By Cathy Nugent
On Friday 18 June Tony Blair signed up to the new EU constitution on behalf of the UK government. Short of great political upheavals this constitution will settle the relationships between the capitalist powers in an expanded European Union for a long time to come - it codifies and pushes forward a very great degree of integration. The constitution includes a permanent EU president and foreign minister, greater powers for the European Assembly over a greater range of issues (but not tax or social security), strengthening the common defence force, a two tier European Commission (only the bigger powers will be permanent members); the adoption of the EU's charter of fundamental rights into the constitution and qualified majority voting over a much wider range of issues.
For very many years the standard knee jerk response of the British left has been to oppose European capitalist integration, although hostitlity to Europe and left-wing little Britishness is no part of our older Marxist tradition. For sure this new European political system embodies many things we oppose: the domination of bigger European capitalist powers over the smaller powers for instance.
We do not welcome a common defence force in Europe. However what is the bourgeois alternative? It is that of the centuries gone by when bitter national conflict and war, including two world wars, caused enormous bloodshed. Most important, the capitalist-forged unity in Europe of the last thirty years has laid down the conditions for a unity of national working class movements.
European unity has meant real gains for European workers. And workers in a post-Thatcher New Britain have gained from being in Europe. In other areas they have a way to go to reach the levels of social and industrial rights attained by their European comrades.
The TUC has been promoting the benefits of EU membership for British workers. No doubt TUC big wigs have their own reasons for recommending EU membership - if an EU constitution and Parliament can guarantee rights for workers there is no need for them to bother fighting for them! However the new EU constitution could become an important gain for British workers. In the UK the workers' ability to take any kind of industrial action is heavily circumscribed, more so than in any other EU country.
One element of the constitution is the Charter of Fundamental Rights and that contains the right of workers to collective bargaining and to take collective action: in other words a right to strike. The Government was not happy about this clause but appear to think it will not interfere with existing UK legislation. However that assumption has not been tested: either by workers taking strike action, or by a battle in the courts.
Of course charters and clauses are not the be all and end all. Our approach has to be to deepen and extend the rights that workers have across the EU by fighting for a positive working class programme for Europe. That will include political rights - we want to democratise the new constitutional arrangements.
We are for for a sovereign elected European Parliament with full control over all EU affairs. We want a fully operational and inclusive Parliament which will make it easier for the European working class to forge a united fight for its demands. We want a social programme which fights for the levelling up of working class living standards and conditions across the EU.
The TUC will not fight for these demands. We need a rank and file campaign across Europe. Who can promote that idea except the left in Europe? But the left in Britain will play little part in that campaign until it gets its house in order and stops fighting against European capitalist integration.