Link to this page: http://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/207/8522
No to a bosses' Europe: Fight for workers' unity
ONE OF the media's big general election issues is whether Britain should join the European Monetary Union (EMU) during the next government.
Britain is part of the bosses' European Union (EU) but both Tory and Labour governments have resisted signing up to EMU, which would mean replacing the pound with the Euro.
New Labour would prefer the whole issue to remain in the background during the election campaign, as they are split and wavering on what to do. To put off a decision, they have promised to hold a referendum on the Euro within two years of forming the next government, and will recommend adoption of the new currency if five economic criteria are met.
HOWEVER, TORY leader, William Hague, is intent on highlighting Europe in an attempt to boost his poll ratings. He is trying to court the over two-thirds of voters opposed to British entry into the Euro zone, by whipping up nationalist sentiment and posing as an anti-Brussels figurehead.
In doing this, he has great trouble with his party, due to the deep divisions that exist. Some leading Tories are pro-Europe, while others go even further than Hague in a Euro-sceptic direction; they refuse to accept his promise to rule out the Euro in the next term of government, in favour of ruling it out forever. Some call for complete withdrawal from the EU.
The differences between the official New Labour and Tory positions are not any indication of a left-right divide between the parties but are simply a reflection of the fact that the capitalist class in Britain is divided on Europe, with a section favouring adoption of the Euro, and a section being against. A Reuters survey in February this year showed the top 350 companies as favouring joining the Euro by two to one.
However, a poll of manufacturers in the Financial Times a month later stated only 29% of them supported the government's 'in principle' policy, and 36% supported a more wary position of 'wait and see'.
Euro trading bloc
THIS DRIVE for monetary union by the political representatives of capitalism in many European countries stems from their desire to end the trading obstacle faced by the multinationals through currency fluctuations and to create a bloc that could rival the world's other main trading areas, in particular the Americas dominated by U.S imperialism.
The course towards greater European integration was also used by European governments to unleash programmes of cuts and wage restraint on their working classes in the name of meeting the criteria for currency union - the Maastricht criteria.
Recently there have been concessions in some countries, made under pressure from below. Greek workers held a successful general strike on 26 April, followed by a second general strike on 17 May, which paralysed public and private sectors and forced the government to withdraw an attack on pensions.
In France, the employers' federation was forced to back off from an attack on pensions after workers pressure. However, any lessening of the pace of the onslaught on workers' living standards is only temporary, as the plans and pressure of top European financiers and industrialists are for continued cuts in public expenditure in the interests of their profits.
In Britain, New Labour have set out spending plans up to 2004 which means we will suffer an even lower level of public spending as a percentage of GDP (economic output) in 2004 than we had at the end of the last Tory government. However, top EU representatives have attacked this pitiful level of spending as being excessive, because it violates the EU stability and growth pact for countries seeking to join EMU!
This is when European economies are still just about growing. As the fast-approaching recession sets in, governments will attempt greater attacks to try to prevent budget deficits from spiralling upwards, provoking huge workers' anger in the process.
For Euro zone governments, this will initially be the only option open to them. They will no longer be able to alleviate economic crisis by altering interest rates or devaluing their currency.
The strait-jacket of the Euro with the dictates of the European Central Bank will prove an impossible burden for the weakest economies in particular, making a 12-country Euro zone unviable on a permanent basis.
The arguments of Tory and New Labour politicians do not stop at the single currency. Hague is also calling for renegotiation of several major EU treaties, including the recent Nice treaty.
Hague represents the interests of a section of the British capitalist class who do not believe their best interests are served by many of the EU projects. However, the Nice summit revealed clearly that even the strongest representatives of the pro-integration capitalists in Europe are completely unable to develop integration as far as they would like, because they all fiercely defend their own national interests.
At the summit, there was a major argument over voting rights, they failed to reach agreement on the planned 60,000-strong Rapid Reaction Force and they did not agree any details regarding allowing more countries into the EU.
Most trade union leaders argue that British membership of EMU would lower interest rates making manufacturing exports to Europe cheaper and more competitive, thereby protecting workers' jobs.
However, there is no certainty that joining EMU would improve the position of British capitalism vis-ˆ-vis its European competitors, nor guarantee workers' jobs.
When Tory chancellor Norman Lamont effectively devalued the pound against other European currencies following the crisis of Black Wednesday, September 1992, any competitive edge was squandered on increased shareholder dividends and boardroom bonuses.
Also, while exports may become cheaper the corollary is that imports would become more expensive, increasing inflationary pressures.
Even if British capitalism enjoyed a 'level playing field' with its EU counterparts it wouldn't have necessarily prevented factory closures and large-scale job cuts at Ford Dagenham, Motorola, Corus steel, etc. These job losses are a consequence of overcapacity and overproduction in world markets - a classic symptom of capitalist crisis. Britain lax employment laws also makes it easier to sack workers.
SOCIALIST PARTY election candidates reject all the arguments of both pro-Europe and Euro-sceptic politicians of the three main political parties in Britain. The EU and all its projects are not in the interests of working people anywhere in Europe.
Neither is it in the interests of workers in Britain to support the Euro-scepticism of a section of the British ruling class.
We say no to a capitalist Europe in any form, and we fight for a socialist Europe. This will be a democratic, socialist confederation of Europe in which the major companies have been taken into public ownership under working-class control and management, so that the needs of all can be met.
In The Socialist 25 May 2001: