EU referendum: for an internationalist leave position

Recently rs21 members met to discuss and debate our attitudes towards the EU referendum and related issues, in particular migrant solidarity. Migrant solidarity work is central to rs21. Initiatives like London2Calais have illustrated the possibility of combining organising practical solidarity with migrants with a strong anti-capitalist and anti-imperialist politics, as well as reaching out to new activists who are disproportionately young, BME and women.

There are differences in among rs21 members as to what are the key political questions at stake around the EU referendum, however discussions were illuminating and comradely. The meeting adopted an internationalist leave position, which is put forward below. We hope that debate and clarification will continue in the coming weeks.

eu flag

We believe that individuals and groups committed to the fundamental transformation of society should strongly oppose Britain’s continued membership of the EU. We should do this on the basis of our commitments to democracy, genuine egalitarianism, solidarity and anti-racist internationalism.

It is true that the narrative of this referendum is controlled by the reactionary forces of the establishment, and whatever the outcome it will be interpreted by them in a way which reinforces their narrative. The onus, then, is on us to intervene in spite of their rhetoric, and to set out principled, revolutionary arguments. Refusing to engage in this debate because it has, so far, been dominated by reactionary and racist positions does not, in any way, undermine the reactionaries and racists; rather it allows them to operate freely, at a time at which they should be fought for every inch of ground on the ideological and political terrain.

The legal structures of the EU, like all legal structures, reflect the crystallisation of particular struggles and conflicts, and the key workers, migrant and consumer rights protected by the EU were won through the collective action of working people. These formal guarantees were conceded at a point in time when European capitalism could afford to commit to such rights, and European workers were strong enough to demand such rights. The current conjuncture in Europe, in contrast, is one in which capital is on the offensive, and is necessarily seeking to break down all barriers to the pursuit of profit. The last eight years of austerity have seen a dramatic acceleration in the undermining of workers’ rights and the living standards of working people. Such has been the assault on workers’ rights and living standards, that both the Council of Europe and the European Parliament have published reports documenting how the policies of the EU have led to the dramatic erosion of the entire corpus of rights. In short, given the trajectory of global capitalism, the EU is more likely to facilitate the undermining of fundamental rights, than act as a bulwark against their erosion.

Since at least the Maastricht Treaty, the EU’s constitutional arrangements have been revised to lock in the economic logic of neoliberalism and insulate the real decision making bodies with the EU from democratic control and accountability. The contemptuous treatment of the Greek people in 2015 is just the most brutal, recent example of tendencies latent within the EU. The EU is constitutionally undemocratic, and intentionally so. A Europe committed to democracy, solidarity, egalitarianism and genuine internationalism will only be brought about in spite of, not through, the EU.

Whatever the outcome of the referendum, the Tories and their ilk will continue to wage war on working people and migrants; the challenge is to be part of these struggles, and to trust in the capacity of people to fight to defend their interests, as the only real guarantee of the rights we have. The only alternative to the EU is the self-organisation and mobilisation of working people in Europe (in all of their variety). In much the same way as the referendum about Scottish independence in 2014 became a thoroughgoing debate about what sort of Scotland, and what sort of future people wanted, the referendum debate can provide a space in which socialists advance principled, revolutionary arguments about the nature of capitalism and the EU and invite working people to become the active protagonists in the construction of a different future.

We can turn away in dismay at the number of votes that went to UKIP in the last general election, or we can focus on the fact that a recent study shows that a majority of people in Britain have recently said they prefer socialism to capitalism. We can, as Samir Amin argues, approach the current conjuncture as opportunists, who understand politics as ‘the art of benefiting from the balance of power, such as it is’, or we approach it as principled socialists, for whom politics is ‘the art of transforming the balance of power’. In a similar vein, Marta Harnecker argues that ‘for revolutionaries politics is the art of making the impossible possible, not from some voluntarist urge to change things but because our efforts should be realistically focused on changing the current balance of power so that what appears to be impossible today becomes possible tomorrow’.

It may well be that this debate has its origins in Tory civil war politics, and that the mainstream debate will be dominated by racist, economistic and other misplaced narratives, but none of that absolves us of the responsibility to set out a principled socialist position on the debate. The thousands of dead men, women and children at the bottom of the Aegean and the despicable deal recently struck between the EU and Turkey are not an aberration, not a breach with mythical European values – instead they reflect Europe and the EU as it is. As such, we can and should break with the EU. If we do so there are no guarantees of what will come next: we do not get guarantees. But there are opportunities to imagine and fight for an entirely different Europe; that’s our challenge and we must prove ourselves worthy of it.

Migrant solidarity

One of the key issues in the upcoming EU referendum will be the question of migration, by both EU citizens and non-EU citizens into Europe. All of the main camps in this debate espouse varying degrees of xenophobia and racism. This anti-migrant sentiment has been a part of British political life for decades but has been ratcheted up to fever pitch in recent times, with the media and sections of the political class attempting to make it the dominant issue in British political life. This has led to UKIP receiving millions of votes, the daily demonization of and attacks against migrants in Britain and a small but worrying resurgence in ultra-violent fascist organisations.

In the aftermath of the publication of photos of Aylan Kurdi, dead on a European beach, there was an outpouring of support for refugees around Europe, with tens of thousands marching in solidarity in Britain alone. The organisation ‘London2Calais’ was launched off the back of this outpouring of solidarity.  It has successfully engaged huge numbers of people in building practical solidarity for refugees and migrants.  It has a core support base of dozens, predominantly women and BAME people.  London2Calais has not compromised in putting anti-capitalist and anti-imperialist critiques of the states and border regimes, which are responsible for the endless deaths of those fleeing for safety or a chance of a better life. Many thousands of protesters also joined the Stand Up to Racism demonstration in March.

Revolutionary socialists have to respond to the referendum in part by defending migrants’ rights. It is not the only issue that confronts us, but it is the one that stares us directly in the face. Both wings of the Tory Party – pro-EU and Eurosceptic – attack migrants. They have established the idea that migrants are a problem as part of the standard national discourse. It is part of the ‘common sense’ of Tory Britain. We have to challenge this.

Once, socialist internationalism meant just solidarity with workers and peasants in other lands. Now, as a result of the mass migration brought about by globalisation, it also means solidarity with those living on the same street or even working in the same workplace.

We have to defend migrants, whatever their status – economic migrant, refugee, asylum seeker or whatever – because to not do so would make unwarranted distinctions between workers and works against the solidarity of the working class. This is part of the socialist ABC. Furthermore, if workers do not know whether they have the right to remain in the country this makes them insecure and make them feel they have a short-term interest in not antagonising their employers. This also works against workers’ solidarity, especially since migrants are disproportionately employed in casual and precarious occupations.

Remaining in the EU is not a viable long-term strategy to for defending migrant workers. For a start, rules about the free movement of labour do not apply to non-EU nationals. We only have to think of the plight of refugees attempting to enter the EU to be aware of this. Furthermore, from April this year, non-EU migrants to the UK will have to be earning at least £35000 a year within five years of arriving in order to be granted Indefinite Leave to Remain.

EU nationals already settled in Britain may get short-term protection if the referendum results in Britain remaining in the EU, but new arrivals into the UK will be second-class citizens. They will not be allowed to receive welfare benefits until they have been resident for four year, effectively putting pressure on them not to do anything that might lose them their jobs and thereby tying them to their employers.

Throughtout and after the referendum campaign, rs21 will continue argue for a political and non-sectarian approach to anti-racism and migrant solidarity. We reaffirm our opposition to immigration restrictions and to borders of any kind and our commitment to campaign for equal rights for migrant workers with those of British nationality, regardless of the outcome of the referendum. This includes supporting the unionisation of casualised and precarious workers, a disproportionately large number of whom are migrant workers, and opposition to tied visas. We will continue to campaign alongside those in refugee and migrants’ rights campaigns, such as those to close detention centres, and to assist in whatever way possible to build a united campaign for the defence of migrants’ rights. We support humanitarian assistance to refugees, linking it to the political demand to allow them, unconditionally, into Britain.

Further reading

Whose Europe? Theirs or ours? by Jen Wilkinson and Paul O’Connor

A socialist case for leaving the EU by Neil Davidson

38 points on Brexit and the left by Ian Allinson

Revolutionary socialists and the EU referendum: sorting out the real issues by John Walker

EU referendum: a crisis of the right, not an opportunity for the left by Rob Owen

Why are the Tories divided over Europe? by David Renton

How will EU debate impact migrant solidarity? by Anindya Bhattacharyya

Exit will only strengthen Fortress Europe by Mikhil Karnik

In, out, or shake it all about? by Adam DC

The EU is simply conforming to the neoliberal architecture of its DNA by Brian Parkin

Leaving the EU won’t get rid of neoliberalism by Bettina Trabant

We will have to be making strong and principled arguments against immigration controls and for open borders whichever side we end up on by Luke Evans

The road to defending the right to migrate cannot go through restricting migration rights by Charlie Hore

 

 

There are 10 comments

  1. 3ae7d329@opayq.com

    How many colours of crap would you like as a reply?

    You have a flawed perspective.

    Leaving the EU will increase attacks on migrants(both EU and non-EU).

    Leaving the EU will strengthen the Right, both here and other EU countries.

    The vote is not a principal; it is a tactic. The Left has forgotten this.

    Leaving the EU will result in bosses being able to squeeze more out of us.

    Current EU workers in this country will be alienated by UK socialists campaigning to leave the EU. A great one for international soldidarity!

    I have no idea why revolutionary socialists could entertain the idea of being on the same side as the xenophobic, pro-deregulation wombats that want us to leave.

    Vic

    Like

  2. PW

    So RS21 will actively campaign for a ‘yes’ vote in the referendum?

    Also, “For a start, rules about the free movement of labour do not apply to non-EU nationals.” So under the current arrangement EU nationals enjoy the right to free movement but RS21 wants to upend that arrangement by leaving the EU. I fail to see how that would be internationalist in any sense. Wouldn’t the internationalist thing to do here be to extend the existing right of free movement to non-EU nationals rather than get rid of the right of EU nationals to come and go freely from the UK by leaving the EU?

    Like

  3. johngeoffreywalker

    PW: We actually voted to campaign for extending the right of free movement to non-EU nationals, as well as campaigning against restricted rights for EU nationals. The vote for this at the national meeting was unanimous.

    We did not vote to get rid of the right of EU nationals to come and go freely. Nobody even suggested this. I don’t know why you think revolutionary socialists would even entertain such an idea. There is nothing in the article to remotely suggest this.

    Like

  4. PW

    ^”We did not vote to get rid of the right of EU nationals to come and go freely.”

    If your country leaves the E.U., then EU nationals will be stripped of their existing legal right to come and go freely in and out of your country. No?

    Like

  5. johngeoffreywalker

    PW: This is the motion on migrants that was passed, unanimously, at the national meeting. Sections of it are quoted in the article above. Note that it says the precise opposite of what you claim rs21’s position is:

    Migrants, refugees and the EU referendum
    1. The split in the Tory Party over the EU has a class basis. While there are exceptions, it is fundamentally a split between larger businesses, for whom the profits gained from the enlarged market the EU offers is worth the cost of the regulations necessary to maintain a level playing field, and smaller businesses, for whom the European market is not essential and the cost of the regulations (“red tape”) is a drain on profits.
    It is from the latter group, dominated as it is by Eurosceptics, that the mass of the Tory Party membership comes. The leadership of the Party, on the other hand, has, broadly speaking, closer ties to the former group. Thus the division of opinion within the Party is intractable. David Cameron has called the referendum to resolve the split.
    2. In the 1990s, right-wing organisations were formed to campaign electorally for British withdrawal from the EU. The Referendum party came and went. UKIP, initially less successful than the Referendum party, had more lasting power, due to its modest success in the Euro-elections of 1999. Partly, if not wholly, due to the low turnout it gained three seats in the European Parliament. The party remained, however, on the fringes of mainstream politics until Nigel Farage became leader and raised the issue of migration. UKIP has flourished on the basis of scaremongering on this issue ever since.
    This approach has been taken up by Eurosceptics within the Tory Party, and the issues of EU membership and migration have been linked ever since. When Cameron negotiated new terms for Britain’s membership of the EU, the negotiations focussed disproportionately on welfare payments for EU migrants.
    3. It is for this reason that revolutionary socialists have to respond to the referendum by defending migrants’ rights. It is not the only issue that confronts us, but it is the one that stares us directly in the face. Both wings of the Tory Party – pro-EU and Eurosceptic – attack migrants. They have established the idea that migrants are a problem as part of the standard national discourse. It is part of the ‘common sense’ of Tory Britain. We have to challenge this.
    Once, socialist internationalism meant just solidarity with workers and peasants in other lands. Now, as a result of the mass migration brought about by globalisation, it also means solidarity with those living on the same street or even working in the same workplace.
    We have to defend migrants, whatever their status – economic migrant, refugee, asylum seeker or whatever – because to not do so would make unwarranted distinctions between workers and works against the solidarity of the working class. This is part of the socialist ABC. Furthermore, if workers do not know whether they have the right to remain in the country this makes them insecure and make them feel they have a short-term interest in not antagonising their employers. This also works against workers’ solidarity, especially since migrants are disproportionately employed in casual and precarious occupations.
    4. Remaining in the EU is not a viable long-term strategy to for defending migrant workers. For a start, rules about the free movement of labour do not apply to non-EU nationals. We only have to think of the plight of refugees attempting to enter the EU to be aware of this. Furthermore, from April this year, non-EU migrants to the UK will have to be earning at least £35000 a year within five years of arriving in order to be granted Indefinite Leave to Remain.
    EU nationals already settled in Britain may get short-term protection if the referendum results in Britain remaining in the EU, but new arrivals into the UK will be second-class citizens. They will not be allowed to receive welfare benefits until they have been resident for four year, effectively putting pressure on them not to do anything that might lose them their jobs and thereby tying them to their employers.
    Essentially, then, the referendum offers a choice of a three-tiered labour market – workers who are British nationals, workers who are EU nationals and other foreign workers – if we vote to stay, or a two-tiered one – British workers vs foreign workers – if we vote to leave.
    Neither option is acceptable.
    5. rs21 therefore resolves to:
    a. reaffirm its opposition to immigration restrictions and to borders of any kind;
    b. campaign for equal rights for migrant workers with those of British nationality. This includes supporting the unionisation of casualised and precarious workers, a disproportionately large number of whom are migrant workers;
    c. in the event that Britain remains in the EU, to campaign for EU nationals resident in Britain to have the same rights to benefits as those with British nationality;
    d. in the event that Britain votes to leave the EU, to campaign for the right of EU nationals already in the country to remain indefinitely;
    e. to continue to campaign alongside those in refugee and migrants’ rights campaigns, such as those to close detention centres, and to assist in whatever way possible to build a united campaign for the defence of migrants’ rights;
    f. to support, wherever, possible, humanitarian assistance to refugees, linking it to the political demand to allow them, unconditionally, into Britain.
    g. Call for and campaign for the removal of tied visas for foreign domestic workers, who are unable to change their employer and remain in Britain legally. Tied visas have been linked to the sexual exploitation of women domestic workers and physical and emotional abuse of workers, who cannot leave their abusive employers
    for fear of being removed from the country for breaking their visa conditions.

    Like

  6. johngeoffreywalker

    A further motion was also passed unanimously, expanding on action point 5e:

    Rs21 and migrant solidarity
    We note:
    ● One of the key issues in the upcoming EU referendum will be the
    question of migration, by both EU citizens and/ or non­EU citizens
    into Europe. All of the main camps in this debate espouse varying
    degrees of xenophobia and racism.
    ● This anti­migrant sentiment has been a part of British political life
    for decades but has been ratcheted up to fever pitch in recent
    times, with the media and sections of the political class attempting
    to make it the dominant issue in British political life. This has led to
    UKIP receiving millions of votes, the daily demonization of and
    attacks against migrants in Britain and a small but worrying
    resurgence in ultra­violent fascist organisations.
    ● In the aftermath of the publication of photos of Aylan Kurdi, dead
    on a European beach, there was an outpouring of support for
    refugees around Europe, with hundreds of thousands marching in
    solidarity in Britain alone.
    ● The organisation ‘London2Calais’ was launched off the back of this
    outpouring of solidarity. It has successfully engaged huge
    numbers of people in building practical solidarity for refugees and
    migrants. It has a core support base of dozens, predominantly
    women and BAME people. London2Calais has not compromised
    in putting anti­capitalist and anti­imperialist critiques of the states
    and border regimes, which are responsible for the endless deaths
    of those fleeing for safety or a chance of a better life.
    ● Stand Up to Racism has also been launched as an umbrella
    anti­racist organisation. Whilst it isunclear what exactly its purpose
    or strategic goals are (its ‘About’ page has not been updated in
    over a year), it has the ability to organise large demonstrations and
    build meetings in support of anti­racist causes.

    We resolve to:
    ● Mandate the full­timer to encourage members in London to support
    and get involved with the activities of London2Calais;
    ● Argue for a political and non­sectarian approach to anti­racism and
    migrant solidarity which includes working with Stand Up to Racism
    as much as possible;
    ● Continue to develop the anti­capitalist and anti­imperialist politics
    within London2Calais;
    ● Set up a caucus for rs21 members working within London2Calais;
    ● Argue that London2Calais will need to orientate towards prioritising
    anti­racist political work in light of the likely impact of the EU
    referendum on British politics and society.

    Like

  7. PW

    I’m not “claiming” anything about rs21, I’m using logic.

    If Britain leaves the EU, then EU nationals will no longer be able to go to and from Britain as they please as under the Schengen Agreement (and conversely, Brits will no longer be able to go to and from EU countries as they please as they do under the Schengen Agreement).

    I fail to see why that is controversial or offensive.

    Like

  8. PW

    ^That explains the confusion on my part then.

    So if the U.K. isn’t part of the common currency and not part of Schengen, what exactly does being part of the EU mean for the country? It’s hard to understand as a foreigner what all the Brexit fuss is really all about then if the U.K. is barely in the EU in the first place.

    Like

  9. RayB

    In response to the Remain arguments made by Vic in the first comment:

    “Leaving the EU will increase attacks on migrants(both EU and non-EU).”

    As opposed to the actions of those EU members now erecting barbed wire fences, scapegoating migrants and pandering to racist who burn down refugee hostels? The EU is no guarantor of refuge for migrants. It’s anti-democratic nature allows member states to flout human rights rules while the EU leadership concedes to their racist rhetoric. In the UK the far right have been isolated by anti-racist campaigns which is more than can be said in some other leading EU states such as France and Germany. EU membership does not determine the fight against racism.

    “Leaving the EU will strengthen the Right, both here and other EU countries.”

    Workers in Greece voted to reject the EU austerity plan and if Tsipris had implemented this democratic mandate then a probable Grexit would have strengthened the anti-austerity and anti-EU position of workers and the left across Europe. The huge support for Corbyn, who had made no secret of his anti-austerity and anti-EU position in the past, is part of a emerging radicalisation in the UK. Leaving the question of membership of the undemocratic, anti-migrant and anti-working class EU to the Right concedes to the argument that the best that workers can hope for is to remain in the EU and accept Tsipris and the EU bureaucrats shoddy memorandum.

    “The vote is not a principal; it is a tactic. The Left has forgotten this. Leaving the EU will result in bosses being able to squeeze more out of us.”

    Tsipris ditched left wing anti-austerity principles for pragmatic right wing pro-austerity tactics that have squeezed an unprecedented amount out of Greek workers. EU membership has facilitated exploitation rather than protected against it.

    “Current EU workers in this country will be alienated by UK socialists campaigning to leave the EU. A great one for international soldidarity!”

    The left have been at the forefront of anti-racist and migrant solidarity campaigns. We have defended the rights of workers of all nationalities and have not pandered to the racist rhetoric of British jobs for British workers that some on the left in the Remain campaign have argued in the past.

    “I have no idea why revolutionary socialists could entertain the idea of being on the same side as the xenophobic, pro-deregulation wombats that want us to leave.”

    Despite the racist and xenophobic agenda of UKIP, when they accuse the EU of being undemocratic they are right. After the treatment of workers in Greece the Left cannot pretend this is not the case. To do so is to align ourselves with Tsipris and other apologists for EU austerity and the scapegoating of migrants that goes along with this. The argument that the left must support such an undemocratic institution as an alternative to xenophobia squanders the opportunity for the left to offer an alternative to both reactionary positions.

    Like

leave a comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s