Brexit, tariffs - we won't pay for their trade war!

Workers' Fight workplace bulletin editorials
14 March 2018

What is the difference between Donald Trump and his "alt-right" administration, on the one hand, and Theresa May and her Westminster Brexiters, on the other?
    There is one major difference, of course:  Trump wields the power of an economic giant which is strong enough to weigh in against the huge economy of the EU; whereas May only represents an ageing economic dwarf, which is crippled by the parasitism of its financial sphere.
    But that's about it.  Other than that, Trump and May use the same rhetoric and have similar aims.  Trump wants to "keep America great" (the slogan he's chosen for his coming mid-term election campaign); whereas May wants to "make Britain great again".  One brags about standing for "national security", the other about her defence of the "national interest".  But in both cases, the only interests they defend are those of big business.

"Free trade", "tariffs": the jungle twins

But hang on a minute: doesn't Trump stand for protective tariffs, as opposed to May who champions "Free Trade"?  Well, yes.  But are these really two contradictory policies?
    "Free Trade" was invented by the British capitalist class, back in the 19th century, as a fig-leaf for their then ruthless domination of the world market.  But it was just the law of the jungle.
    "Free trade" simply meant that the strongest powers demanded the "freedom" to impose their goods on the weaker countries and to loot their natural and human resources, by force if necessary.
    Conversely, the richest countries retained the "freedom" to impose protective tariffs on the products imported from these weaker countries, whenever their own capitalists wanted to protect their share of the domestic market.
    Under "Free Trade", only the richest had any "freedom".  Since it was just a question of balance of forces, the richest powers decided which "freedoms" would be allowed to whom.
    And what has changed today?  Only the packaging.  "Free trade" is no longer imposed by the Royal Navy’s gunboats as it was in the 19th century.  Instead it is encapsulated into so-called "trade deals" - the same deals that May's errand boys, David Davis and Liam Fox are so strenuously trying to conclude in an endless trek around the planet, in preparation for Brexit.  But, behind their diplomatic language, these deals merely reflect the same relationship of forces between trading countries.
    As to protective tariffs, on paper they no longer exist - or hardly, under the rules of the World Trade Organisation.  But there are many ways to skin a cat.  For instance, most of the regulations which are supposedly meant to protect consumers are nothing but disguised tariffs, designed to make imported goods more expensive to produce for foreign competitors.
    In a nutshell, beneath the diplomatic language of trade deals and regulations, the trade war goes on, as ruthless and brutal as ever.

Behind their trade war, the class war

In fact, as Trump's recent decision to slap 25% tariffs on steel imports into the US shows, the capitalists' trade war is always close at hand.  Even if, in this case, Trump's tariff threat is a bargaining chip with US trading partners, aimed mainly at boosting his electoral support, with the claim it will create US jobs.
    Exactly the same can be said of the Brexit saga.  What is it, if not a messy attempt by the Tory right-wing to lure voters into thinking that trade deals with the EU and the rest of the world, which would merely increase company profits, will somehow improve living conditions here?
    Both in the US and here, this is just a con.  No matter how much the capitalists have increased their profits at the expense of their foreign competitors in the past, nothing has ever "trickled down" to the working class majority.  Especially in a period of crisis, like the present one, in which the capitalist class has got into the habit of turning the screw of exploitation, by reducing real wages and increasing casualisation.
    In fact, the other face of the capitalists' trade war is their class war against the working class.  Enlarging profits by "increasing productivity to boost competitiveness", as they say, necessarily means increasing the exploitation of labour.
    With Brexit, this is what the working class faces: a trade war in which the bosses and their politicians plan to use workers as cannon fodder, squeezing wages and conditions in the name of competitiveness.
    No-one wants to be used as cannon fodder by British capital in its war for profits!  But if the working class decides to refuse to play along with the capitalists' mad logic, it has to prepare itself to fight a class war against them!