by Tony Conway Convenor of ARAF – the Communist Party’s anti racist and anti fascist commission
The decision of the British People to leave the EU in 2016 was a shock to the ruling class as represented by big business, the senior civil service, government and banking. The Government of the day had the support of the majority of trade unions, who publicly spoke up for Remain, in spite of the views of many of their members. Since that majority decision, certain sections of the left have set about vilifying those who voted leave. Working class voters have been called racist, stupid or selfish. Others seek to split the population into convenient stereotypes. They have argued the people got it wrong and should be given a chance to change their mind.
As the Communist Party can attest, the left has a long tradition in opposing the EU and the treaties which embed its neo liberal policies. In the case of the CP, this opposition extends back to 1955. At that time the fascists supported a single European capitalist federation. Opposition to the EEC/EC/EU was common amongst unions and the Labour Party, especially on its left. Ironically it seems significant groups of fascists and those on the far right, including Le Pen’s ‘National Rally’, are swinging back to a pro EU position.
Since the height of Thatcherism, sections of the left have shifted allegiance. They believed a supra national government gave them more safeguards than their trades union organisation could achieve at home. They ignored the undermining of collective rights and outlawing of state intervention, for unspecified protections in the European Social Chapter. This in reality regularised such practices as agency work and long hours working.
Around the same time, the Schengen Agreement came into being, as part of the EU moved towards further neo liberal reform. Schengen was incorporated into EU law by the Amsterdam treaty in 1997, which came into effect in 1999. It then became subject to rulings made by the European Court of Justice (ECJ).
Schengen allowed people and goods to move freely across internal borders, whilst significantly strengthening external borders.
Countries in Schengen were required to tighten internal controls. Identity cards were required in many countries. Registration was required in hotels. Commonly known as ‘fortress Europe’, this strengthening of external borders and internal controls was based on a fundamentally racist, euro-centric view of the world and had a negative impact on many countries particularly in North Africa.
The Dublin regulations adopted in 1997 stated that EU states where asylum seekers first enter have front line responsibility. In 2017 the ECJ ruled that EU states have the right to deport asylum seekers to their country of entry. There is widespread criticism of these regulations by human rights groups including the UNHCR.
Schengen has resulted in widespread depopulation of many EU Nations depriving them of their skilled workers. Estonia has lost 20 per cent of its adult male population. It has also led to the large-scale movement of capital – for example the recent announcement of JLR to move production to Serbia from Britain. Workers are forced to compete against each other at the behest of capital. Recently this has become institutionalised in the Posted Workers’ Directive.
The Communist party has documented the impact of the EU and is noted for its careful research of EU developments. In 1978 it argued that incorporation into the EU would have a negative impact on immigrants from outside of the EU and that this would particularly affect communities which had historic and family ties outside the Schengen area.
Therefore, it’s no surprise that we now find the government expelling people who have lived here for decades. New Labour and then the ConDems introduced new immigration acts, which criminalised whole communities. Thousands find themselves in privately run immigration centres. Thousands have been deported. The latest act from 2014 incorporated the home office ‘hostile environment’ into law. All of this happened under the watchful eye of the supposedly benign EU. As with the single currency the UK remains outside Schengen but incorporates its controls – directed against people from outside the EU.
EU action contributes to the creation of mass migration, of workers seeking work and refugees, signs a cynical agreement worth 800 million Euros so far with Turkey to set up camps for people fleeing war in Syria, and sees the return of slavery in Libya. Yet if you oppose the EU you can be called a racist!
There is a trope that people who voted to leave the EU – as is their right – are racist and those who voted to remain, aren’t. This doesn’t stand up. The EU was established as a means of safeguarding EU capital. Social and political rights are enshrined for some but at the expense of others. Many Governments support the EU whilst at the same discriminating against people on grounds of ethnicity. How else to explain the Windrush scandal?
If we are to challenge racist ideology, and its often fellow-traveller fascism, name-calling and stereotyping is not helpful. The Communist party’s call for a people’s boycott in the forthcoming EU Elections has certainly generated lots of debate. This is good. The abuse is not.
The Communist party has consistently opposed the EU so why would it now participate in an institution when the majority of people voted to leave, and we should have done so by now?
Having fought racism and imperialism throughout its 99-year existence, the CP certainly wouldn’t recommend support for the leave options as set out by the neo liberal Brexit Party or the racist UKIP. In fact, it calls upon those that want to leave to stay away on 23rd May and not vote for such outfits. Those anti racists who argue we must vote to keep out Yaxley Lennon and UKIP will be placed in a trap of their own making. They will end up on the side of Schengen.
The CP believes in discussing, arguing and physically opposing racism as necessary, and this is best done in workplaces and communities where people can be brought together. Just shouting and labelling people, as some have chosen to do in the wake of the referendum, achieves little.
We must redouble our efforts to include and empower those who are directly discriminated against. We need a genuine alternative that is based on socialism. It is time now to go on the offensive.