The principled arguments for abstention seem pretty clear to me. It's like that game you played as kids: which would you rather
(swallow a live worm or a live spider)?
Thanks, but no thanks. We don't want a bosses' Europe of unelected bureaucrats driving to privatise the last vestiges of our public services, but neither do we want a go-it-alone Britain saturated with rank nationalism, where workers are herded behind the flag as if we have some common interest with our exploiters..
But you've got to choose. That's the game. A worker's Europe is not on the ballot paper. You can't campaign for abstention. You can't go round knocking on doors, saying 'This is such an important issue, I'm giving up my time to go round asking people to Not choose either of the alternatives on offer on the ballot paper'! Duh.
This is the most powerful argument from both the Yes and No camps. The Yes camp accepts that Blair is not seeking to extend the rights European workers enjoy to us, he's done everything possible to delay and sabotage that so far. The integrated Europe Blair wants is one where there is no limitation on capital, where market forces push down wages and conditions to the lowest level. The 'socialist No' camp try and distance themselves from the nationalism of the mainstream campaign, and argue (unconvincingly in my view) that a No vote is primarily a No to Blair. But both sides agree: it's impossible to seriously campaign for an option that's not on the ballot paper.
This is the real defeatism to me. The same people who will happily proclaim 'Another World is Possible', when faced with a ballot paper, cry 'We have to play by their rules. We can only give an answer they've provided a box for.' Time, to use dreadful management-speak, to think outside the box. Make your own box. When I suggested in one of our pub discussions (and you know there are going to be many more) that we should set up our own Workers' Europe ballot boxes, I was told that was 'silly'. Yep, ask a silly question, you get a silly answer.
Seriously, is there any reason why a Campaign for Worker's Europe shouldn't be fun? Workers' rights are serious, having enough to live on is serious, defending what's left of our health, education and transport services is serious. But that question we'll be allowed to answer, that's ridiculous. And we should take this opportunity to ridicule it.
Gordon Brown has (I think) 5 criteria to be met for us to join the euro. We should be campaigning round Workers' Criteria:
- A European minimum wage
- Equal pensions and benefits at least equivalent to a living wage
- Subsidised public health, education, housing, transport and communications
- Employment rights, health and safety, and job security
- All rights and benefits to apply without borders.
Meet these criteria and we'll join the euro. Otherwise we'll have to campaign through our unions and organisations to build European workers' unity on the ground. This links up with campaigns round the political funds. Some union leaders (often the so-called 'left' ones) will want to bring their unions into either the No or Yes campaigns. We should be arguing that the members decide and, more crucially, that union funds should only be spent on advancing explicitly workers' interests and European workers' unity.
And on the day of the count (it's possible they will have extended polling and/or widespread postal balloting) we should have meetings, rallies in every constituency to Count Workers' Rights, with speakers from European unions and campaigns. Obviously, it doesn't stop there. We're talking about building a fighting movement across Europe to take back what was seized from us by decades of 'savage capitalism'. With general strikes and millions on the streets in Italy, Spain and France this year, it doesn't seem so silly to be positively fighting for a Workers' Europe.