Tuesday, September 29, 2009

The Lisbon Treaty: The Socialist Party View

Here follows an interview with Stephen Rigney of the Socialist Party, Parliamentary Assistant to Joe Higgins MEP

Sum up for us, in 30 words or less (or as brief as possible), why the Socialist Party is opposed to the Lisbon Treaty.

We believe that the Lisbon Treaty enshrines the concept of the free market, the privatisation of healthcare and education and the "race to the bottom" in wages and conditions, while giving a huge impetus to the militarisation of Europe. It is a continuation of the same failed policies that have resulted in this economic crisis.

Why do you think unions like SIPTU are in favour of the treaty?

Well, we'd draw a very sharp line between the rank-and-file membership of unions like SIPTU and the leadership who support the Lisbon Treaty. The leadership's support for Lisbon is directly related to the fact that they have no faith or confidence in their membership to get active and to organise against attacks on wages and conditions. They are committed to the idea of Social Partnership, where workers should not rely on their own strength and ability to demand decent pay and conditions but that they should seek agreements with the bosses to be given a few scraps off the table, while big business dines on a five course meal. Despite the fact that Social Parternship has been blown apart by this recession, they are still hoping that they can cobble together some sort of deal on the basis of the Charter of Fundamental Rights, which will come info force if Lisbon is passed. They hope that somehow the rights in the Charter will give legal protection to workers in pay and conditions and this will prevent employers from introducing pay cuts and job losses and force them back to negotiations. On a superficial level, the CFR contains many fine phrases and articles about workers' rights but in practice, the European Court of Justice has ruled on a number of occassions that the rights in the CFR are subordinate to the rights of the market and the rights of big business to make profits. The Charter itself, along with its official explanations are very specific and clear about the limitations of fundamental rights, when they interfere with the running of the market. In fact, by enshring the Charter of Fundamental Rights, it will actually only re-inforce the limitations on workers rights and the vicious anti-worker rulings of the ECJ. Despite the conservatism of the union leaderships and their wishful thinking, the only road that will be left open to workers to defend pay and conditions will be to take industrial action and get organised.

Joe Higgins MEP made a great point the other day when he said that part of the treaty (which says that alcoholics and drug addicts should be involuntarily 'confined') goes against the Mental Health Act 2001. Why has no-one else, even on the No side, picked up on this?

There are a lot of important points in this debate which unfortunately have not really featured in the discussion or in the media. The No side has had an uphill battle throughout the campaign in trying to fight their corner and put forward their ideas. The blatant bias of the mainstream media has meant that the Yes side has received a lot more coverage and it's made it very difficult for the No side to get all their points across, particularly when those issues are outside of the "key" issues of workers' rights, militarisation, the democratic deficit and public services. it's just unfortunate that more important issues like this one do not coverage.

We're all hearing a lot about the minimum wage and that it could be altered; what, if anything, in the Treaty could change our minimum wage?

The Treaty itself will make no direct change to the minimum wage. Claims by Cóir that it will do so and reduce the legal minimum wage to €1.84 not only confuse and muddle the real debate on the content of the Lisbon Treaty and what it means but also provides ammunition to the establishment to paint the No side as liars. These claims are an absolute distraction.

There has been an ongoing attempt by big business throughout Europe to lower wages and conditions by forcing workers into competition against each other through a "race to the bottom". The rulings of the ECJ in the Viking, Ruffert and Laval cases are a very significant confirmation that the EU elite are in favour of these policies. The ECJ rulings effectively said that trade unions have no right to take industrial action against companies "posting" cheaper labour from abroad if it interferes or makes it more difficult for a foreign company to set-up in another state. The Court also ruled that employers "posting" workers abroad are not obliged to meet industry agreements or norms but are only required to meet the minimum employment conditions in that country. Even more significantly, the ruling against the state of Luxembourg means that national states cannot impose legislation on foreign companies over and above the minimum legal requirements, if it has any detrimental impact on the company establishing a base in that state. This is a very clear sign that the rights of workers to decent pay and conditions is subordinate to the right to make profit. By setting the minimum wage and not industry standards and agreements as the only bar that has to be reached by multinationals, the minimum wage is quickly becoming the maximum. Lisbon and the Charter will do absolutely nothing to prevent this as the rights contained in the Charter are limited and based upon the rights contained in the other European Treaties. These are the same Treaties that the ECJ based its judgements on!

What does the Socialist Party make of some of the more right-wing elements of the No campaign like Coir and Libertas? Is this an uneasy alliance, or do they raise some valid points?

As I said above, the outlandish claims of groups like Cóir are an actual distraction from the real debate. These groups all have their own axe to grind around issues that have no real impact on the lives or ordinary working people and in certain cases, around non-issues that the Lisbon Treaty does not even concern. They've attempted to turn this debate towards a narrow nationalist outlook on Europe and in the case of UKIP, this is an attempt to whip up racist ideas. Unfortunately, the media and establishment have tried to elevate these groups as the leaders of the No campaign in an attempt to dismiss the entire No side as extremist or anti-European groups. By responding to their strawmen arguments and elevating them as real issues, they can easily knock them down and attempt to portray all the No arguments equally as strawmen.

We cannot choose who is part of the No side but we will continue to run our own campaign, independent of these groups.

Finally, why is Joe Higgins the only MEP opposing the Treaty?

Ultimately, all the other MEPs and their parties are proponents of the status quo in Europe, one where the rights of the market and the rights of profit and big business are king. They offer no alternative to this kind of Europe and the capitalist system that it's based around and so inevitably they have to row behind the Treaty.

The Socialist Party stands for a different kind of European Union, one that's based on the rights of workers and young people to a decent job, decent pay and decent conditions. We support a Europe that's based on democratic socialism, where industry and production is run on the basis of providing goods and services to people, not on providing exploitation and profit to big business.

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