The euro out of quarantine

Doug Nicholls is General Secretary of the Community and Youth Workers’ Union and Secretary of Trade Unions Against the Single Currency.

Attempts to put the debate on the euro, particularly in the national trade union movement, into the recycle bin only to pop it out just in time for the referendum are failing miserably.

More and more trade union Branches are calling on TASC to research and debate the issues at Branch level. Wherever the debate is held the arguments are being won. This is because our progressive opposition to the euro reconnects the trade union movement with its origin in the struggle for democracy in Britain.

British based business and many of the leading financiers in the City of London, through Business for Sterling are adamantly against the euro and are making their presence felt. The main anti euro umbrella organisation the Congress for Democracy has just passed a powerful statement reasserting the key elements of a democratic national framework that the euro would destroy. One step ahead of them all perhaps is the Federation of Small Businesses which this weekend voted by an over two thirds majority to call for a repeal of the Single European Act which locks us into the federal drive of the European Union and the single currency. Naturally some of these views have been taken up by the Tories.

But there is no need to be fooled by the coincidence of policies on this matter. In the trade unions we stand for national independence and self determination. The Tories, who took us into the Common Market lying through Heath’s teeth as they did so and fully aware it was the first step to European political integration, also signed the Single European Act which brought us the single currency. They also would rather us to be tied to the North Atlantic Free Trade Area, and ultimately seem to care little for our national sovereignty.

In poll after poll trade unionists reveal that they are strongly against the euro, while unrepresentative national figures in the movement, long fans of a federal superstate, who get the air time, sometimes make it seem as though trade unions generally are in favour. In reality none of the legislation passed in Europe compensates for the economic disaster of unemployment and cuts in welfare provision and privatisation that dominate the EU and the single currency.

But this is not to say that we haven’t got a lot to do. In the collapse of industry and halving of trade union membership the culture of democracy within the unions dwindled. In our trade union history we fought for the democratic right of free association and assembly. The trade unions fought to extend the franchise and reform the corrupt and landowning basis of the Parliamentary system in the nineteenth century. As trade unions grew they were able to win universal suffrage and the creation of an independent political party capable of winning General Elections. Trade unionists always played a large part in the formation of democratic local government and the welfare state, which democratised our political system even further and brought power closer to the individual at local level. More importantly our trade union culture led to the pervasive concepts of representative democracy, the individual voice was replaced by the collective concerns – who voted for you ? who mandated you to say that ?

It is precisely against this democratic tradition that the rush to the European Union superstate and single currency has set its targets. This explains why when the only country to put the question of the single currency to its people in a referendum it gets a democratic no vote as in Denmark. No one else in Europe had the chance to vote for it. This undemocratic development reflects the origins of the single currency and superstate idea. All of the origins are dominated by the right and big business. The defeated Nazi Generals wrote a document called Winning the Peace in which they called for a single currency in Europe led by the Deutchschmark and a single agricultural and industrial policy. The international financiers and business leaders and anticommunist politicians who formed the Bilderberg Group in the 1950s clearly saw European integration and a single currency as an ideal new force against the incursions of socialists and trade unionists.

Today the European machine and the single currency is dominated by the Transnational Corporations who through the Roundtable of Industrialists basically run the show, with powers over and above those of the toothless European Parliament. The lack of democracy is reflected too in the mechanisms that are necessary for the single currency. It needs a European Central Bank and the Treaties require the bankers, all unelected, to meet in secret and to forfeit their positions only if they dare to try to represent their national interests in decisions. It is bad enough now with the EU interfering with Ireland’s domestic economic plans, with their stalling over government aid for BMW/Rover and their dislike of Gordon Brown’s plans to shift regional investment from south to north. Imagine what it would be like when, as required under the single currency, they completely control our interest rates and exchange rates and to cap it all take possession of our gold reserves entirely.

A vast centralising concept of this sort is profoundly undemocratic and the trade unions as parents of key and crucial elements of British workplace and political democracy must address this deeply constitutional heart of the single currency question. Who controls Britain, our elected representatives, or those commissioned by the Trans National Corporations ? Make no mistake, this is the main question to ask candidates in the General Election. The fight against the single currency is the most profound political struggle for democracy Britain has faced since votes for women.



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