No Social Europe

(John Boyd)

LONDON interviewed John Boyd on the position of the British left towards the EU and the so called Social Europe. John Boyd is Secretary of the Campaign against Euro-federalism (CAEF), an organisation oriented towards the labour movement and trade union movement which has been calling for a withdrawal from the EU since it was founded in 1991. When the British people had to decide over EEC membership in a referendum in 1975, it was the left who fought against it. You took part in this fight, didn't you?

John Boyd: I had been against the EEC since the late 1960's. When the Tory Government of Ted Heath signed the Rome Treaty in 1973 there were some Conservatives against the EEC and some Labour MPs for the EEC out of which came the breakaway Social Democrats led by the "gang of four" including Roy Jenkins MP which merged with the Liberal Party and became the Lib-Dems. In 1974 a Labour Government was elected with Harold Wilson as Prime Minister. His cabinet was split over the Common Market. He called a referendum and allowed cabinet members to take sides. The Government bent over backwards to support continued EEC membership.

I was active in the 1975 referendum to Get Britain Out of the Common Market as secretary of the London Borough of Ealing GBO. This West London committee had a Tory Chairman who was a Councillor, Communist vice-chairman, labour party members, trade unionists and other supporters. We were fully supported by the TGWU, NUR and ASLEF, and factory trade union branches. Then there were plenty of factories in this area. In the years after 1975, EEC membership was still mainly supported by the Tories.

Boyd: Yes. Still in 1986, the treaty known as the Single European Act was ratified by the Thatcher led Conservative Government. There was little opposition in parliament or outside except by one labour MP, Eric Deakin. Opposition would have been possible if the labour movement had woken up to the dangers expressed and forecast in the 1975 referendum: The Republic of Ireland held this treaty up for one year because it offended their constitution. It was this strangely and innocuously named treaty which laid the basis of the Single European Market. However, it now turns out three decades later not to be misnamed but aptly named after all.

In 1986 I wrote a pamphlet, The Murder of British Industry published by the Connolly Association. As a lecturer in the important Southall College of Technology it was obvious that industry was being moved out of Britain as part of the near total de-industrialisation of Britain. Manufacturing, steel, shipbuilding, coal mining and railways were the backbone of the economy and labour movement itself. The fundamental point missed was that in 1973 the ruling class decided to abandon the nation-state. This is still not understood by most in the labour movement as it requires an understanding that the rational future of Britain must have the right to self-determination, national independence and democracy. This depends on having an economy based on manufacturing to create wealth. Germany which dominates the EU did not deindustrialise and is developing further. There is no reason why Britain cannot do the same but has to extricate itself from the EU to do so. Today, a clear majority in the Labour Party and the trade unions are on the "remain" side. Why?

Boyd: The labour and trade union movement in Britain opposed membership of the then European Community or Common Market up to 1988. It was this year that the President of the European Commission, Jacques Delors, addressed the British, Danish and Irish TUCs and struck a "bargain", promising that labour and trade union movements could have a Social Charter in exchange for support for European Union. They accepted. So, 1988 marks the point and date when the labour movement, and in particular the "left", largely gave up leadership of the "anti-marketeers" and joined in with those who had deserted and dumped Britain as a sovereign nation-state. There are trade unions and other political elements which are an exception to this in particular the RMT formerly led by late General Secretary Bob Crow. RMT and other unions retain their policy and support the leave camp. We are where we are whatever the result of the referendum. The labour movement as a whole has to be won back to an anti-EU policy. This will take a lot of hard work but can and has to be done. How do you assess the Social Charter?

Boyd: A reading of this Charter indicates there is nothing of substance and certainly goes back on hard won rights, collective bargaining and even the fundamental right to strike. In fact, in Britain the TUC voted for the Charter without delegates being mandated or previous discussion at annual congresses. The Social Charter then became a protocol tucked out of sight in the back of the Maastricht Treaty. In subsequent treaties the Social Charter became a Chapter but retained all the inane weaknesses of the Charter. Not all EU Member States accepted the Chapter which was then turned into the con trick of what was called "Social Europe". Britain did not sign off this "Chapter" until the Blair led Labour Government came to power in 1997. The Prime Minister, Tony Blair, himself asked: "What is Social Europe?" The Deutscher Gewerkschaftsbund (DGB), the German equivalent to the TUC, claims that unionists would be well advised to vote "remain" because the EU allegedly would secure workers' rights. Do you agree?

Boyd: My organisation totally disagrees. As for "workers rights" the Lisbon Treaty by which all citizens within the EU are ruled does not state anywhere that those who work do have the fundamental and hard won right to strike. If one can't strike you are a slave. Rather than insuring "workers rights" EU institutions and the Lisbon Treaty have taken them away or seriously eroded them. The claim that the EU has provided maternity leave, holidays and length of the working week and other rights completely ignores that many of these predate the EU even if they differ for each Member State. Could you tell us an example?

Boyd: The European Court of Justice (ECJ) has legislated against collective bargaining. This was the case known as Lavel where a Latvian construction company put workers from Latvia into a Swedish building site for a school at lower than nationally and collectively agreed wages. The construction trade unions picketed and blockaded the site. The Latvian company took the case to the ECJ which sided with the company as part of the "free movement of cheap labour" within the Single European Market.

Viking Ferries was another case which involved the replacement of Finnish seamen with Latvian sailors for lower wages where again the ECJ sided with Viking Ferries to reinforce the "free movement of cheap labour". The Ruffert case of posted workers is where a company "posted workers" to another Member State and paid them lower wages at worse conditions. Again the ECJ legislated in favour of the "right" to post workers from one Member State to another to break collective bargaining and nationally agreed rates of pay and conditions.