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Democrat January-February 2014 (Number 139)

The collapse of the left in Britain in face of the capitalist economic crisis

Part 1 [see part 2]

Paper delivered by John Boyd, CAEF Secretary,
at 25th Desmond Greaves Annual School 2013 in Dublin, Ireland

The objective of this paper is to re-cap Desmond Greaves papers published in the pamphlet the 'National Question'*. This covers the period since the Second World War, the EEC-EU treaties and up to the current situation in order to indicate where the left has failed.


After the Second World War Britain was economically broke, had lost an empire, lost much influence in the world and ended up dependent on the US military-machine to protect interests across the world as part of a one sided 'special relationship'.

The EEC began with the 1956 Rome Treaty, with six member states.

Britain, Ireland and Denmark joined the EEC in 1973 marking the desertion of the nation-state by the ruling class. Britain was the sixth former empire to join five other broken empires in a temporary alliance.

The Thatcher government in 1979 introduced free movement of capital marked by lifting all restrictions on movement of capital. This supported the transnationals and removed an important power of the nation-state.

A distraction amongst the left at this time was euro-communism emanating from Italy and Spain which included changing the EEC from within and leaning heavily towards social democracy.

In 1984-85 the year long miners' strike and defeat took place as part of deindustrialisation and handed the energy market to oil and gas transnationals.

1986 SEA onwards to 2013

The first Treaty after the original Rome treaty, the Single European Act (SEA) of 1985, was opposed and held up for one year by Ireland in a campaign around Raymond Crotty. In contrast this Treaty was rubber stamped by Westminster with only one Labour MP drawing attention to SEA. The left and labour movement paid no attention to the consequences.

SEA was the basis of the single currency and European Single Market defined as the 'free movement of capital, services, goods and labour'. This treaty developed further the military aspect of EU.

The view advocated at this time by Desmond Greaves was that the EEC would enable capitalism to be reinvigorated and that the EEC would act on behalf of private capital. In practice this is done by using institutions of the EU. These included the unelected and unaccountable Commission, Councils of Ministers and European Court of Justice. The tools used have been common policies, directives and regulations. They have passed this legislation down the conduit to national governments and to the labour movements via the Social and Economic Committee and ETUC.

In 1986 the big bang occurred where restrictions on financial markets were lifted and occurred at same time as the SEA. The economy of Britain and Ireland became based on financial services and conjuring money out of money. An objective was to turn the City of London back into the most important financial centre of the world.

In 1988 Commission President Jacques Delors went around selling Social Europe to labour movements in exchange for supporting the EU. The Social Charter dates the serious split in the labour and trade union movement in Britain and across the EU. This strengthened the misconception that the "only game in town was Brussels" expressed by the GMB Gen Sec and TUC President John Edmunds which is a view that persists. At the time it was seen as a way around the draconian legislation of the Thatcher government instead of concerted action nationally by the labour movement against Social Europe.

The deindustrialisation of Britain continued with the loss of shipbuilding, the steel industry, coal mining and manufacturing. I wrote a pamphlet in 1986 called "The Murder of British Industry" published by Connolly Publications linking it to the EEC and its common policies.

Deindustrialisation broke the back of the labour and trade union movement in Britain. Trade union membership was 13 million in 1979 compared with 6.5 million today. The switch of the economy from manufacturing to the financial sector and services removed the ability to create wealth and trade.

Simultaneously as with the decline of the labour movement, communities were broken up including social life in factories, around coal mines, steel works and public transport. This included trade union branches, activity and discussion. Today even public houses are no longer the centres of communities. Three hundred pubs are closing every week. TV and car transport have turned people into unsocial individuals. One claim by the establishment was that colour TV would put an end to the aspirations of the 1844 Communist Manifesto.


Around the 1990's the USSR and other socialist countries collapsed removing the beacon of socialism, thus causing disillusion amongst the left and putting capitalism back into nation-states from where it had been ousted decades before.

In 1992 the Thatcher government in Britain passed harsh anti-trade union legislation to restrict secondary pickets and to hold ballots for strike action. The objective was to head off any resistance and make it extremely difficult to take industrial action. Trade unions failed to stand up to that legislation.

The Maastricht Treaty of 1992 consolidated the euro as the single currency. In one stroke this was to consolidate the EU super-state and cull many nation-state powers. Britain as the centre of sterling and Denmark with a strong anti EU movement obtained an opt-out from the euro. Ireland joined and broke the link between the punt and sterling and the Republic with the six counties. The Social Charter was turned into a Social Chapter at the back of the Maastricht Treaty. 'Social Europe' was made official along with other illusions like a 'level playing field'.**

In 1994 Clause four was deleted from the British Labour Party's constitution which removed socialism turning itself into a social democratic party. This was not long after Mrs Thatcher declared that every vestige of socialism should be eliminated.

In the year 2000 the Nice Treaty introduced Qualified Majority Voting (QMV) which subjugates smaller EU Member States to larger ones: Germany, France and Britain. This Treaty was subject to two referendums in Ireland and a rubber stamp in Britain.

Following the industrial dispute at Irish Ferries where cheap labour was introduced, the ECJ used 'free market' EU legislation to attack both collective bargaining and long established trade union rights. The prominent cases were: Laval - introducing Latvian building workers to a Swedish school building site; Viking Ferries (2003) - replacing Finnish with Latvian seamen; Ruffert and Luxembourg cases on posted workers from one Member State to another employed with lower wages and poorer conditions. This legislation based on EU's 'free movement of labour' favours the employers. At the same time it's against national trade union rights, collective bargaining, and interests of the working class and small businesses. The next stage after Nice to consolidate Euro-federalism was the European Constitution developed with no consultation with the peoples within the EU. This was rejected by the electorates in France and the Netherlands but regurgitated as the unreadable Lisbon Treaty. Ireland once again held two referendums on this Treaty, but other Member States weren't given that opportunity.

The Constitution was put in place in 2009 to complement the single currency and EuroZone. Since then finance capital and the eurozone have been and remain in crisis. Unemployment is rampant across the eurozone at 12% where youth unemployment tops 60%. Attacks on social protection and welfare states are in full swing.

[see part 2]

Also see - Paper by Horst Teubert on failure of left in Germany - partI
Also see - Paper by Horst Teubert on failure of left in Germany - partII
*The National Question
**Social Europe is a Con
Both pamphlets are available from Democrat Press £2 each plus 50p postage