That Europe is in urgent need of reform is beyond question. At risk of being lost in the current British public debate, however, is the discussion as to the type of reforms that Europe needs. The focus on David Cameron’s ‘wish list’ of demands has established an accepted discourse that presumes that these demands reflect ‘British interests’. It also presumes that were Cameron to win European acceptance for all of his demands, then this would be ‘a good deal for Britain’.
One of the key benefits of European integration are the non-discriminatory labour rights and social provisions between member states, which allow European workers to access the same benefits as ‘natives’ when working in one another’s countries. By seeking to ban EU workers in the UK from accessing in-work benefits until they have lived in the country for four years, Cameron has been attempting to roll back a fundamental achievement of European integration. If this were only happening in Britain the future of the union would not be in question, but all across Europe a rising tide of nationalist sentiment – and with it the inevitable lurch towards discriminatory practices aimed at non-nationals resident in the ‘home’ country – is putting in question Europe’s unity.
Those of us on the left who believe that workers of all countries have common interests, that they should all enjoy the same rights and protections and that they are being failed badly by a broken economic system, face a particular difficulty when looking at the current state of the European Union. None of us support the status quo; we all recognise radical institutional and political change is needed. Most of us also know, however, that a British exit would leave workers even more vulnerable to a Tory government and would not be a step towards the social Europe we believe in.
Rising nationalist sentiment, the structurally embedded neoliberalism of Eurozone institutions and the new downturn in the global economy all create a significant challenge for how to go about constructing an alternative. Taken together they require the left to construct a political alternative that is, firstly, bold and radical enough to address the systemic causes of the current crises and, secondly, rejects the illusion that a retreat into competing protectionist states offers even a partial answer.
Internationally, there are promising signs of movement in this direction. A range of parties and movements across Europe have come together around the goal of a Plan B for Europe; breaking with austerity and constructing a European new deal based on ecologically sustainable investment in jobs and growth. Meanwhile, the former Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis has launched Democracy In Europe 2025 to push for the radical democratisation of European institutions in order to give power to the people.
In Britain, however, we remain too isolated from these developments and the referendum vote itself increasingly seems to be on a real knife-edge. Cameron’s demands directly feed the nationalist and anti-immigration rhetoric that is fuelling the ‘out’ case and it is little wonder that a recent YouGov poll showed a four point majority favouring ‘leave’ over ‘remain’.
The official ‘in’ campaign, Britain Stronger In Europe, also parrot a similar big business and nationalistic agenda, failing to offer any kind of compelling progressive vision of what a better Europe might look like. With Conservative voters likely to split equally between ‘leave’ and ‘remain’ and Labour voters consequently critical to the outcome, the message of the official ‘in’ campaign has little to offer what is arguably the key constituency that will decide the vote.
There are, however, promising signs that the left is beginning to move. Unite the Union will soon launch a campaign to persuade its 1.4 million members to vote to stay. Frances O’Grady has indicated the TUC is likely to soon come out for ‘in’, citing key workplace rights protected in European law. ‘It’s one hell of a gamble’, she told Reuters, ‘to depend on the government we have now to protect these rights.’
Beyond the unions and parties of the left, grassroots campaigners also have a critical role to play. That’s why Another Europe Is Possible, the campaign I have helped to establish, will launch on 10 February in East London, as a broad based movement saying ‘stay in Europe, to change Europe’. A range of campaigners, politicians and public figures, including Michael Mansfield, Ann Pettifor, Richard Murphy, Stephen Gethins, Clive Lewis, Caroline Lucas, Cat Smith, John Palmer, Sunny Hundal and John Christensen have already formally backed the campaign.
Another Europe Is Possible has a very different message to the official ‘in’ campaign. Determined to work together with movements and parties across the continent to deliver the open, democratic and socially just Europe we so urgently need, the campaign offers a message of hope in a referendum likely to be heavy on fear.
We share the anger at the neoliberalism that has caused so much damage to European societies, but recognise that an alternative has to be built internationally. A British exit on the back of a campaign fuelled by anti-immigrant sentiment would take us further away from a social Europe that offers the only real answer to Europe’s multiple political crises.
Another Europe Is Possible will hold its launch event at 7pm on 10 February at 93 Feet East, Brick Lane. For more details and for free tickets see Eventbrite. This article was first published by OpenDemocracy.
Grassroots posters giving an alternative take on the general election
Hundreds of people surrounded the fences this weekend. Hera Lorandos spoke to women who have suffered inside.
Laying out the case for Labour's leadership of a Progressive Alliance, Jeremy Gilbert argues that far from posing a threat to the Left, the Progressive Alliance offers a golden opportunity to end Tory rule and build a 21st century government committed to social justice
The Greens have stood down in Brighton Kemptown to clear the way for Labour, and the Lib Dems won’t stand in Brighton’s other seat, Green-held Pavilion. Davy Jones, who would have been the Green candidate in Kemptown, says this shows the way forward
The snap general election represents a unique opportunity to defeat this terrible government. We believe that visual artists have a crucial role to play!
Drax is the UK's biggest source of CO2 emissions – and we're paying for it, writes Almuth Ernsting
For the past 3 years, Barby Asante and members of London-based artists' collective, sorryyoufeeluncomfortable, have been responding directly to the vision of James Baldwin. Ahead of the nationwide release of a new film about the American activist and author, they reflect on the enduring relevance of Baldwin in Britain today.
Housing campaigners' gains in Bristol are spurring on a national movement to build a renters' union, writes Stuart Melvin
A new Espionage Act threatens whistleblowers and journalists, writes Sarah Kavanagh
We need an anti-austerity alliance, not a vaguely progressive alliance, argues Michael Calderbank
Civic strike paralyses Colombia’s principle pacific port
An alliance of community organisations are fighting ’to live with dignity’ in the face of military repression. Patrick Kane and Seb Ordoñez report.
Greece’s heavy load
While the UK left is divided over how to respond to Brexit, the people of Greece continue to groan under the burden of EU-backed austerity. Jane Shallice reports
On the narcissism of small differences
In an interview with the TNI's Nick Buxton, social scientist and activist Susan George reflects on the French Presidential Elections.
Why Corbyn’s ‘unpopularity’ is exaggerated: Polls show he’s more popular than most other parties’ leaders – and on the up
Headlines about Jeremy Corbyn’s poor approval ratings in polls don’t tell the whole story, writes Alex Nunns
The media wants to demoralise Corbyn’s supporters – don’t let them succeed
Michael Calderbank looks at the results of yesterday's local elections
In light of Dunkirk: What have we learned from the (lack of) response in Calais?
Amy Corcoran and Sam Walton ask who helps refugees when it matters – and who stands on the sidelines
Osborne’s first day at work – activists to pulp Evening Standards for renewable energy
This isn’t just a stunt. A new worker’s cooperative is set to employ people on a real living wage in a recycling scheme that is heavily trolling George Osborne. Jenny Nelson writes
Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 24 May
On May 24th, we’ll be holding the third of Red Pepper’s Race Section Open Editorial Meetings.
Our activism will be intersectional, or it will be bullshit…
Reflecting on a year in the environmental and anti-racist movements, Plane Stupid activist, Ali Tamlit, calls for a renewed focus on the dangers of power and privilege and the means to overcome them.
West Yorkshire calls for devolution of politics
When communities feel that power is exercised by a remote elite, anger and alienation will grow. But genuine regional democracy offers a positive alternative, argue the Same Skies Collective
How to resist the exploitation of digital gig workers
For the first time in history, we have a mass migration of labour without an actual migration of workers. Mark Graham and Alex Wood explore the consequences
The Digital Liberties cross-party campaign
Access to the internet should be considered as vital as access to power and water writes Sophia Drakopoulou
#AndABlackWomanAtThat – part III: a discussion of power and privilege
In the final article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr gives a few pointers on how to be a good ally
Event: Take Back Control Croydon
Ken Loach, Dawn Foster & Soweto Kinch to speak in Croydon at the first event of a UK-wide series organised by The World Transformed and local activists
Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 19 April
On April 19th, we’ll be holding the second of Red Pepper’s Race Section Open Editorial Meetings.
Changing our attitude to Climate Change
Paul Allen of the Centre for Alternative Technology spells out what we need to do to break through the inaction over climate change
Introducing Trump’s Inner Circle
Donald Trump’s key allies are as alarming as the man himself
#AndABlackWomanAtThat – part II: a discussion of power and privilege
In the second article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr reflects on the silencing of black women and the flaws in safe spaces
Joint statement on George Osborne’s appointment to the Evening Standard
'We have come together to denounce this brazen conflict of interest and to champion the growing need for independent, truthful and representative media'
Paul O’Connell and Michael Calderbank consider the conditions that led to the Brexit vote, and how the left in Britain should respond
On the right side of history: an interview with Mijente
Marienna Pope-Weidemann speaks to Reyna Wences, co-founder of Mijente, a radical Latinx and Chincanx organising network
Disrupting the City of London Corporation elections
The City of London Corporation is one of the most secretive and least understood institutions in the world, writes Luke Walter
#AndABlackWomanAtThat: a discussion of power and privilege
In the first article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr reflects on the oppression of her early life and how we must fight it, even in our own movement
Corbyn understands the needs of our communities
Ian Hodson reflects on the Copeland by-election and explains why Corbyn has the full support of The Bakers Food and Allied Workers Union
Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 15 March
On 15 March, we’ll be holding the first of Red Pepper’s Race Section open editorial meetings.
Social Workers Without Borders
Jenny Nelson speaks to Lauren Wroe about a group combining activism and social work with refugees
Growing up married
Laura Nicholson interviews Dr Eylem Atakav about her new film, Growing Up Married, which tells the stories of Turkey’s child brides
The Migrant Connections Festival: solidarity needs meaningful relationships
On March 4 & 5 Bethnal Green will host a migrant-led festival fostering community and solidarity for people of all backgrounds, writes Sohail Jannesari
Reclaiming Holloway Homes
The government is closing old, inner-city jails. Rebecca Roberts looks at what happens next
Intensification of state violence in the Kurdish provinces of Turkey
Oppression increases in the run up to Turkey’s constitutional referendum, writes Mehmet Ugur from Academics for Peace