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The EU doesn't protect workers' rights - it has destroyed them

Freedom of movement is about bosses driving down wages, not holidays

A feeble and erroneous argument for supporting the EU – one which is repeatedly used by both government and opposition leaders – is that leaving the EU would damage employment in Britain. This is simply not true.

A campaign by Britain in Europe entitled “Out of Europe, Out of Work” claimed that Britain would lose millions of jobs if it left the EU. The National Institute of Economic and Social Research, however, described the campaign as absurd, finding that British withdrawal would have no long-term impact on employment. In the words of its Director, Dr Martin Weale, the campaign was “pure Goebbels” and “a wilful distortion of the facts”.

The European Union is about economics, neoliberal economics, monetarist market capitalism - economics that do not work. It is inherently deflationist. That is to say, it is built on constraining economic demand and driving up unemployment. It is an economics that has failed in the past, is failing again and which has rolled back the successful economic arrangements that worked so well, so brilliantly indeed, in the immediate post-war decades.

This same economics is being inflicted on Britain – cuts and austerity. Living standards have fallen, wages reduced as a proportion of total economic output (GDP) and in real terms, and inequality and poverty increasing. 

In the rest of the EU however, things are worse, especially in the eurozone.

The EU is not at its core about employment rights, nor even is it about human rights. The EU has accepted employment rights to give the illusion that it is on the side of workers and trade unions – at least slightly – and to try to keep trade unions passive.

The millions of unemployed in Spain, Greece and increasingly elsewhere have seen no benefit from alleged worker and trade union rights. In the cases of the Viking Line and Laval, workers tried to contest their employers replacing them with lower-paid workers from another EU country. But the European Court of Justice found in favour of employers rather than workers.

Across the whole of the EU, the plight of working people is getting worse. Due to the legacy of neoliberal economic policies, unemployment even in Britain is now at least four times higher than it was in the successful postwar decades. And if unemployment in Britain were to be at the same level as in Spain, there would be over seven million on the dole rather than two million. 

Labour Europhiles raise the spectre of Britain losing worker and trade union rights and, indeed, human rights if Britain left the EU. But the simple counter argument is that Labour could and should commit to re-establishing rights taken away by the Tories and the Coalition.

Labour could, and should, recommit to membership of the European Convention on Human Rights (not a creation of the European Union but established by the Council of Europe) and International Labour Organisation conventions. Affiliated unions could and should simply commit the party to a package of progressive legislation to re-establish trade union and worker rights immediately after the next election.

Another of the great shibboleths of the EU is "free movement", and especially free movement of labour. This is simply a means of driving down wages in pursuit of profit. It is a component of laissez-faire capitalist ideology designed to weaken worker bargaining power.

Freedom for European citizens to visit each other’s countries for holidays and take pleasure in doing so is admirable. Enforcing free movement of labour is quite something else. Work permits for workers from overseas to fill skills gaps, even if temporary, would be appropriate. But in that case, it is surely fair and reasonable to have the same rules for EU citizens as for Commonwealth citizens. Ireland should of course retain its historic access to the UK.

The EU is both antidemocratic and anti-socialist. What will in the end destroy it is the fact it is failing economically. Restoring national currencies, and letting those currencies adjust to appropriate parities, will be the first crucial step in the process of restoring democracy. It's time to permit national parliaments do what is necessary to rebuild their economies, serve the interests of their people and thus all the peoples of Europe.

Kelvin Hopkins is the Labour MP for Luton North and a Leave campaigner

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Meet Anne Marie Waters - the Ukip politician too extreme for Nigel Farage

In January 2016, Waters launched Pegida UK with former EDL frontman Steven Yaxley-Lennon (aka Tommy Robinson). 

There are few people in British political life who can be attacked from the left by Nigel Farage. Yet that is where Anne Marie Waters has found herself. And by the end of September she could well be the new leader of Ukip, a party almost synonymous with its beer-swilling, chain-smoking former leader.

Waters’s political journey is a curious one. She started out on the political left, but like Oswald Mosley before her, has since veered dramatically to the right. That, however, is where the similarities end. Waters is Irish, agnostic, a lesbian and a self-proclaimed feminist.

But it is her politics – rather than who she is – that have caused a stir among Ukip’s old guard. Former leader Paul Nuttall has said that her views make him “uncomfortable” while Farage has claimed Ukip is “finished” if, under her leadership, it becomes an anti-Islam party.

In her rhetoric, Waters echoes groups such as the English Defence League (EDL) and Britain First. She has called Islam “evil” and her leadership manifesto claims that the religion has turned Britain into a “fearful and censorious society”. Waters wants the banning of the burqa, the closure of all sharia councils and a temporary freeze on all immigration.

She started life in Dublin before moving to Germany in her teens to work as an au pair. Waters also lived in the Netherlands before returning to Britain to study journalism at Nottingham Trent University, graduating in 2003. She subsequently gained a second degree in law. It was then, she says, that she first learnt about Islam, which she claims treats women “like absolute dirt”. Now 39, Waters is a full-time campaigner who lives in Essex with her two dogs and her partner who is an accountant.

Waters’s first spell of serious activism was with the campaign group One Law for All, a secularist organisation fronted by the Iranian feminist and human rights activist Maryam Namazie. Waters resigned in November 2013 after four years with the organisation. According to Namazie, Waters left due to political disagreements over whether the group should collaborate with members of far-right groups.

In April 2014, Waters founded Sharia Watch UK and, in January 2016, she launched Pegida UK with former EDL frontman Steven Yaxley-Lennon (aka Tommy Robinson). The group was established as a British chapter of the German-based organisation and was set up to counter what it called the “Islamisation of our countries”. By the summer of 2016, it had petered out.

Waters twice stood unsuccessfully to become a Labour parliamentary candidate. Today, she says she could not back Labour due to its “betrayal of women” and “betrayal of the country” over Islam. After joining Ukip in 2014, she first ran for political office in the Lambeth council election, where she finished in ninth place. At the 2015 general election, Waters stood as the party’s candidate in Lewisham East, finishing third with 9.1 per cent of the vote. She was chosen to stand again in the 2016 London Assembly elections but was deselected after her role in Pegida UK became public. Waters was also prevented from standing in Lewisham East at the 2017 general election after Ukip’s then-leader Nuttall publicly intervened.

The current favourite of the 11 candidates standing to succeed Nuttall is deputy leader Peter Whittle, with Waters in second. Some had hoped the party’s top brass would ban her from standing but last week its national executive approved her campaign.

Due to an expected low turnout, the leadership contest is unpredictable. Last November, Nuttall was elected with just 9,622 votes. More than 1,000 new members reportedly joined Ukip in a two-week period earlier this year, prompting fears of far-right entryism.

Mike Hookem MEP has resigned as Ukip’s deputy whip over Waters’ candidacy, saying he would not “turn a blind eye” to extremism. By contrast, chief whip, MEP Stuart Agnew, is a supporter and has likened her to Joan of Arc. Waters is also working closely on her campaign with Jack Buckby, a former BNP activist and one of the few candidates to run against Labour in the by-election for Jo Cox’s former seat of Batley and Spen. Robinson is another backer.

Peculiarly for someone running to be the leader of a party, Waters does not appear to relish public attention. “I’m not a limelight person,” she recently told the Times. “I don’t like being phoned all the time.”

The journalist Jamie Bartlett, who was invited to the initial launch of Pegida UK in Luton in 2015, said of Waters: “She failed to remember the date of the demo. Her head lolled, her words were slurred, and she appeared to almost fall asleep while Tommy [Robinson] was speaking. After 10 minutes it all ground to an uneasy halt.”

In an age when authenticity is everything, it would be a mistake to underestimate yet another unconventional politician. But perhaps British Muslims shouldn’t panic about Anne Marie Waters just yet.

James Bloodworth is editor of Left Foot Forward

This article first appeared in the 17 August 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Trump goes nuclear