The Trade Union Case for Lexit – Steve Hedley (RMT)

Steve Hedley was elected as Senior Assistant General Secretary of RMT (National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers) in 2012.

We in the RMT are a union of 80,000 workers that organises train workers, Tube workers, bus, taxi, offshore, road transport workers and seafarers. We oppose racism in all its forms, we are for a peoples’ Europe and a peoples’ world, a socialist Europe and a socialist world. You may have been forgiven in thinking that the right wing were the only people arguing for a British exit from the European Union. News reports concentrate almost exclusively on the Brexit campaign led in Britain by racists like Farage and Boris Johnson and on the right wing of the Tory Party. We have no association with these people at all. They are sometimes like a stopped clock who are right twice a day, but for all the wrong reasons. We want to come out of the European Union because we want to protect workers’ rights.

If we look at the philosophical and political reasons why the European Union was formed we can see that it is a capitalist entity, a completely ruthless trading block in competition with other trading blocks, including developing countries. As early as 1957, the Treaty of Rome outlined the absolute necessity of the free movement of capital, labour services and the pre-eminence of the free market economy within the borders of the signatory states. This completely rules out two of the fundamental basses of socialism i.e. the need for a planned economy and the control over the movement of capital. To change this treaty, all 28 current European states would have to unanimously agree to the changes.

The other purpose of the E.U was that it would form an economic bulwark against the Soviet Union. Of course, those arguing to remain in the EU in Britain will correctly point out that the Conservatives led by Thatcher and after that the Labour government brought about privatisation in all the major utilities – Gas, Water, Electric, Telephone and of course the Railways. However, what the EU does is institutionalise these privatizations and does not allow nation states to reverse them.

Take the rail industry for example. What the European Fourth Railway Package does is institutionalise privatisation and enshrine it in European law which has precedence over every country’s national law. The fourth rail package, in its own words, seeks the “Opening domestic passenger markets”. The 4th railway package includes the proposal to open up domestic passenger railways to new entrants and services from December 2019. Companies would be able either to offer competing services, such as a new train service on a particular route, or to bid for public service rail contracts through tendering. The proposed changes would make competitive tendering mandatory for public service rail contracts in the EU. Even if we had a Left wing government elected in Britain tomorrow, if Jeremy Corbyn was Prime Minister, he could not renationalise the railways and stay in the European Union.

Trade Union Support for Brexit
In our Maritime industry we have seen the obscene spectacle of Portuguese workers, our brothers and sisters, working in British ships in Southampton being paid less that 3 pounds an hour, which is less than half the national minimum wage. This is completely legal under European law which, in the Viking and Laval judgements, stated that a worker can work in a foreign country and be paid the minimum wage in their own country and not the much superior wage of the host country. In essence this is what the EU is all about. It’s a bosses club; a rich capitalist club that wants to destroy workers’ rights and workers’ terms and conditions. It seeks to open up markets to private capital that have previously been closed to it because they were state run. We welcome any worker from across Europe and indeed across the world. We have far more in common with workers from everywhere than with our bosses, and we want those workers paid on the same terms, conditions and pay as British workers.

Our opponents want to say that we are racists for demanding the workers to have equal rights. That is a slur, not the truth. It is part of a “project fear” to intimidate workers, especially those from ethnic minorities in Britain, into voting to stay in the European Union.

The liberalisation package that the EU is demanding by 2020 – the reason why France in on strike at the minute – would be applied in every European country. Like in France, the need for capitalism to maximise its profits means deregulation, lengthening the working week, cutting pensions and introducing flexible working conditions which include zero-hour-contracts for workers throughout Europe.

Multi nationals are already taking advantage of European laws that prevent free trade. We have the appalling example of an American company, Uber, registered in Holland, taking the Spanish government to the European Court because, they say, they are restricting their trade. The actions of Uber of course will be the template for every other multinational that wants to drive down terms and conditions. If a government tries to protect its workers, this company will bring this government to the European Court. This will be enshrined in the TTIP agreement, which is now being negotiated in secret, behind our backs. The chief negotiator for Europe in the TTIP talks said plainly that she was not responsible to the European people, but was responsible to the unelected European Commission.

EU’s Privatisation Drive & How it Doesn’t Give Workers Rights
There are those who argue that the European Union is reformable. This argument may have held some water before, we say, the treatment of Greece, where the troika imposed austerity by threatening to pull the plug on the Greek economy if the government refused to implement anti-working class austerity measures. The European Commission, IMF and World Bank have, in effect, subjugated elected national governments by threatening to destroy countries who did not comply financially. In Greece and Italy, we had the grotesque imposition of unelected European overseers to run the affairs of the countries. In Ireland we had the suspensions of collective bargaining in order to comply with EU demands and the indignity of workers having to pay a recession tax in order to meet arbitrary EU set targets. This is the supersession of democratic norms (even bourgeois democratic norms) by the unelected, unaccountable anti-democratic European Commission which consistently produces dictates completely contrary to workers interests.

Those seeking to reform the E.U. may as well try feeding a tiger apples and oranges in the hope of turning it vegetarian. The tiger is not designed to eat vegetables and the E.U is not designed to achieve socialism.

Lexit The Movie
I would like to end by saying that this year is an historic year for me as an Irishman. One hundred years ago, a couple of thousand Irish people rose up in 1916 and shook the chains of the British Empire. It’s my fervent hope that in 2016, the peoples of France, of Germany, of Spain, of Greece, and all the peoples of Europe, will rise up against the dictatorship of the European Union.


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