By Ciaran Mulholland
Tory Prime Minister David Cameron has pledged to hold an “in-out” referendum on the European Union (EU) in Britain and Northern Ireland by the end of 2017. His preference is to hold the referendum in 2016 if possible, depending on the outcome of negotiations with the other 27 countries in the EU. It is clear that he hopes to recommend a “yes” vote to stay in the EU.
More Attacks on Workers’ Rights
Cameron’s strategy is based on prising concessions, or the promise of concessions, from the EU. Whilst the Tories would love to pose as the Party which halted so-called “mass immigration” it is unlikely to achieve significant concessions in this area. Where it is likely to achieve success, in its terms, is in a diminution of workers’ rights and the introduction of further neo-liberal legislation. Thus Cameron’s success will signal further attacks on the living standards of working class people across Europe.
Cameron represents the majority view of the British ruling class. It is overwhelmingly likely that when the referendum is called almost all of the establishment will line up on the “yes” side. There will be only a scattering of no campaigners in the Labour and Liberal Democrat parties. A vocal large minority in the Conservative Party will make sure that their voices are heard. They will line up alongside the UK Independence Party (UKIP) and a minority of business figures who are Euro-sceptic.
Unfortunately it is almost certain that nearly all trade union leaders will line up with the establishment. They will ask workers to vote to stay in what is a political arrangement designed to act in the interests of the capitalist class. A notable exception will be the RMT (transport workers union) which has a well-established anti-EU position.
North and EU
In Northern Ireland a complicated scenario will unfold when the referendum is called. The EU is seen as having playing a positive role in the “peace process” by many Catholics who see it as broadly supportive of their aspirations. Many Protestants have the opposite view.
Sinn Fein historically has taken an anti-EU position but in more recent years has switched sides. The SDLP has long been pro-EU. The supposed anti-austerity stances of both parties will be further exposed as a lie in this context – the EU is a vehicle for austerity.
The unionist parties have in general been against the EU and their initial instinct will be to call for a “no” vote. Various factors may result in a more cautious approach however. For example, the UUP retains a base in rural areas such as Fermanagh where farmers have gained from Europe through various financial subventions, and would be reluctant to alienate their support. The DUP are much more likely to advocate a “no” vote but may hesitate to do so when the Tories are calling for a “yes”.
The most reactionary forces in the North will line up on the “no” side, the Traditional Unionist Voice (TUV) and UKIP vociferously so. The various shades of dissident republicanism are also likely to take an anti-EU stance and will employ left rhetoric when doing so.
A force for progress?
This scenario, in which the most backward looking elements come down on the “no” side, will reinforce the genuine view held by many that Europe is in some way “progressive”, especially when compared to the sectarian sterility of Northern politics. Europe appears to be cosmopolitan and liberal in contrast to the backwardness and insularity of Northern Ireland. Young people in particular are likely to adopt this stance. The EU is looked to by some as a means of dragging Northern Ireland into the 21st century on issues such as LGBT rights and a woman’s right to choose.
It is the duty of class conscious trade union and community activists and socialists to call for a “no” vote. To do anything else is to sow illusions in the role of the EU and to cede the anti-EU field to reactionaries. The EU is an anti-worker bosses club and must be opposed. The Socialist Party will call for a “no” to the EU and pose the positive alternative of a socialist Europe for the millions not the millionaires.