On the Lisbon Treaty referendum

An open letter to the Socialist Party

The Socialist Party correctly criticises those trade-union leaders who are calling for a 'Yes' vote in the referendum on the Lisbon Treaty on 2 October. There can be no justification for anyone who claims to defend the interests of working people endorsing a treaty aimed at fine tuning the mechanisms of the imperialist European Union. It is, however, hardly surprising that some trade-union bureaucrats - after working hand-in-glove with the bosses for over 20 years of 'Social Partnership' - would decide to sign on as promoters of the Lisbon Treaty.

The centre-page article in the September issue of the The Socialist advocates a 'No' vote on the basis that 'the European Union has undermined the wages and conditions of workers across the continent'. In fact each national capitalist class has been waging its own campaign to drive down popular living standards - to blame the EU for this is to obscure the real dynamics of the bourgeois offensive.

Your article does correctly note that the Posting of Workers Directive (which came into force a decade ago) along with the court decisions on its enforcement (Laval, Viking, Rüffert, Luxembourg) have been used to justify the 'race to the bottom' that is hurting workers across Europe. But the Socialist Party is very wrong to push the notion that the Lisbon Treaty will 'significantly further the creation of a European Union which favours the interests of big business'. It is merely a continuation of business as usual for the European bourgeoisie - as your own supporting arguments make clear.

You put forward the nationalist-reformist argument that the Lisbon Treaty would make it 'more difficult for mass protest and popular pressure in countries to challenge developments in the EU by pressurising their elected governments'. Changes in bourgeois rule can sometimes make a significant difference to the terrain on which the class struggle is fought, but clearly not in this case.

The adoption of the Lisbon Treaty would make no significant difference to the ability of the working class to wage class struggle. Nationalist 'solutions' to the problems faced by working people can only weaken the labour movement. Whether it is better to vote 'No' or spoil your ballot in this referendum is a tactical question that boils down to how socialists can best promote class consciousness within the proletariat given current political circumstances.

The present political context is sharply defined by a rising tide of nationalism being pushed by elements of the ruling class and the trade-union bureaucracy as a response to the crisis. The poisonous chauvinism expressed by the 'British Jobs for British Workers' slogan vividly illustrates how nationalism is a form of capitalist ideology that is counterposed to the internationalist class consciousness required for the self-emancipation of the working class.

The majority of Europe's capitalists favour a 'Yes' vote. However, a significant minority of the bourgeoisie across Europe advocate 'No', represented in Ireland by Sinn Fein, the likes of Declan Ganley, and recently the UK Independence Party, which spent €180,000 on posting a 'No' vote leaflet to every household in Ireland. A 'No' vote in these circumstances buys into the petty nationalism represented by Sinn Fein and the trade-union bureaucracy.

Socialists must seek to develop a strategy, and the associated tactics, to enable the working class to defeat the capitalists' attempts to offload the costs of their economic crisis. Victorious defensive struggles by workers can help create conditions for going over to the offensive and ultimately launching a struggle to overturn the whole rotten capitalist system.

In this referendum the International Bolshevik Tendency is calling for working people to spoil their ballots. This tactic allows workers to reject bourgeois-nationalist demagogy while also registering opposition to capitalist squabbles over re-jigging the EU.

On 2 October 'Spoil Your Ballot!'

Alan Davis
for the International Bolshevik Tendency
29 September 2009

Posted: 30 September 2009