The EU is the enemy of the working classes
Leftists who support the EU should look at Greece, and be ashamed.
There are two European Unions, it seems. There is the EU that stands up for the citizen, for his or her rights; the EU that can face down the behemoths of global capitalism and rein in their avarice and callousness; the EU that has legally enshrined workers’ freedoms, and which exists as a bulwark against untrammelled neoliberalism. And then there is the real EU.
That heroic EU is a castle in the anti-Brexit sky, built by those who identify themselves as left-wing. It is maintained by those Labour MPs and peers who, as they did on the eve of Labour’s autumn conference, ceaselessly urge Labour leader Jeremy Corybn ‘to commit to staying in the Single Market and Customs Union… and to work with sister parties and others across Europe to improve workers’ rights’.
It is fortified by the self-appointed keepers of the left-wing flame, those among the commentariat who never tire of telling us that ‘workers’ rights… would be imperilled’ by a so-called ‘Hard Brexit’. And it is peopled by all those who cling to this image of the EU as an essentially social-democratic institution, sticking it gently to the man, defying the Daily Mail, and protecting working men and women against the inhuman workings of capital.
Then there’s the other EU, the one that actually exists. This is the EU that uses the pooled-without-consent sovereignty of its member states to pursue its own institutional self-preservation, impoverishing struggling Eurozone members, from Spain to Italy, in the name of economic stability; imposing leaders-cum-administrators on recalcitrant electorates in the interests of austerity; and brazenly betraying workers’ rights at every self-interested turn. This EU – the actual EU, the one stubbornly committed to its own, not citizens’, interests – is not on the side of the worker. And it never was. Because this EU, when the economic imperative demands, is always against the worker.
But those attached to their fantasy left-wing ideal of the EU refuse to see the reality. To face up to this reality would simply be too much. It would mock their left-wing pretensions, humiliate and expose them for what they are: a craven defence of the status quo – a status quo in which they have long prospered.
This is presumably why so little attention has been given to what happened in Greece last month, when the real EU was there for all to see. The EU forced the Syriza-led government of Alex Tsipras to implement new anti-union legislation, rendering strike action illegal unless over 50 per cent of union members have formally approved it. The effect of such a measure, as the British trade-union movement discovered in the 1980s, will be to strangle workers’ freedoms in bureaucracy, and emasculate organised labour.
Not that the legislation was a surprise – it was a condition of the bailout package agreed with the EU (alongside the International Monetary Fund and the European Central Bank) back in 2015. But that doesn’t make it any less of an assault on the Greek working class. ‘These were rights won with sweat and blood more than three decades ago’, said Odysseus Trivalas, president of the union of public sector workers. ‘Banks, industrialists and foreign investors want to deny us them. We won’t make it easy. We will take to the streets.’
And take to the street they did, when workers and union activists stormed the Greek labour ministry last month, prising open metal shutters before confronting the minister, Effie Achtsioglou, and hanging a banner from the ministry’s windows that declared: ‘Hands off strikes, it’s a labour right.’ But it has all been to no avail. The bill, of which the anti-union laws were part, was passed by the Greek parliament, as well it would given Greece’s political class has pinned its own survival to that of the EU and the Eurozone, taking the cash in return for giving up even the semblance of political autonomy.
Not that you would be especially aware of any of this from the UK’s media coverage of the EU’s continued assault on Greece, and Greek workers’ rights in particular. Instead, the focus among the rump of the UK’s pro-EU media has been on Greece’s journey back from a double brink — the brink of economic collapse in 2010, and the brink of Grexit in 2015 — with the bailout programme due to end in August this year. ‘2018 should be the year Greece ends eight years of economic tutelage’, as the resolutely Remainer Financial Times put it, ‘closing a chapter on an extraordinary period in the EU’s financial crisis fighting’.
Yet peer beneath the narrative peddled by the EU’s UK-based PR machine, be it the FT or The Economist or the Guardian, and the reality of life under the EU in Greece tells us something different. It speaks of EU-driven impoverishment, of a nation in which nearly one in four adults is unemployed (an unemployment rate that rises to one in two among under-25s); a nation in which net household income has fallen by over 40 per cent since 2009; and a nation, above all, in which people’s freedom to resist, to try to determine their own future, has been curtailed and, at points, eviscerated. As Fotis, a 70-year-old former welder from Athens, put it, ‘It is a moment of humiliation I never expected to live. It is what our lives have been reduced to for the sake of getting the national numbers right.’
This EU, in which Greece is impoverished and politically neutered, is what Remainers support. This is their utopia of workers’ rights and compassionate capitalism. This is their oh-so-left-wing cause. They should be ashamed.
Tim Black is a spiked columnist.