Labour Left Briefing – Britain’s Integration into Europe

From a specifically British perspective European integration has much to offer - a levelling up of living standards, trade union laws and human rights. Indeed large sectors of the labour movement have looked across the channel and noticed that Britain is the sweatshop of Europe - we work the longest hours, have fewer rights than most other EU countries and we have fewer holidays.

July 1, 2003
3 min read

The xenophobic right’s answer to all this is to defend our “right” to be sold bad quality food in antiquated measures. In the face of all this it’s easy to be pro-Europe out of a knee-jerk reaction to some of the unsavoury characters in the anti-European camp.

The debate about Europe is particularly ill-informed in Britain, and needs to go beyond how Britain would fare within the EU, but move on to what is in the interests of the European working class as a whole. The central planks of European integration are not about improving all of our living conditions, breaking down national boundaries and defending a decent, humane society.

Key to integration is the creation of a remote government that can implement unpopular programmes of austerity, that can slash social spending, undermine pensions and welfare and that develops racist immigration and asylum policies based upon the worst and most draconian practices of each individual country.

Those of us on the left opposed to the current project of European integration are faced with the danger of becoming completely marginalised and being proved right, but going down in heroic failure.

Unlike many of the larger unions, my own union Unison has for a long time had a position of opposition to the EU, but has done next to nothing to promote its position. Socialists on either side of the debate have a common interest in ensuring that the population is much better informed as to what the issues are. The trade union movement and all progressives should be playing a major role in promoting an understanding of and trying to influence the structures that are being created around us.

There are a number of key basic demands that are fairly common currency throughout the European labour movement: – opposition to racism, the defence of publicly owned and publicly accountable services, the provision of decent health care, education, and pensions for all, a maximum 35-hour week, trade union rights and so on. These aren’t the fantasies of a tiny fringe group but are mainstream labour movement policies across the length and breadth of the EU.

The European trade unions organise millions of workers and have enormous potential if we are able to work collectively with our brothers and sisters throughout the continent. The anti-war movement has shown the possibilities of co-ordinating actions across the globe to make our voices heard.

If we were to work together to demand even these rather basic minimums around which there is a large degree of consensus we could utterly transform the face of Europe and set an example for the rest of the world to follow.

We have an urgent task of forging real links with the labour movement across the continent, not just between General Secretaries, but at every level, in order to force our common agenda. If we don’t we face the kind of Europe of free trade and flexible labour that Brown and Blair dream of.Simon Deville is a Labour Against the War representative on the Stop the War Coalition Steering Committee, and a regular contributor to Labour Left Briefing


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