Article from the June 2005 issue of the Socialist
newspaper of the Socialist Party, Irish section of the CWI
Editorial: EU neo-liberalism rejected by French & Dutch
THE OVERWHELMNG "No" votes in the EU Constitution referendums by voters in France and Holland, and the defeat of the Schroeder government in German regional elections are a rejection by millions of workers of longer working hours, the privatisation of public services, slashing of the welfare state and attacks on workers' rights.
On a turnout of 70%, 55% voted no in France and in Holland 62% voted no (63% turnout). The EU Constitution in its current format is dead. Blair has decided to postpone holding a referendum, as have the governments in the Czech Republic and Poland. There are also doubts over whether Bertie Ahern will call a referendum in Ireland. Blair's decision is a recognition that his government would lose a referendum on the Constitution, with opinion polls putting support for a "No" vote at 64%.
Europe's leading politicians have attempted to put a spin on this crisis by trying to claim that the no votes were due to the unpopularity of the French and Dutch governments and not opposition to their European "project".
The ruling classes of the different European countries want to transform Europe into an economic and political rival to US Imperialism. A fundamental part of this is their agenda of privatisation and deregulation, based on a massive attack on workers' rights and wages, the public sector, and the welfare state. Therefore it is precisely because the French and Dutch governments are implementing this neo-liberal anti-working class agenda driven by the EU that millions voted no to their Constitution.
At the beginning of this year opinion polls put the support for the "Yes" camp in France at 65%. Yet the government was defeated less than six months later because of a change in people's consciousness due to the struggles of the working class.
On 5 February 500,000 public and private sector workers demonstrated to defend the 35 hour week. On 10 March one million protested on wages and against a longer working week in the fifth day of national action this year. There were school student strikes, occupations of schools and a day of action in which 160,000 school students participated in 150 demonstrations against government attacks on education. According to the French newspaper Le Monde 79% of blue collar workers and 67% of white collar workers voted no.
In the three years since Chirac's election, the government has implemented a neo-liberal agenda that has seen attacks on pension rights, public spending and the privatisation or part-privatisation of public services such as electricity, gas and the postal service. Public sector wages have fallen by 6% in the last three years yet profits have soared. The oil company Total's profits rose 24% in 2004, while L'Oreal's rose by 143%. The "No" vote was a political expression of the struggles by the French working class against neo-liberalism.
Moves by European capitalism towards economic and political integration have been dealt a significant blow. If they are forced to effectively declare the EU Constitution dead, it will encourage more struggles by workers against neo-liberalism.
Growth in the Eurozone is flagging, pressure is mounting on the European Central Bank to raise interests rates, and government politicians in Italy have raised the idea of abandoning the euro.
The EU leaders are determined to push ahead with implementing privatisation and further attacks on workers' rights through the Bolkestein directive or "Frankenstein" as it has been nicknamed. This directive would mean for example that Polish workers employed in Ireland or Britain would be exempt from Irish or British minimum wage legislation and labour laws. It is therefore a charter to cut and slash the wages and conditions of all workers across Europe - a law that would legalise the slave labour practices employed by GAMA.
The bosses' European Union project is based on handing over our public services to the multinational vultures and increased exploitation of workers. The resistance of the working class in France, Holland and Germany to this agenda will increase and be replicated across the whole of the EU in a wave of workers' struggles in the next period of time.