The process of Britain leaving the European Union — called Brexit — has turned the politics of that country into a shambling wreck. Many Brexit scenarios predict major economic damage to the British economy, the second largest in the EU.
What is not being trumpeted is that the worst economic blows of Brexit would fall on the workers.
The major British political parties have split into “leavers” and “remainers.” There are subfactions like “hard exit” — no treaty between the EU and Britain — and “soft exit” — preserving an open border between the Republic of Ireland and the six northeastern Irish counties, Northern Ireland, that remained under British rule after the Republic’s independence in 1922.
In the general referendum on leaving the EU, the “leave” option won with only 52 percent of the overall vote. “Leave” actually lost in Northern Ireland and in Scotland by fairly wide margins.
But Brexit was pushed by some sectors of the English ruling class that resented the power that German and French financial institutions had over their economic dealings. The British bourgeoisie don’t want to have to coordinate with Germany and France when the next crisis of overproduction breaks and the economy of their world totters. The British rulers want unimpeded control of their own destiny — that is, their wealth — and no EU interference.
Now European workers, both in Britain and on the Continent, are facing the devastating fallout of some possible Brexit scenarios.
If a hard Brexit with no agreement occurs, either on March 29 or later, the employment status of 3 million or so non-British workers currently employed in the country will be up in the air. One of the main, “nationalist” points of the Brexiteers in the referendum campaign was a racist pledge to control immigration, exclude non-British workers and “protect British jobs.”
Similarly, the fate of a million of so British citizens now working on the Continent would be placed in doubt.
Unions in Britain, and more generally in Europe, should be taking a clear, firm, militant position that all workers have a right to their jobs, no matter where national borders are drawn.
Large sectors of the working class in England have already had their standard of living cut significantly before any declaration of Brexit. The British bourgeoisie have imposed austerity cuts in education, health care and housing without any interference from the unelected EU bureaucrats in Brussels.
An additional major impact Brexit would have on workers’ lives is the disruption of trade and transportation, the consequental rising price of goods, and the increased costs and difficulties of travel outside Britain, including trips related to health care.
For instance, of the 16,000 trucks a day, at maximum, that pass through Dover, England, on their way from Calais, France, less than 2 percent are inspected. All others pass with only an internet form. If Brexit happens without provision for a customs agreement, every truck would have to be checked. It’s estimated that workers driving trucks would be in a traffic jam more than 40 miles long.
In Ireland, workers driving the thousands of trucks that currently pass daily from the Republic to the Six Counties would face similar obstacles. And for women travelling to the Republic to seek reproductive health care, including abortions not available in the Six Counties, a border newly imposed by Brexit might represent an uncrossable obstacle to their future.
Brexit: yet another reminder that there should be no borders in the workers’ struggles.