Far from “getting Brexit done”, the pantomime goes on. There are so many issues that both EU and UK want to extend the period of grace before the full treaty is implemented.
For the UK problems are mounting by the day. Freight volumes are down by 68% in the first month of Brexit. And as for “freeing the UK from bureaucracy” it has increased in both complexity and size. To export a fish to the EU requires six forms to be completed. Lorries are deliberately returning to the UK empty to avoid the paperwork. Irish hauliers are avoiding the UK and go directly to France. Some EU manufacturers will no longer supply the UK due to the bureaucracy and Northern Ireland is experiencing food shortages. Despite Johnson’s bluster there IS a customs border down the Irish Sea. This has only inflamed the Ulster Unionists who took “Ulster says NO” to the extreme of opposing every deal on offer! They then set their paramilitary thugs to intimidate customs workers, threatening a collapse of the uneasy peace on the island of Ireland. More economic woe for the UK is on the cards, as the much valued City of London is already losing trillions in financial trade to Amsterdam, Paris, and New York.
Due to the pandemic, the predicted lorry queues at Dover did not happen as trade had fallen anyway. Other problems can always be put down to Covid-19, but there is no hiding the fact that for UK capital as a whole Brexit is an unfolding disaster. How has the British capitalist class come to inflict this on itself? How have a minority in the Tory Party been able to inflict such damage on the interests of UK capitalism?
The answer lies in the long-running capitalist crisis. Since 1973 the global capitalist economy has been at the back end of a cycle of accumulation caused by the reduced avenues for profitable investment. All sorts of policies have been tried to stimulate real growth, from nationalisation and printing money, to privatisation and deregulation, leading to the dominance of finance and globalisation. It all ended in tears when the speculative bubble created by deregulation burst in 2008. Since then the attack on working conditions via austerity policies, and the increasing insecurity of jobs, has only added to the misery experienced by workers for decades. According to McKinsey “The labor share of income in 35 advanced economies fell from around 54 percent in 1980 to 50.5 percent in 2014”.
This austerity and hardship found an easy target in EU regulations and EU migrant workers. “British Jobs for British Workers” was not launched by Brexiteers but by the then pro-EU Labour Prime Minister. The nationalist genie, as in so much of the world, came out of the bottle because the capitalist establishment had no solution to the economic crisis. This gave the chance for nostalgic little Englanders to force the 2016 referendum. They have never faced up to the fact that Britain (with a little help from the USA and USSR) might have finished on the winning side in 1945, but lost its Empire and overseas investments. Now our delusional rulers tell us that “we are better than every one of those countries” (Gavin Williamson, Education Minister) and that Brexit means our young people can “be out there buccaneering, trading, dominating the world again” (Iain Duncan-Smith). The UK, they say, is now “world beating” in everything. This is true in one respect. The UK has the highest percentage of its population to die from Covid-19 in the OECD.
Britannia will not only not rule the waves again, she may soon cease to exist altogether. The pandemic of nationalism is not confined to England. Brexit has changed the equation in Scotland, and the case for independence has grown stronger. By any rational calculation an independent Scotland would still be economically worse off, but as the UK government has set an example in nationalist idiocy why should the Scots not follow?
That said, the specific institutional arrangements of the capitalist class are of little interest to workers. Whatever the state of treaties and institutions, workers will always be ultimate victims of a crisis-ridden system which relies on our exploitation. In the upturns, capitalism throws us a few crumbs, and in the downturn, it intensifies exploitation to get as much out of us as it can.
The attacks which were being prepared at the end of 2019, until Covid intervened, are already resuming (see article in this issue). It will not be enough for workers to fight on the “bread and butter” issues. We also have to fight the nationalist ideological bilge that “we are all in this together”. Plainly we are not, as the disgusting exhibition of vaccine imperialism has already revealed. It is a class issue. Those who had wealth have increased it during the last 15 months. Those who have not have been landed with rent arrears, unpaid fuel bills and food bank visits.
When our rulers talk of the “good of the country” they are talking of defending the propertied class. The world working class owns nothing by comparison but it has a common condition of exploitation. Workers thus “have no country” (Marx). Our ultimate goal is to eradicate national boundaries, states, tariffs and all those aspects of imperialist rivalry which threatens humanity with proxy wars now, and more generalised wars in the long term. Nationalist bombast like Brexit is part of the ideological preparation for this. The only alternative is for workers across the world to unite in a new international political body, to lead the fight against hunger, homelessness, environmental and health disasters which engulf at least 1 in 5 of the world’s population. It is an enormous challenge but if humanity is to have a future it has to be met.
The above article is taken from the current edition (No. 54) of Aurora, bulletin of the Communist Workers’ Organisation.