From Socialist Voice, March 2008

Progressive change is home-grown
—not a gift from Brussels

Later this year we will be asked to vote for the Lisbon Treaty, or the revived EU Constitution. This treaty as a document is incomprehensible unless read in conjunction with the Treaty of Rome (1956) and the Treaty of Maastricht as amended by the Treaties of Amsterdam and Nice. Very few advocates of Lisbon will have read these dense tomes. However, they will be advocating a Yes vote on the grounds of all the wonderful things that have happened to us since we joined the “Common Market” back in 1973.
     There is a general view that all progressive change has come from the European Union. However, the facts seem to tell us that progressive change has not in fact come from Brussels but is largely home-grown.
     On the question of social issues, divorce was legalised after two referendums. The Irish people alone made this decision.
     The availability of contraception came from various radical groups of Irish people who broke the law unless common sense prevailed (some publicans even risked losing their licence by installing condom machines); and even the limited abortion rights, mostly related to the right to information and travel, came about when reluctant governments were forced to act on the famous X case.
     On the issue of workers’ rights, how many times have we heard workers refer to their “EEC days” when referring to the fourth week of annual leave? I have no idea how this expression got into common use. However, if we examine the subject we note that workers had three weeks of annual leave as a result of Irish legislation introduced in 1973. An additional two days were added as a result of the first “national understanding” between unions, employers and Government in an agreement of 1979–80. A further two days were added in the Second National Understanding, 1980–81; and most unions added the twentieth day over a number of years when free collective bargaining prevailed from 1981 to 87.
     As for public holidays, we can thank communist influence in the Irish trade union movement for May Day and the Church for St Patrick’s Day, Easter Monday, June Monday (formerly Whitsun), Christmas, and St Stephen’s Day. We have had the August holiday for as long as anyone can remember; and the October holiday came about when the late Michael O’Leary (no relation to Ryanair) was Minister for Labour in the 1970s and gave this holiday as a substitute for May Day when he bowed to employers’ pressure not to grant the “Red” holiday on 1 May.
     The only public holiday unaccounted for (or bank holiday, as they tend to be called in Ireland) is 1 January. I have heard some people say that this came about as a result of some European decision. However, I have no positive proof in this regard.
     While we all know that women still get paid less than men, we will be told by the pro-Lisbonos, Sure didn't equal pay for women come from Europe! Well, yes, it did—but not because of some act of philanthropy on the part of Brussels. The idea of equal pay for equal work was introduced by the French Left government of Léon Blum in the 1930s. It stayed on the statute books in France throughout the Nazi occupation and continued up to the time of signing the Treaty of Rome in 1956. At that time French capitalists insisted that the other five—Italy, West Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg—adopt equal-pay laws so that they would not be at a competitive disadvantage in the newly formed common market.
     So, at long last, something worth while came from Europe—as a result of French left agitation in the thirties. Advances gained in equal pay were achieved by intense struggle by previous generations of workers and were not handed down by some benign EEC Commission.
     Well, what begrudgery! Sure look at the roads that we have as a result of all the money that we got in from Europe over the years. Well, it’s true that the Euro loot did largely build the new roads. However, the most basic rule of economics tells us that there is no such thing as a free lunch. Ireland, with 25 per cent of the European Union’s fisheries, gets 4 per cent of the entire catch. Under the new common fisheries policy this will be reduced by a further one-third.
     According to the south-west fisheries organisations, we lose €1½ billion worth of fish to our EU “partners” each year. It seems that those roads are paved with mackerel!
     Perhaps the best success of EU membership was the question of foreign investment in Ireland. American companies in particular would set up a manufacturing plant in Ireland and use the country as a base from which to export its products, tax-free, into the huge European market. This was particularly attractive while corporation taxes in Ireland on manufactured products remained low—between 10 and 12½ per cent. However, this tax regime comes under threat if the Lisbon Treaty is carried—a case of turkeys voting for Christmas.

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