Socialists sometimes talk of ‘the capitalist class’ doing this or wanting that as if they were a monolithic whole with a single interest. In fact different sections of the capitalist class have different interests. Their attitude to the EU is a case in point.
Cameron has rather foolishly promised an in/out referendum on the issue; rather foolishly because (as the vote in parliament on bombing Syria shows) he cannot be sure that the result will be the one he wants, which will be to stay in with reforms, also the position of the Confederation of British Industry, which represents the biggest capitalist corporations operating in and from Britain.
One of the export-oriented big boys put the case for staying in to the Evening Standard (9 August):
‘Britain should stay in the European Union to safeguard exports to the Continent, the boss of Hitachi’s train operations in the UK urged today.… Mr Dormer… said exporters wanted Britain to have warm and stable relations with Europe. ‘Europe is potentially our biggest market and we would not want anything to happen that would create barriers or damage the relationship,’ he said.’
The previous day, the Times had reported ‘Business leaders press for single market withdrawal’:
‘Business for Britain will call for the nation to downgrade its relationship with the EU and become part of a customs union instead… The plans would allow Britain to avoid tariffs when trading with Europe, while not having to sign up to various rules which harmonise business conditions across the 28 member countries. If a future government managed to negotiate such a change, it would put Britain in a similar trading position to Turkey.’
Business for Britain, the Times explained, ‘claims to have the backing of 500 influential figures, including FTSE 100 directors and the owners of smaller businesses. They include Sir Stuart Rose, chairman of Ocado, Richard Burrows, chairman of British American Tobacco, and Ian Cheshire, chief executive of Kingfisher, parent company of B&Q.’ Other backers are Lord Wolfson, CEO of Next, John Caudwell, founder of Phones4U, Sir Rocco Forte, executive chairman of Rocco Forte Hotels, Tim Martin, chairman of pub group JD Wetherspoon, and Charlie Mullins, managing director of Pimlico Plumbers.
It is easy to see what these have in common: they are all bosses of firms producing for the home market. The exception is BAT but they want to push their risky product in developing countries where restrictions on its sale are less than in Europe.
The same relationship to the EU as Turkey? The CBI has already rejected the even less distant relationships of Norway and Switzerland. Its director-general, John Cridland, had an article in the Times (4 July) headed ‘In or out, Britain has to play by Europe’s rules. Norway and Switzerland pay the costs of membership with no say over EU laws. That’s a bad deal for UK businesses.’
This dispute within the British capitalist class has no class interest for workers. Whether British capitalism is in or out of the EU will make no difference to their position as a class forced to work for a wage or a salary and won’t affect the problems they face either way.
So, if the referendum ever comes, you won’t find us joining with the xenophobic right and the xenophobic left to line up behind Ocado, B&Q, Next, Phones4U, Wetherspoons, Pimlico Plumbers and other firms producing for the home market in saying No2EU. We’ll be advising workers who understand their class position to write ‘World Socialism’ across their ballot paper.