EU referendum - "Leave" & "Remain" - two faces of the same coin

Spring 2016

The launch of the official 10-week campaign for the 23rd June EU referendum, didn't change much to the political atmosphere since Cameron first announced it, back in 2013. The bickering between the "Remain" and "Leave" camps, which has already split both main parties right down the middle, has just become even more acrimonious.

However, as the day of reckoning gets closer, the leading circles of the capitalist class are clearly getting more worried about the outcome of the ballot and the unpredictable consequences that a Brexit vote would have for profits, especially in the present context of on-going economic crisis and financial instability.

Of course, as long as this referendum remained a distant, possibly hypothetical proposition, the City expressed no objection to Cameron and his clique playing the anti-EU card and using EU workers as scapegoats. After all, this was just a strategy for Cameron to contain the electoral threat of UKIP on the one hand, and the growing restlessness this threat was causing among the Tory right-wing, on the other. As long as these games remained in the realm of political posturing without affecting their businesses, the capitalists couldn't have cared less! But it is quite another thing for them to be confronted, as they are now, with the risk of losing the full access to the world's largest single market that their goods and services have enjoyed for so long.

Indeed, today, this is no longer a hypothetical risk, but a very real one. Although both Cameron for the Tory party and Corbyn for Labour have formally endorsed the "in" vote, there is no saying what will actually come out of the ballot box on June 23rd. In fact, even if opinion polls were able to provide an accurate measure of the mood of the electorate - something that they are notoriously unable to do - they diverge so wildly in their predictions, that they are as good as useless. And the City doesn't like this at all.

As to the working class, its interests are certainly not represented by either of the two camps. When the capitalists' politicians condescend to organise a referendum, it is always a "heads we win, tails you lose" game. Their aim is never to give the working class majority a real say, but to legitimise potentially contentious political choices, without offering any real alternative - by asking voters to choose between two anti-working class policies. It is no coincidence if there was never any question of organising referendums over issues such as Blair's war in Iraq, Brown's bailout of the banking system, Osborne's benefit cuts or Cameron's attack on the right to strike! On June 23rd, whichever way workers vote, they can be sure that their ballot paper will be used against them, to justify the pro-business policies that both camps in this referendum represent.

The fears of British capital

Back in late January, a note addressed by RBS to its wealthy customers, warned that 2016 would be a "cataclysmic year", in which shares would fall by another 10 to 20%. And the bank added: "Sell everything except high-quality bonds. This is about return of capital, not return on capital. In a crowded hall, exit doors are small." This probably says it all, as to the confidence that British capital has in its own system today!

This dire prognosis followed another spell of frantic gyrations on stock markets. So much so, that by mid-January, the combined value of Britain's 100 largest companies was down 22% from its previous peak, 9 months before. Meanwhile the world's largest stock markets had been showing a similar trend, with falls reaching 17% in the US, 25% in Japan and almost 30% in Hong Kong.

At the time, no-one seemed to agree on the causes of this financial chaos - except that it was the result of "uncertainty" among investors (i.e. speculators) which was pushing them to get rid of their shares. Some commentators blamed this "uncertainty" on the drastic fall in the world price of oil and other commodities and others on the risk of over-indebted poor countries going bust. Others still, pointed to the fact that the big companies' indebtedness was now back to its pre-crisis level, with this difference: that instead of funding new investment, they had been using borrowing to line shareholders' pockets. A few economists, like Nobel prize winner, Robert Shiller, went as far as stating that, in some respects, shares had never been more over-valued, except on two occasions - just before the 1929 crash and on the eve of the so-called "new technology crash", in 2000! The long and short of this was that the world economy was once again littered with speculative bubbles which were asking to pop.

To what extent the "uncertainty" caused by the prospect of a possible Brexit contributed to this chaos, is anybody's guess. In any case, at the time, most commentators cautiously steered clear of even mentioning this politically over-loaded issue. But the odds are that its contribution was not insignificant.

In any case, today, with the exception of the most bigoted pro-"leave" supporters who are in complete denial in this respect, no-one questions the fact that, given the current state of financial instability of the world economy, Brexit represents a serious danger.

Already, at the end of February, the bosses' newspaper Financial Times noted that after London Mayor, Boris Johnson, announced his support for the "Leave" campaign, "the pound suffered its biggest one-day drop since October 2009. The costs of insuring against a plunge in value after the referendum vote have also soared."

Then, early in March, less than 2 weeks after the official announcement of the referendum date, the same newspaper added: "Brexit has already spooked the foreign exchange markets and investors have moved quickly to sell down sterling-denominated assets in favour of the dollar. Sterling is the main worry. Goldman Sachs has estimated a drop of 20% should Britain leave the EU - and it has already dropped by 4% against the dollar since David Cameron announced the June referendum date. The immediate outlook does not look promising. UK business investment has already fallen by 2.1 per cent in the last quarter of 2015."

Shortly after, the Bank of England announced that there would be additional short-term lending facilities to help out financial institutions running out of liquidities, both before and after the vote. Meanwhile, it turned out that the City's biggest banks were making provisions to maintain high emergency staffing levels during the period surrounding the referendum. It was, therefore, clear that everyone was expecting mayhem, whether due to speculators trying to anticipate the referendum result or due to their reaction to this result - or a combination of both.

Is it any wonder, therefore, that the most vocal opponents of Brexit are to be found in the top capitalist spheres? Each one of the big British banks has made a point of warning its customers against the dire consequences of a Brexit. The same is true of the big manufacturing companies - whether British, like BAE, or foreign-owned multinationals, like Ford, BMW, Toyota and Nissan - most of whom have taken the unusual step of warning their workers that by voting for "Leave", they would be putting jobs at risk.

Fast track back to 1975

If the stakes are so high for British capital, one may wonder, then, why big business has allowed Cameron to run the risk of organising this referendum - and why Cameron himself has done so..

The fact is that, no matter how eager politicians may be to protect capitalist profits, they are, just like their capitalist masters, subject to the law of the jungle - constantly fighting for their own individual careers against rival politicians and parties. In the same way as the bosses are incapable of overcoming capitalist competition to rationally organise their economy and prevent its recurring crises from affecting their profits, their politicians are incapable of overcoming their rivalries to avoid the kind of overbidding which, now and again, causes chaos on the political scene.

It was precisely this kind of overbidding which led Cameron to engage in political gambling by organising this referendum. But, in and of itself, this is nothing new when it comes to the issue of the EU, which has long marked a fault line within the British political establishment - both Tory and Labour. Indeed, there is a remarkable similarity between today's referendum and the first one, called in 1975 by the then Labour prime minister, Harold Wilson.

Two years before, his Tory predecessor, Edward Heath, had taken Britain into the European Economic Community (EEC, the ancestor of the EU). Both the main parties were split over this move, especially Labour. The world economy was still in turmoil due to a massive currency crisis and sharp reduction in world trade and unemployment had been rising in Britain. As is often the case in such situations, many politicians - particularly on the "left" of the Labour party - were seeking to allay voters' discontent by advocating protectionist measures, claiming that they would be better off if the British economy was somehow shielded from the outside world. This nationalistic rhetoric fuelled anti-European prejudices.

It is also probably true that, at the time, British capital did not consider the European market anywhere as vital for its profits as it does now: the big banks were more interested in dollar investors seeking to escape US financial and tax authorities and, at this stage, there was no prospect of selling financial services to the Continent on any sort of scale. As to production companies, many of them were still nationalised anyway.

In any case, in the run-up to the February 1974 general election, Wilson tried to contain the in-fighting within his own party, while wooing disaffected eurosceptic Tory voters, by pledging to renegotiate the terms of Britain's participation in the EEC, and to then consult voters on Britain's membership on the basis of these new terms.

This strategy allowed Labour to get into power, first as a minority government and then, following a snap election 8 months later, with an absolute majority. Despite this, Wilson still felt he had to deliver on his pledge to avoid a major rebellion within his party. Following protracted horse-trading with his EEC partners, Wilson eventually declared that "our renegotiation objectives have been substantially, though not completely achieved" and, on the basis of the negotiation results, he advocated continued membership in a referendum to be held in June 1975. There was no shortage of opposition - with one third of the Commons and 7 cabinet ministers out of 23 defying Wilson by making a public stand in favour of leaving the EEC. But with the support of the Tories' freshly elected leader, Margaret Thatcher, Wilson won his bet, with 67% voting to remain on a 65% turnout.

The long history of anti-EU overbidding

Ironically enough, therefore, Cameron's protracted saga over the EU seems almost like a "copy and paste" version of Wilson's. Like Wilson, Cameron has to fight off a rebellion from within the ranks of his own party. Like Wilson, he has to appease an electorate facing economic difficulties, including among the party's traditional voters. And like Wilson, Cameron chooses to resort to political posturing over the EU and call a referendum based on the allegedly "renegotiated" terms of Britain's membership in order to contain the restlessness of his party's eurosceptic wing.

However, in Cameron's case, there are two differences: one is that the anti-EU overbidding has been going on for much longer than in the 1970s and the other is that, he is gambling against a backdrop of deep economic crisis, which is showing no sign of ending.

It should be remembered that euroscepticism has been a major rallying flag in the factional in-fighting within the Tory party ever since the defeat of John Major's pro-EU administration, in 1997. So much so, that the next three leaders of the party - William Hague, Ian Duncan-Smith and Michael Howard - were all overt eurosceptics. When Cameron took over from Howard, in 2005, he was not particularly noted for his pro-EU stance either, being positioned somewhere between the party's most rabid eurosceptics (led by his main rival in the leadership contest, David Davis) and its mildly pro-EU wing, which was represented by Kenneth Clarke. In fact, what was probably decisive in Cameron's victory was the support he got from eurosceptic grandees like William Hague.

Once the Tories came back into power, in 2010, anti-EU rhetoric became increasingly prominent in the government's justification for its austerity policies. According to the Cameron-Osborne duet, the British economy was fundamentally "sound". It was the rest of the world - and more specifically the EU and the eurozone - which were causing Britain's problems.

Thus, the black hole of Osborne's "deficit" was, supposedly, to be filled by revenue from his cuts in public services and welfare benefits. But it was not to be blamed on the subsidies and tax cuts awarded to big business and the wealthy - and even less on the massive banking bailout which has never stopped eating into public finances ever since 2007. No, it was to be blamed on the financial turmoil caused by the crisis in the eurozone!

The Tories' xenophobic rhetoric props up UKIP

At the same time, Theresa May had launched her vitriolic van-poster campaign against "illegal" migrants, implicitly accusing these workers of crippling Britain's public services and welfare system. As if migrant nurses and doctors who staffed the NHS, among other public organisations, hadn't been indispensable for its operation!

The government's focus then moved on to EU migrants. One day they were accused of "health tourism" - i.e. supposedly coming to Britain for the sole purpose of standing in the endless queues of our "wonderful" NHS! The next day, the theme was "benefit tourism" - as if living, or rather barely surviving, on petty benefits could be an attraction! This was a well-orchestrated campaign, with the media joining the fray. And this did not just involve the usual suspects - the Tory tabloids - but also mainstream TV channels such as Channel 5, with its documentary series "Benefits Britain". This series was meant to target all benefit claimants, but it was heavily aimed against EU migrants, with episodes carrying evocative titles such as: "Life On The Dole", "The Great British Benefits Handout", "Undercover Benefit Cheats", "Gypsies On Benefits & Proud", etc.

It was against the backdrop of this anti-migrant, anti-EU atmosphere created by Cameron and his government that UKIP was able to step into the vacuum created by the discredit of the main parties among a sizeable section of the electorate. In this respect, the impact and duration of the crisis certainly had a a significant effect on voters who candidly believed the Tories' claim, in 2010, that the problems had been caused by Labour's "profligacy" in government, rather than having been the consequences of a world economic crisis.

Once UKIP election scores began to rise, in 2013, mostly at the expense of the Tories, a growing number of Tory MPs became restless and unfurled their old eurosceptic banner, for fear of losing their seats in the 2015 election.

It was in response to this rebellion in his party's own ranks and to pull the rug from under UKIP's feet that, in the run-up to the 2015 election, Cameron finally pledged to demand "renegotiation" of Britain's terms of membership to the EU and to organise the coming referendum on the basis of the "new terms" that he was planning to "impose" on his EU partners.

As it turned out, these "new terms" merely confirmed Britain's existing "special status" in the EU (opt-outs from the euro, the Schengen border-free zone and various other areas of EU regulation, etc.). The only "new terms" were restrictions aimed at EU migrant workers, which had been obligingly agreed in principle by more or less all EU governments and are now meant to be applied in every EU country!. These rules may still be overruled by the EU Parliament. But if they are not, they will certainly constitute a significant attack on EU migrants, since they will turn many of them into second class citizens in the country where they work!

As to Cameron, even though he claimed almost until the very end that he was "keeping every option on the table" - and that he might still call for a "Leave" vote - it was clear from the word go that he would do the capitalists' bidding and call for a vote to "Remain". His only problem was to have something to sell to the electorate which he could present as as a "victory" over the "faceless bureaucrats" in Brussels, as eurosceptics describe the EU institutions. Once he felt able to claim this, Cameron set the date for his game of political roulette and made his position clear - just as Harold Wilson had done 41 years before him.

Arguments for British capital

What is striking about this campaign - and this was true right from the start, when Cameron first announced his plan to hold a referendum - is how little either camp has to say to the working class majority of the electorate. They both throw big numbers at voters' faces, which are all meant to promise a future of plenty. But none of these are actually related in any way to the problems confronting workers.

Most of the polemics so far have been over what's best for the British economy or for Britain's "national interest" - meaning, what's best for the profits of British capital.

The "Remain" camp celebrates the opportunities offered by the EU as the world's largest market and argues that being part of it allows Britain to benefit from the EU's bargaining power in trade negotiations with non-EU countries.

The "Leave" camp, on the other hand, claims that, if Brexit won, the EU would be "forced" to make a trade deal with Britain and that Britain would have more freedom to make bilateral agreements with non-EU countries - especially large "emerging economies" such as China, Brazil or India.

From the strict point of view of capitalist competition, the "Leave" camp doesn't have much of a leg to stand on, of course. Its supporters are proposing "models" which, they say, could provide blueprints for what would happen after Brexit. They mention Canada as a possible "model" in terms of trade relations with the US and Norway (or even Albania!) as a possible "model" in terms of trade relations with the EU. Never mind that due to the much smaller sizes of their populations, the economies of these countries are hardly comparable to Britain's. Never mind either, that Albania is an official candidate for EU membership, or that Norway, which has not applied for membership, has only been granted full access to the EU market by agreeing to abide by most of its directives and allowing free movement of EU citizens across its borders - which is exactly what the "Leave" campaigners object to!

In other words, whichever side one listens to, this referendum is really about the trade war between multinational companies. It is about choosing the best way for British capitalists to compete with their foreign rivals and make the most profits. As if this capitalist competition wasn't already causing enough chaos across the planet, including the past 8 years of crisis! Not only that, but this referendum is also about choosing the best way for British capital to make the most out of plundering the markets and resources of the poor countries.

How could any of this be good for the working class?

The EU levy, a subsidy for the bosses

Politicians on both sides are conscious of this, of course. And one of their problems is the legitimacy of the referendum results. They cannot really afford to have a very low turnout over a decision which both describe as "epoch-making" for the future. So, some arguments have been inserted into this campaign in order to convince working class voters that they have a stake in it.

Such is the case of the so-called "cost" of the EU - i.e. the contribution paid by Britain to the EU budget - which, according to the "Leave" camp, amounts to ?55m a day (the figure first brandished by Nigel Farage, which has been widely used by the eurosceptic tabloids ever since). And their argument goes on to say, as Boris Johnson did in his speech to kick off the official "Leave" campaign, that if Brexit won, a large chunk of the contribution to Brussels could be diverted to pay for hospital beds.

Well, except that, to start with, this figure is an outright lie. The actual notional figure for 2015 was ?17.8bn or ?49m a day. But once the British rebate negotiated by Thatcher in the 1980s is deducted (it was worth ?4.9bn last year and is never paid to the EU), this contribution goes down to ?35m a day. Then there are significant amounts coming back to Britain from the EU: payments to farmers as part of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP - ?1.6bn), regional grants for development projects (?2.8bn), research grants to private companies (?1.4bn). Finally ?0.8bn is used in joint EU aid projects to poor countries. So, taking all this into account, the government's net contribution to the EU budget is actually ?6.3bn or ?17m a day - less than one third of Farage's figure and just about 0.8% of the government's own annual budget!

Next, even assuming this money became available as a result of Brexit, would it really be used to pay for hospital beds, as Johnson claimed? Doesn't the record of every government, present and past, show what their priority is - to divert as much from public funds as they possibly can, into company coffers and into the bank accounts of the wealthy. Why would Brexit change that?

Especially as this EU levy is already a massive subsidy, not to the EU, contrary to what the "Leavers" claim, but to British capital - a subsidy that the capitalists would expect to keep receiving in case of Brexit. Indeed, CAP payments go to line the pockets of rich industrial farmers, regional grants benefit mostly private construction and infrastructure companies, research grants are largely a disguised subsidy to private companies. And, above all, the remaining ?6.3bn of the net contribution is quite simply the "entrance ticket" which allows British capital to operate freely within the EU market and sell 44% of its exports there. And this is a "ticket" towards which British companies do not have to pay a penny, since the price is taken out of taxpayers' money!

This is precisely why the "Remain" camp does not put much energy into countering the lies and debunking the myths peddled by the "Leave" camp on this issue. Understandably so, because it would mean explaining that, in fact, this is just another channel through which the government subsidises the profits of British capital - which wouldn't go down too well among many voters!

Blackmail over jobs

Another argument aimed at the working class electorate concerns jobs. If Osborne and the "Remain" camp are to be believed, Brexit would threaten 3 million jobs. Of course, a reduction in British exports would certainly directly result in job cuts. In the medium term, even more jobs would probably be cut, judging from the large number of companies which have already more or less explicitly warned that they would move their production facilities and European headquarters to the Continent. But how many jobs would really disappear is, of course, anybody's guess.

The "Leave" camp, on the other hand, claims that this is just scaremongering. According to them, once Brexit has "freed" Britain from EU regulations, especially those concerning working conditions, companies would find that operating in Britain allows them to be much more competitive than their European rivals, thereby allowing them to maintain or even increase their level of exports. But, of course, what this amounts to saying, is that workers here would be told to tighten their belts and agree to cuts in wages and conditions - as well as in jobs - in order to "help" their employers to be more competitive! Blackmail over jobs would become the bosses' weapon of choice in an all-out offensive against the working class.

In fact, since the beginning of the crisis, we already had a taste of this kind of blackmail in many companies where the bosses got workers to agree to cuts under threat of redundancies. However, in a number of cases, the bosses eventually went ahead with their redundancy plans regardless - for instance, in the case of construction equipment manufacturer JCB, whose chairman also happens to be a vocal "Leave" supporter. The latest example of such blackmail has been the steel industry (see our article on the steel job cuts in this issue of our journal) and, no doubt, Brexit or not, there will be others, as long as the capitalists' drive to boost their profits on workers' backs is not stopped.

While Brexit is certain to result in the bosses' stepping up their blackmail in order to cut workers' conditions, what guarantee is there that staying in the EU will preserve decent jobs for the working class? Judging from the on-going cuts in real jobs which have been barely replaced with non-jobs across the economy over the past years, none whatsoever, in fact!

Whichever way this referendum goes, therefore, the working class will have to fight in order to defend its right to make a decent living. Ultimately, the only decisive factor will be the balance of forces that it will create collectively, in order to preserve its material interests against the bosses' attacks - in particular, that all available work should be shared between all available hands, regardless of nationality, without loss in pay. After all, isn't it high time the capitalists paid up for their crisis, out of their accumulated profits?

When EU workers are targeted, all workers are!

Among the arguments which are supposed to influence the popular vote and drag more voters into the polling booths, one is particularly vicious. And, ironically, it is used by both sides! Indeed they both claim to be aiming at protecting British workers from the alleged "threat" of EU workers undercutting their wages, putting excessive strain on public services, exacerbating the housing crisis, etc.

Of course, these are cynical lies. It's not EU workers who are pushing wages down, but British-based bosses - and for all workers, regardless of origin! If public services are overstretched, it is not due to EU workers either, but to the successive governments' underfunding of these services for so many years. And if the housing crisis has become so acute, it is due to these governments propping up real estate speculation by selling off more and more homes from the existing social housing stock, without replacing them with new ones.

As mentioned before, anti-migrant demagogy has been a prominent feature of Tory policies over the past years.

But Labour hasn't not fared any better in this respect. Already under Blair, David Blunkett, one of his right-hand men who held several ministries, had bitterly complained about the "burden" that migrants were imposing on public services. While he was Home Secretary, he had come up with the idea of imposing controls on job seekers from the new EU member states, for a transitional 7-year period - although, luckily, he failed to get his way. More recently, in October 2014, the same Blunkett felt he had to publicly come out in support of Tory Defence minister, Michael Fallon, who had dared to declare that: "In some areas of the UK, down the east coast, towns do feel under siege, [with] large numbers of migrant workers and people claiming benefits, and it's quite right we look at that."

Subsequently, in the run-up to the 2015 general election, the then Labour leader, Ed Milliband, pledged in his election manifesto to take a whole range of measures to stop EU migrants from "undercutting" British workers - but no measures to force Scrooge bosses to pay decent wages were pledged, of course! Although Milliband did not go as far as Gordon Brown's notorious"British jobs for British workers", his pledge was formulated so as to send a similar message to the electorate. As to Corbyn, he has remained remarkably silent on this issue, since his election.

Today, the "Remainers" are not just asking voters to support staying in the EU. They are effectively asking them to endorse rules which will mean that EU workers would no longer have the same entitlement to certain benefits as other workers: they would have to wait for 4 years before getting in-work benefits and would receive lower child credits. This would create yet another tier in the working class, with one tier enjoying fewer welfare rights than the others, despite paying the same taxes, national insurance, etc.

The "Leavers" are less hypocritical than the opposite side, but just as anti-working class. They make no bones of the fact that one of their main aims is to cut the number of EU workers in Britain - implying that many of those who are already in the country could be expelled. In this respect, the implications of the "respectable" Australian-inspired point system advocated by Gove for EU migrants, would be in no way different from those of Ukip's rabid anti-migrant rhetoric. At the same time, the "Leavers'" stance on some issues would be farcical if it was not so appalling: for instance there is the case of Pasha Khandaker, president of the Bangladesh Caterers Association, and a signatory of the so-called list of "250 business leaders" backing Brexit, who was quoted by the Financial Times saying that "there are too many immigrants coming from the EU" and announcing a pro-Brexit demonstration outside Parliament in May!

Both sides in this referendum are in the business of setting one section of the working class against another in order to facilitate the bosses' profit-driven race to the bottom. Why would the working class condone this devious way of splitting its ranks?

The nationalist plague and the working class

Outside a relatively small clique at the head of the Tory party, around Cameron and Osborne, a majority of Tory politicians and party members are probably in favour of Brexit, even if many choose to be discreet about it, in order to keep all their options open. However, a long list of eurosceptic Tory heavyweights are at the helm of the official "Leave" campaign, from Michael Gove to Boris Johnson and, above all, Iain Duncan-Smith. IDS' spectacular resignation from government, supposedly over the issue of tax credits highlighted what is really going on in the background in the Tory party: a race for Cameron's succession, which he opened himself by announcing his decision not to stand for a third term. And, in this race, Brexit has become the banner of some of Cameron's would be successors.

On the Labour party side, the situation is even more complicated. Some Labour MPs have chosen to adopt a prominent role in the "Leave" campaign, like the staunch right-wing Blairite MP for Birmingham Edgbaston, Gisela Stuart, who chairs this campaign. The official line is, nevertheless, to be on the "Remain" side and most Labour MPs seem to stick to it, together with most union leaders.

There is, however, an old anti-EU tradition among the so-called Labour and trade-union "left", which keeps reappearing now and again. Its roots are closely related to the influence that the nationalist policies of the Stalinist Communist Party used to have on this "left". Today, the CP may be considerably weaker than it used to be. But this tradition remains, either due to the influence of individual CP activists, or - ironically enough - due to the fact that most of the revolutionary left has taken over the old nationalist policy of the CP, at least as far as the EU is concerned.

So, while most unions have joined, more or less willingly, the "Remain" camp, in the name of "preserving jobs" - possibly as a way of covering up their own failure to organise any fight against the bosses' savaging of jobs since the beginning of the crisis - one union at least, the railway union, the RMT, has joined the "Leave" camp. Ironically, though, it presents its stance as part of the "tradition of progressive and socialist opposition to the EU", in the words of its general secretary, Mick Cash.

But what can be "progressive" - let alone "socialist" - for a working class organisation to side with Boris Johnson, Gove or Farage?

Among the RMT's "six key reasons for leaving the EU", one is "to end attacks on rail workers" supposedly due to the EU's privatisation agenda. As if railway privatisation didn't take place in Britain, in 1996, long before anywhere else in the EU! Likewise for the claim that renationalising the railways would be impossible within the EU. Wasn't Network Rail renationalised? And aren't both the German and French railways still state-owned?

Another of the RMT's "key reasons" is "leave the EU to end austerity". As if Osborne's austerity was dictated by the EU and not by British capital! Across the EU, workers have faced similar policies, not because of the EU, but because of the bosses' offensive in the crisis. And no-one should forget that if the EU played a direct role in turning the screw on Greece, it was only as an agent of international banks - including British ones - and with the benediction of the British government!

The RMT urges "leave the EU to support democracy", adding "leave the EU to end attacks on workers' rights". But what is democratic about a British parliament which protects the interests of British capital and has raised more obstacles against workers' right to strike than any other EU country? Besides, given the abysmal state of employment law in Britain, if it had not been for some EU directives (the working time directive, among others) there would still be no legal regulation of working conditions!

On this question of democracy, the March 2016 issue of RMT News made a reference to a 1989 speech against the EU, in which Tony Benn, then the spokesman of the Labour "left", said: "I was brought up to believe.. that when people vote in an election they must be entitled to know that the party for which they vote, if it has a majority, will be able to enact laws under which they will be governed. That is no longer true." Hence the need for Britain to leave the EU, according to the RMT. But, what about the many local councils in which voters elected a Labour majority but which have been subjected to Osborne's policies regardless? Shouldn't they be entitled to an in/out referendum allowing them to secede from Britain and wouldn't the RMT also call for a "Leave" vote? How far can one stretch such a narrow nationalistic approach?

No, the RMT's stance is no more "progressive" or "socialist" than Farage's - only its rhetoric is.

For a world without borders!

To sum up, the working class has every reason to refuse its support to both camps in this referendum. Doing otherwise would be to condone their anti-working working class agendas!

Whichever side wins, every single working class vote will be used by the winner, one way or another, as a justification for more attacks against the working class as a whole, and against migrant workers in particular. A working class movement worth its name, would clearly say that this referendum is a diversion from the real issues raised by the bosses' offensive against workers and it would have nothing to do with it.

Of course, the EU is no more than a device invented by the capitalist classes of Europe in order to boost their profits in the international trade war. It was never designed to meet the needs of working class populations. And, of course, in so far as the capitalist classes are on the offensive in order to preserve their profits in the present crisis, they will use the EU's institutions as a weapon against workers in this offensive - but just as much as they use their respective national states, no more and no less.

For this reason, workers have no more to fear from the EU than they have to fear from the "democratic" national, capitalist institutions of each country: ultimately everything is down to the balance of forces between the working class and the capitalist class, not to the institutions behind which the bosses conceal their domination.

At the same time, the working class would have a lot to lose by allowing the capitalists and their politicians to raise new borders or reinforce those which already exist, or by allowing them to divide its ranks along national divisions.

The national state remains a vital necessity for the capitalists. On a day-to-day basis, they use it to subsidise their profits at the expense of the population and to enforce their exploitation on the working class. And in situations of crisis, they use their state as a weapon to take over markets - when they do not use it as a war machine against the working-class itself.

Unlike the capitalists, the working class has no need for national states and national borders. It is an international class, whose social interests are the same in every country across Europe and, in fact, across the world. If it needs something, it is a world free of these outdated national borders which, even today, prevent the effective operation of the world economy and are used by the exploiters to keep entire populations in jail.

The international character of the working class is its main strength, together with the fact that it produces all the value in this society. Against this strength, if it was really used, there would be little that the capitalists classes would be able to do to protect their decaying, corrupt system.

To conclude this article, we will quote from the RMT's banner a phrase borrowed from Karl Marx that its leaders seem to have completely forgotten - "Workers of the world, unite!"