Free movement across borders gives individual freedom, and makes cultures more diverse and richer. Migrants have rights; and migrants are a boon, not a burden.
To win democratic control against the rapacious profit-drive of the capitalist multinationals and the global financial markets requires joint action by many countries. Socialism cannot be built in one country alone. The working class, to win gains, must unite across borders. The lower the borders, the easier it is to unite.
Social levelling-up across borders is better than unchecked competition between capitalist states to offer the most profitable terrain to the multinationals. Confederation, unification, peaceful negotiation, is better than war between nations.
Those six arguments sum up the socialist case for voting “remain” on 23 June. We oppose the status quo; but we want to reduce borders, not raise them. The best starting point for struggle against the capitalist and undemocratic policies of the EU and of all EU states is lower borders.
Higher borders mean discrimination against migrants and less-fettered rivalry between capitalist states to offer cheap operating bases to the multinationals. Migrants are not to blame for shortages of housing and services. On the contrary, many migrants work in the NHS and other public services, and in construction. Government cuts are to blame for the shortages. Migrants are not to blame for unemployment. Government cuts are to blame there, too. Whether Britain is in the EU or not, capital will flow freely across borders.
The Brexiters want only to stop people moving, not capital. In fact, as anything but an emergency measure by a beleaguered workers' state, to stop capital moving across borders would be to try to wind the economic clock by many decades, and would impoverish rather than emancipate. We want people to be able to move freely, too. We want the best conditions for workers to unite across national barriers.
Brexit would mean that 90% of the EU migrants now working in Britain — your workmates, your friends, your neighbours — would lose their status here and have to apply for visas under new conditions which no-one knows. Britain has more citizens working or retired abroad — three million — than any other well-off country. With Brexit, you would lose your EU citizenship and your automatic right to go to work or study elsewhere in the EU.
The “leave” campaign scapegoats migrants for social problems which arise most where there are few migrants! Ukip support is strongest where the migrant population is smallest. By and large, the map of Ukip support and the map of migrant population are opposites. Where migrants are numerous, especially in London, Ukip support and anti-migrant feeling are low. By contrast, in the only parliamentary seat to have a Ukip MP, Clacton, migrants are scarce. It has one of the lowest foreign-born populations of any constituency, just 4.3 per cent. The biggest single foreign-born group there is people born in Germany in the 1950s and 60s to British parents doing military service there.
Economic life has long outgrown national frontiers. It long ago ceased to be possible for capitalist countries to operate side by side, with only marginal flows across frontiers. The only options are voluntary economic integration, or forceful rivalry between the bigger powers to win regional supremacy. Voluntary integration, even done badly as it is done in the EU, is better.
John Downey of Loughborough University has studied TV and press coverage during the EU referendum campaign, and found: “Coverage about the referendum is still largely a ‘Tory story’ and a male dominated, ‘blue-on-blue’ tale at that”. He counted 1082 media appearances by top Tories and by Ukip's Nigel Farage between 6 May and 8 June, and only 52 for Jeremy Corbyn and 12 for John McDonnell.
The debate has been projected as between two Tory alternatives — “vote leave” migrant-baiting and “vote remain” safety-first-ism, in a way calculated to push all the discontented towards the “vote leave” demagogues. Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell have spoken for a third alternative — voting for “remain” as the start-point of a fight for a social Europe — but have been sidelined by the media.
There is a risk of diverse strands of frustration and discontent being assembled behind the Tory and Ukip demagogues to produce a “leave” majority on 23 June. The demagogues will then translate their vague talk of “taking control” into new barriers against migrants; stigmatisation and sifting of the millions of EU migrants already living in Britain; and trashing of worker rights brought into Britain by EU levelling-up (“excessive regulation”). It will be an ugly time.
Socialists can hope to limit the regression, as people realise how the Brexiters have deceived them, and will fight to do so in the long process of EU-British renegotiation; but it will be uphill. If the vote goes for “remain”, then we must go on the offensive for migrant rights and for workers' unity across borders.
Strategies to transform, not illusions about escape
A group of left-wing “Economists for Rational Economic Policies” published a report on 15 June: “Remain for Change: Building European solidarity for a democratic economic alternative”. Below is an excerpt from the section by Engelbert Stockhammer on “Why the left should vote remain”.
"An EU exit would not solve the British left’s problems and it would strengthen the xenophobic right. British neoliberalism simply does not rely on EU integration. Britain is one of the leading countries of neoliberalism.
Britain has been there first and it has gone further than most continental European countries. Britain has attacked labour unions and collective bargaining arrangements well before the EU; it has deregulated financial markets earlier and more thoroughly. Neither university fees nor the stealth privatisation of the NHS nor the bedroom tax were imposed on Britain by the EU. Austerity was home made.
EU membership in Britain does not have much of an impact on neoliberalisation. If anything — in terms of regulating the City and labour laws — EU rules moderate (but do not fundamentally change) neoliberalism. What Brexit would change is the situation of immigrants. The official Brexit campaign is either an argument about sovereignty that exaggerates the role of the EU in law-making, or it is outright xenophobic. The only area where an EU exit would make an immediate impact is regulation of immigration and it is hard to see a Conservative government not making use of that.
This is a strategy of blaming the miserable state of public infrastructure, a crumbling NHS and a shrinking welfare state on immigrants instead of domestic policy choices. What is on offer is a discourse of racial (or religious or ethnic) superiority instead of real economic improvements. It is divide and conquer, where poor Brits are pitted against the newly arriving future working classes.
British workers are given a new underclass to look down on, rather than a pay rise. Real wages today are below what they were before the crisis. Union laws are being tightened. There is chronic underinvestment in public infrastructure. The health and education system are being privatised.
None of these is because of the EU, but because the left has not developed an effective domestic political strategy. Economically, British neoliberalism has given rise to a debt-driven growth model that has relied on property bubbles and credit booms, and it has a dangerously oversized financial industry. It is also a highly fragile growth model. Britain needs a wage-led growth strategy, better public infrastructure, a green investment plan. It needs to regulate its banks and make sure that the rich pay taxes. But does EU membership not potentially restrict a progressive government in Britain?
Hasn’t the treatment of Greece demonstrated that there can’t be a progressive policy in the EU?
The EU undoubtedly could constrain progressive policies, but the analogy with Greece is misleading.
First, Britain is not part of the Euro system; it has its own central bank, and it is not as easily blackmailed as countries without their own.
Second, the EU’s large countries are more equal than small ones, and do take liberties with the application of treaties to themselves.
No Troika was imposed on Spain despite the fact that it needed EU help to save its banks. Germany and France have in the past repeatedly violated budget deficit limits, with little effect. A progressive government would have to explore the boundaries of that. But the underlying issue is a deeper one: in today’s globalised economy any economic strategy that relies on autarky is doomed.
Transnational corporations, international capital markets and an increasingly assertive Germany are reality that the left has to face and to do that it will need state structures on a larger scale than current nation states. The EU may be an unlikely candidate for that, but it is the only candidate. The British left has to confront the challenges of Britain today, not those of Greece last year. Today the option is a small England Brexit or a neoliberal EU. Not a pleasant choice, but the latter is the lesser evil. The left needs to develop strategies for transforming Europe, not illusions that it can withdraw from it."