April 2017        

Successful speaking tour on Brexit

Socialist Voice reporter

The week before the British prime minister, Theresa May, triggered article 50 for Britain to leave the European Union, the CPI hosted a delegation from the Communist Party of Britain for a national speaking tour around Ireland.
     Meetings took place in Dublin, Cork, Galway, Monaghan, Newry, and Belfast. The meeting in Monaghan was sponsored by the Peadar O’Donnell Socialist Republican Forum, while the Newry meeting was hosted by the Newry Branch of Unite in the Community.
     The tour was a great success, providing an opportunity for Irish audiences to hear at first hand about the struggle the CPB has been engaged in, both leading up to the referendum last year and in the strategy and demands of the party now that article 50 has been triggered.
     Rob Griffiths, general secretary, and Nick Wright, member of the Executive Committee, spoke on behalf of the CPB at the various meetings. Both dealt with the historical position of the left in Britain. The left, including the communist movement and most social democrats, opposed the setting up of the Common Market. Over the decades almost all social democrats and a significant number of European communist parties took up a position of acceptance of the EU, sowing confusion among the working class and playing no small part in allowing the right to appear to be the champions of democracy and sovereignty and of the interests of workers, who were so badly hit by the austerity policies and treaty obligation of the EU.
     Before the referendum, media coverage of the anti-EU position was given over entirely to right-wing Tory and Blairite personalities. The left-wing case for leaving had to be made, and so the CPB helped to form the Left Leave or Lexit campaign, and had some success in getting support and making its case. As well as the Communist Party the Left Leave campaign included the Indian Workers’ Association of Great Britain, the Bangladeshi Workers’ Council of Britain, Counterfire, the Socialist Workers’ Party and Labour Leave as well as a number of trade unions: the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers (RMT), the railway workers’ union (ASLEF), and the Bakers’, Food and Allied Workers’ Union.
     This was despite the fact that the union leadership and a majority of unions, together with the Parliamentary Labour Party, gave unquestioning support to Remain. Even Jeremy Corbyn was pressured into going against his lifetime opposition to EU membership.
     In the referendum, huge swathes of Labour Party voters voted to leave. Opinion polls also suggest that a majority of Plaid Cymru supporters and as much as a third of SNP voters are seriously critical of the EU.
     Neo-liberalism is entrenched in the EU structures and laws, severely limiting workers’ rights. The Lisbon Treaty provides for deep intervention in the labour market, in effect labour deregulation, giving precedence to the market over workers’ rights and curtailing the capacity of working people to change or influence economic and social policies at the national level.
     Rob dealt with the role of the EU Central Bank and its boast that it is independent, which in fact means that it is subject to no outside control whatever, is above democratic control or any accountability to the people. The EU and ECB have imposed austerity on member-states, particularly on the weakest ones. After the financial crisis of 2008, debtor-countries were forced to repay the debts of their banks, resulting in huge unemployment and misery.
     The mainstream of the ruling class, including the City of London, was vigorously in favour of Remain. It is extremely important that the working class in Britain should now organise and mobilise to present and fight for its own demands over the course of the Brexit negotiations. Working people cannot sit back and allow the British ruling class to decide their fate.
     The meetings were also addressed by speakers from the CPI and other progressive organisations and individuals. These speakers made the case for an Irish withdrawal from the European Union and the need to campaign against any EU-imposed border in our country.
     The general secretary of the CPI, Eugene McCartan, stated at the Dublin meeting: “The Irish government has been knocking on doors to give the impression that they have a seat at the table when it comes to the forthcoming negotiations between Britain and the European Union, after Britain triggers article 50 in the next week or so. Given our historical experience with the imposition of the unjust and odious bank debt on our people, and the programme of austerity as imposed by the European Union, working-class voices now need to be heard loud and clear.”
     Speakers also described how marginal the people of the Six Counties are in the whole Brexit process now under way, making it clear that Britain will decide what is in its own strategic interests, with little regard for the views of the people.
     The question of the euro was raised, and why the option of a break from it was a necessary and central demand at this time. Speakers emphasised that the euro is a mechanism of control by the dominant economic powers, in particular Germany, and especially over the heavily indebted peripheral states.
     Eugene McCartan addressed those within the labour and republican movements who still harbour illusions regarding the EU. “Strengthening the European Union and the euro will not bring about a solidarity that has never existed but will reinforce the prevalence of the interests of the main powers of the European Union.”
     The visit was a great success and shows the importance of providing a platform for progressive voices from Britain and ensuring that, as the negotiation triggered by article 50 begins, these voices are heard by the widest possible audience here in Ireland over the coming months and years.
     The CPI has for many years been a critical voice against the EU, against the constant hollowing out of the democracy and sovereignty of the Irish people by the Irish state and the Irish ruling class. It is not possible to understand what the European Union is or what its role and function are if we ignore class and the question of whose class interests it serves.

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