses from the 48-hour limit underlay the Junior Doctors' strike last year. And all workers in Scotland can 'choose' - often under 'subtle' duress from employers - to waive that right anyway, fuelling the life-threatening long hours culture we are cursed by.

Capitalists Pick and Choose 

The positive EU measures are often ferociously resisted and bypassed by the Westminster club of capitalist politicians, but the equally numerous anti-working class EU Directives and regulations are eagerly seized upon to back up their drive to privatize, slash public expenditure and make workers pay for a capitalist crisis caused by bankers and the profit system. 

And in the case of Scotland, these EU Directives have been frequently used as an excuse for inaction, or regressive measures, by the SNP government. We shouldn't forget that as an added reason to decouple the case for Scottish independence from the SNP's advocacy of the EU as a land of milk and honey.

Strangling Public Spending 

For decades, and increasingly in recent years, the EU has framed laws to aid the privateers and the help enforce the capitalists' chosen path of austerity. 

The EU Stability and Growth Pact prohibits government budget deficits above 3% of GDP, thereby banning state expenditure to provide jobs, houses and services, reinforcing the downward spiral of cuts. 

A 2008 Directive called for postal services to be "fully open to competition by December 2012", adding to the Tory (and Labour) armoury in shedding the 400-year-old, public sector Royal Mail. 

From the EU's First Rail Directive in 1991, to its more recent Fourth, the EU Commissioners seek to break up and privatize the entire rail networks of all EU states. 

Successive British Tory and Labour governments needed no encouragement from the EU to privatise all and sundry, or apply a scorched earth policy to public services. But they certainly got encouragement, as increasingly anti-working class governments in the member states huddled together in the one and only EU institution with the powers to initiate rules and Directives - the unelected European Commission.  

SNP Hide Behind EU Directives 

That's an example of where the SNP government chooses to comply rather than defy all that's reactionary and regressive about the EU. 

On both the issues of railway renationalisation and Scotland's ferries, they chose to obey the laws of the capitalist market, including its EU bureaucracy, and hide behind them instead of proceeding to implement the oft-expressed wishes of the overwhelming majority of Scottish people by taking the entire transport system into public, democratic ownership. 

It was only after strike action and legal challenges by the RMT union that the SNP government conceded on keeping some of the ferries in the public sector, and retreated on implementing their contract clause for ScotRail that insists on driver only trains - in itself the product of their refusal to nationalise the railways, regardless of EU rules.

Undermining Wages 

Another major weapon used by employers and national governments in their war on wages is the EU Posted Workers Directive (PWD). This, and associated ECJ rulings, allows profiteers to set up shop abroad, or post workers from one EU country to another branch of their operations, to undermine wage rates. 

In its actual wording, the EU PWD states: "Member states shall guarantee workers posted to their territory the terms and conditions of employment...which in the member state where the work is carried out...are laid down by law, regulation or administrative provision." 

On the surface, harmless sounding? On the contrary, it means bosses paying only the national minimum wage to migrant workers, not the rate for the job negotiated and fought for through the unions in the host nation.
For instance, last year construction workers' unions in Rotherham, Yorkshire, waged a battle against a Croatian subcontractor company hiring Croatian workers to build a power station on £7 an hour, undercutting the national industry collective agreement rate of £16.64 an hour. The unions rightly fought to organise the migrant workers and win equality, the rate for the job, rather than fall prey to the racist division this Posted Workers Directive inevitably triggers. 

Tory Brexiteers Wage Class War 

The Tories are hell-bent on inciting division during the Brexit process, to ease the path to further crush workers' rights, public services and wages as a share of national wealth.
It's no accident their recently-implemented Trade Union Act has taken full effect in March 2017, with barely a whisper of protest, as the white noise around Brexit lets rip. 

But to counter this reactionary plan by the Tories and employing class, it's worse than useless, indeed downright dangerous, to counter-pose it with claims of the EU being some Nirvana of workers' rights and protection of all that's civilized. 

We need to advocate Scottish independence as the best, quickest escape route from Tory dictatorship.

An opening to demand and enforce a Charter of Workers’ Rights, alongside other key measures like a £10 minimum wage for all at 16 (in 2017 figures); a maximum wage no more than 10 times the minimum to help close the chasm of inequality; the union-negotiated rate and rights for the job for migrant workers; guaranteed minimum 16-hour contracts instead of zero hours serfdom; public ownership of all services, energy, banks and landed estates.

Greek Tragedy 

But that's got nothing to do with false claims that EU membership would gift the Scottish people a secure, pleasant future. 

On the contrary: not only will that claim drastically undermine the case for independence, but it is selling a lie to the working class. And underneath it all is the pernicious message that we don't need to organise in an almighty class struggle for transformational change, but that we should just rely on benign politicians to hand out workers and communities rights and services like sweeties issued by kindly grandparents. 

Try telling that tale of 'EU bosses bearing gifts' to the Greek people, who voted massively against austerity, and then were told by the EU to slash spending even further, despite starvation on the streets and hospitals running out of painkillers, and to tax the poorest as part of a grossly misnamed 'rescue package'. 

For an Independent Socialist Scotland - In a socialist Europe

We need to decouple the issues of independence and the EU.

For an independent Scotland that can then proceed to debate and decide its place in Europe and the wider world after gaining self government.

For an independent socialist Scotland that could help pioneer collaboration between equals in a future alliance of socialist democracies across Europe.

Most important of all perhaps, we need to unmask the demobilizing myth that Scottish people should rely on the EU and its benign regulations to protect us from capitalist exploitation.

Anything protective, however limited and feeble, that the EU calls for is the result of struggle by workers' organizations, and in any case hedged with umpteen opt-out clauses.

And as the populist right and hard-faced capitalism holds more and more sway across Europe, the EU act as thuggish enforcers for the Age of Austerity. 

Working class people need to rely on their own organised strength, demanding all that's best in Europe for the people of Scotland, and likewise defying all that's worst in the EU capitalist club. 

We need independent workers' struggle, an independent socialist Scotland, and an alliance of European socialist democracies to confront and eradicate the crimes of profit against people. 

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