Free To Be Exploited

Doug Nicholls, Chair of Trade Unionists Against the European Union argues that continuing membership of the single market with its false freedoms, particularly the fake freedom of movement of labour, would crush any socialist revival, particularly that envisaged in the Labour Party Manifesto.

At a time when China has announced that it will be cancelling the debts owed to it by the world’s most impoverished nations, and when it is strengthening controls on the export of capital to protect its currency and domestic economy, it is worth reflecting on how the levers of political power can only be pulled if the freedom of capital is restrained.

Thatcher’s first acts were related. She got the state machine ready to take on the trade unions and removed the previous controls on the export of capital from Britain. Until then the wealth of Britain could not be exported without stringent controls and penalties.

Both of these moves were key to the success of the neoliberal agenda and the rise of the EU as an instrument of the large corporations and finance houses. We should never forget that historically the EU was mainly the creation of Wall Street high flyers, the City of London and Germany.

Once capital is made foot loose and fancy free, so those who benefit most from its mobility, the finance houses and speculators, start to rule the roost. The City of London prevailed over manufacturing and mercantile investors. Roulette replaced rooted investment in a growing domestic economy that made things.

Britain started to import everything and the balance of trade deficit rose to levels never previously imagined in the post war economy.

If speculative financial transactions can be made in nano seconds across the world, and if it makes sense to release capital from the long term, slow return demands of the real economy, industry and infrastructure, then it follows that labour must be forced to follow the quickest buck and national borders have to be swept aside to speed things up.

City of London and EU machinations made long term loans for industrial development less favourable. Profit margins had to be instantaneous. The unique security of final salary pension schemes with predictable long term requirements, a particular success of trade union negotiators here, also had to be pulled apart and pension funds liberalised.

It also follows of course that the strongest regulatory forces on the price of labour must be weakened. Think of the EU and you should think first of a mass unemployment and slow growth area committed to the break-up of collective bargaining. The hidden hand of the single EU market has drastically increased the reserve army of labour across the continent to a consistent 10% of the workforce, about 20 million human beings, with many of them from almost never-work-again areas of certain countries.

For a country to be democratic and respond to its own people’s needs it requires self-sufficiency, self-reliance and self-determination in all aspects of its economy and an ability to plan beyond the chaos of the market.

It was democracy that was the greatest regulatory obstacle to the neoliberal agenda. Replacing national Parliaments with the unelected EU Commissioners enacting the wishes of the corporations and banks was the best way of subverting it on our continent.

But political democracy is materially grounded. The independence and strength of Britain rested on our coal and steel and engineering. The EU’s origins lay in the coal and steel confederation it established. The plan was simple – to destroy the ability of any individual nation to sustain its political economy on the bedrock of coal and steel production. The strikes of steel workers and then miners against the first Thatcherite attempts to wipe out these industries were therefore deeply patriotic and important; the savagery against them by a state dictated to by foreign powers made this very clear.

When the string of industry is unstrung discord follows and the binge of privatisations and break up of public services and selling off of public assets began. The ties and bonds of society literally broke down as we were told there was no such thing as society. The market penetrated everything and most significantly broke down any concept of labour market and skills planning.

Imprisoned in the single market it became clear that its freedoms were chains. Goods could be moved around, but if you lacked the skill and infrastructure to produce them and couldn’t produce your own any more what was the benefit? Indeed, the EU’s regional programme was designed precisely to limit the number of goods any individual nation could produce while ensuring that Germany got the wealth creating core in engineering.

Services could be exchanged ‘freely’ across borders, but what did this mean? Foreign governments and buccaneers owning our railways and utilities, our town halls sold off to the highest bidders, and above all the finance sector able to do what it wanted with impunity to fleece whole nations as in the case of Greece, Italy, Spain and Ireland in particular. It meant too creating unsustainable bubbles, selling off national assets, and bankers dictating to elected politicians, and overturning national mandates.

But then the biggest illusion of all, the ‘freedom’ of labour to move as it saw fit! Enforced migration for many became the norm and within internal EU terms this was a deliberate move to deplete the economies of the east of the continent of skills and youth and undermine social provisions and communities in the west. The European Court of Justice made it clear time and time again that the needs of transnational businesses shifting production to the areas of least resistance and trade union organisation would trump national collective bargaining and workers’ protections.

No nation has ever prospered by allowing its workforce to become nomads and slaves to suit the short term needs of others. A central right of any worker is to be able to prosper and grow in the land of their birth and to have meaningful, gainful and enjoyable employment. Getting on your bike to look for work once caused a furore when Norman Tebbit encouraged unemployed workers to move home for jobs elsewhere. Then somehow it became the accepted norm and even now it is a demand for some on the ‘left’, and those ironically in unions troubled by low pay and zero hours contracts.

At one level the Uber taxi driver passively waiting for the next message to drive and pick up a fare. At another, tens of thousands of waiting for a tip off that they can travel thousands of miles to work in shit conditions in one of the most unequal countries in the world with some of the most straightjacketed trade unions.

Britain is now officially the location of 8 of the ten most deprived areas of northern Europe. Why anyone thinks there is milk and honey here and money trees where the grass is greener is anyone’s guess.

A plan, as the Labour Manifesto suggests, for full employment and skills development and high tech manufacturing with re-established public services and national rail, requires we end the madness of the enforced migration of labour and membership of the single market.