EDITORIAL by Ken Ferguson • It is pretty rare for the Voice to find itself in agreement with a leading Tory but it is hard to disagree with former Prime Minister John Major when he describes the increasingly shrill, right wing dominated Brexit campaign as “squalid”.
As we go to press, they reached a new low point—so far—with the foul Farage’s claim that voting to remain in the EU would increase the likelihood that women would be raped by immigrants due to “cultural differences”. Beyond squalid—just openly racist.
Yet as leading Tories ran for cover to distance themselves from Farage’s racist ravings, the truth is that his claims are a logical outcome of a rabid right wing campaign which becomes more xenophobic with each passing day.
Fearful of revealing their real plan for a deregulated free market economy, trashing social protection and workers’ rights outside the EU, they have turned to the old reliable tactic of blaming the foreigners alongside painting a rosy pictures of rising prosperity if only we could keep them out of England’s green and pleasant land.
Of course its a lie, and just a glance at those painting this picture—such as Boris Johnston and Michael Gove who have backed anti-union laws, attacks on the poor and favour privatising everything in sight—reveals the truth behind the “workers’ friend” fairytales.
Meanwhile, the voices of the minority on the left who favour leaving the EU are lost in the swirling fog of right wing dominated claims and sensationalism peddled by the Mail, Sun, Telegraph—entirely as predicted by their labour movement opponents.
Indeed, the blind faith of the Lexit camp that leaving the EU will usher in a new era of working class power is in many ways a mirror image reversed of the tale told by Boris, Gove and their free market chums. Both can’t be right about it.
For workers in Scotland, the UK and elsewhere, the truth is that, as the SSP and others have argued, the choice on 23 June is not one of high principle but rather of tactics.
Just as the idea that shaking off EU membership sets a course for the socialist future is fanciful, the picture of the EU as the benevolent guardian of workers rights is hollow.
The truth is that all gains made in a capitalist-dominated society such as ours—from trade union rights to the NHS, through to regulations on health and safety and working time—are won by workers in struggle, not gifted by concerned bosses and governments.
What is in contention in the EU vote is which of the options on offer creates the best terrain on which to wage the continuing struggle to defend and advance the interests of the majority over the profiteering majority.
The vast majority of socialist and trade union opinion backs the remain case but that does not mean endorsing the EU’s pro-business stance. Rather it entails viewing the current modest workers gains from the EU on workplace rights as a floor to build on through action and struggle.
Certainly, as the Tory dominated Leave side move rightwards, the omens for progressive politics with a Brexit vote looks increasingly ominous. Cameron, who conceded the referendum largely as a tool of party management, is now staring into the political abyss, seriously weakened.
It is entirely possible that post-23 June he will face a revolt, sparking a snap general election with the prospect of face off between an emboldened right wing Tory party and a Corbyn-led Labour, stuffed with mutinous Blairite MPs blaming him for Brexit.
In Scotland, the idea that it could be the trigger for a second independence referendum would be exposed as the hollow claims they are, as Westminster refused to sanction such a vote.
Meanwhile, away from the name calling of the tiny elite fronting the EU “debate,” the fact of UK austerity and vast chasms between the rich and the rest remains a daily reality, as we report elsewhere in this Voice.
So in the latest example of fat cat Britain, the former BHS boss Sir Philip Green takes delivery of his latest £100million yacht (he collects them) as 11,000 BHS workers are thrown on the dole as stores close.
Green, who with his associates in his Arcadia group took £580million out of BHS then sold it for a £1, is reported as likely to make a further £35million from its dismemberment.
Only independent struggle—both industrial and political—by the majority, suckered by the rich, can change this, and the example of the militant action by French workers in defence of their rights gives the lie to claims that EU membership prevents trade union action.
While anti-union laws and EU regulations are a barrier to action, it is a barrier which determined action can bulldoze aside.