‘The European Union is austerity’.
This was the message from the rally held in Paris in September. The packed hall heard speeches from trade unionists from France, Germany, Italy and Greece. Britain was represented by Fawzi Ibrahim who spoke on behalf of Trade Unionists Against the EU (full speech below).
Betty Raineri, teacher and trade unionist from Italy recalled how the Italian prime minister, Matteo Renzi, who was never elected to the Italian parliament, was parachuted into office on the behest of the Confindustria (the Italian bosses), big finance and with the blessing of the European Union in February last year. ‘Reform’ of the labour market soon followed with the Jobs Act designed to worsen working conditions in the workplace, change working hours and working days allowing the introduction of monitoring cameras in the workplace. It also introduces several new categories of contract designed to fragment national contracts.
Dominique Maillot, a French trade unionist explained the significance of the Labour Code in France. ‘It is not a simple compilation of social legislation, as in many countries; it is a legal structure linked to the history of the Republic and the class struggle. It is a transposition into labour rights of the equal rights of citizens declared by the Republic. It is not a code like the others, because it is loaded with passion that stood for 130 years of class struggle within the framework of the “one and indivisible” Republic. But the Labour Code is ‘Euro-incompatible’ and therefore has to be stripped or at least bypassed. Accordingly, the government announced a draft bill for Jan 2016 to make it consistent with the free-market thinking of the EU by making it supplementary to enterprise-based contracts.
Heinz Werner Schuster, trade unionist and Chair of the Düsseldorf SPD Labour Commission (Germany) referred to Cameron’s anti-strike laws and said: ‘In Germany, we fought against Merkel’s anti-strike law, which was falsely called the “Act on Collective Agreement Unity”. We know what the “best practices” of wage-setting mechanisms amount to in the European Union.
‘Central to the European Commission’s recommendations on what they call the “European semester”, which were approved by the European Council and which in fact are ultimatums for imposing fiscal consolidation, are very detailed demands which those they call “social partners” must implement.
‘In Belgium, in Croatia, in France, in every country, the Commission is demanding the reform of wage-setting mechanisms, the “flexibilisation of wage-setting arrangements”. Thus, Bulgaria, which has the lowest minimum wage in the whole of the European Union, must not increase it. In France, the minimum wage is too high and wage-setting should be devolved to the enterprise level, etc. And in Greece, wage bargaining should be conducted according to the “best practices” in the European Union’. He went on to describe ‘Greece is a testing-ground for measures that are intended to affect us all. This is the reason why it is our duty to fight with all our might against this deadly attack against the Greek trade unions’.
Panagiotis Papargyris from Greece described the effects of the ‘memorandum’ on the Greek people and went on to describe the events that led the humiliating climb down by Syrisa. He went on to explain how the referendum unleashed a dynamics that Tsipras had not anticipated. Society was torn in two in a way that had not seen since the Civil War. A reactionary movement raised its ugly head under the slogan “we stay in Europe” otherwise Greece will become another Syria. Pro-EU forces started gathering at the central square of Athens demanding that Tsipras signs whatever the lenders ask of him, a gathering very reminiscent of the CIA-inspired colour revolutions in Eastern Europe.
A French student highlighted the choice facing many graduates: we have a choice between uncompensated unemployment and working for almost nothing. ‘Ah, no, excuse me! There is another possible choice: war! A French army general recently declared: “The leading recruiter in France will be the army”! And indeed, just after that came Hollande’s announcement of going into Syria, and a new campaign for 11,000 recruits has been launched’.
The rally ended with a statement and the singing of the Internationale.
Fawzi Ibrahim’s speech on behalf of TUAEU
Madame Chair, comrades and friends, thank you for inviting me to speak at your rally and congratulations for such a magnificent turnout. It is nice to be here in Paris among so many comrades.
I bring you comradely greetings from Trade Unionists Against the EU which held a packed meeting at the TUC.
We live in momentous times and the future has never looked so encouraging. Today the EU is fractured with rancorous in-fighting among member states. The cruelty that was meted on Greece, the heartless conditions imposed on the people, the determination to make an example of Greece stems not from strength, but from weakness. The EU and the single currency is in systemic crisis.
Meanwhile the opposition to the EU and its love-child, austerity is growing and becoming more vocal. The election of Jeremy Corbyn as leader of the Labour Party in Britain is just one such example. But a more significant event is yet to come. We, in the UK have secured an in-out referendum on the EU. Prime Minister Cameron may wish to make the referendum about the ‘repatriation of some powers from Brussels’. But we want the repatriation of all powers; we want out.
And a NO vote, when it comes, as it surely will, will strike a fatal blow to the corporate structure that is the EU. Make no mistake; the referendum will not be about reforming this treaty or changing this law or that act, but about the central issue of national sovereignty. National sovereignty is as important to a nation as the right to strike to a trade union.
If the events in Greece prove anything, they prove that the EU is synonymous with austerity and the struggle against austerity is inexorably linked with the fight against the EU.
We are told that there is no alternative; no alternative to neo-liberalism, no alternative to the free market, no alternative to austerity. It is true. For nations within the EU, there is no alternative. The free market, the free movement of capital and labour is in the very DNA of the EU and from that stems austerity, privatisation, anti-trade union laws, poverty and rampart inequality.
That the heroic defiance of Greece ended in national humiliation shows that defying austerity and the EU is not enough; they must be defeated. For neo-liberal policies are not politically motivated; they are an economic necessity for capitalism’s very survival. The very survival of capitalism depends on the transfer of an ever increasing portion of the value created by workers to the capitalist.
I’ll finish with this: The call must go out from this rally today to all trade unions, left-leaning political parties and anti-capitalist campaigners that you cannot fight austerity while remaining in the EU. ‘Out of the EU’ is the first and the only practical step if we are to roll back the crippling policies of neo-liberalism in Europe. Armed with this, we can certainly defeat the EU and its free market philosophy.