I'm against it, but
Peter Manson spoke to two leading No2EU candidates who were prominent in the Lindsey oil refinery dispute.
First, John McEwan, a Socialist Party supporter who heads the list in the East Midlands
How’s the campaign going?
Not too bad, as far as I know. I haven’t been able to do any public meetings - a few interviews and that’s been it - because I don’t actually live in the East Midlands and I have work commitments.
I’ve just been on strike again actually. We came out in support of the lads in Wales, where they finished the British workforce and brought in Polish labour. But once people started to take action in defence of their jobs, the company quickly changed their minds. But that’s not to say anything against Polish workers or any other workers.
Obviously if they bring in scabs you take action against them.
I wouldn’t actually go as far as to say they’re scabs. To be a scab you’ve got to be conscious of what you’re doing. I’ve worked with Polish labour and the first thing I said was, “Which one of you speaks English?” I said, if you’ve got any problems then see me - because I was the shop steward. They were being exploited. While we were on the job as an advanced skill craft, the Poles weren’t up to that standard.
I was on one job with Portuguese labour, but, to be quite honest, if that was skilled labour then I’m a Chinaman. They were undercutting us by a hell of a lot of money. The company swore blind they were getting the agreed rate, but, speaking to some of the lads later, they were getting half, because they were going through agencies. We have a problem with agencies and undercutting anyway, never mind foreign labour. It’s no different in that respect.
You were put top of the list because of your role in the Lindsey oil refinery strike, weren’t you?
I am actually a blacked worker at LOR. Although I work for a firm based at Lindsey, I work a few miles away because I am still barred. I was told I will never work on the site again because of issues I took up six years ago as a shop steward and safety rep. So I wasn’t on the LOR strike committee because I wasn’t allowed on the site.
We’ve been critical of the nationalism in No2EU’s platform. While it is against Fortress Europe, it seems to be for Fortress Britain, implying that some foreign workers should be kept out.
No, that’s not it at all. ‘No to the EU, Yes to Democracy’ is a coalition of different people. Trade unionists, Socialist Party and Communist Party of Britain, who are playing a minor role …
Except they drafted the platform.
I’m not sure that’s true. I know the RMT financed it.
What’s your view on immigration controls? I say workers should have the right to come and go.
Workers should have the right to come and go - that would be quite correct under a workers’ Europe, but at the moment we’re under a bosses’ Europe and what they’re doing is using those workers to diminish our wages and our agreements.
But should they have the right to come in the here and now and work at trade union rates?
Yes, at trade union rates and on the same skills basis as we have - I have no problem with that. But under a workers’ democracy, where the workers and the unions have a say in the allotment of labour.
There are local practices as well - of course, the lads who built this industry and have worked here for years and years can’t just sit at home on the dole. In the construction industry you’re looking for a job every six months. If you’d been in the industry you’d understand the frustration some of the lads feel. And it doesn’t help if you’re an activist and shop steward, but blacked by most of the companies.
I’ve worked abroad myself, by the way - I went to Canada a few years ago. The same thing was taking place there - the ironworkers’ union was up in arms against the bosses’ union that signed the agreement on the site. So I got on the plane and came home - there’s no way I’m going to work on a job like that under those circumstances.
Can I ask you about the ‘Yes to democracy’ part of the name?
I don’t know who came up with ‘No to the EU, Yes to democracy’. I think a far better name would be ‘Yes to a Workers’ Europe, No to a Bosses’ Europe’. But, as you say, the Socialist Party isn’t totally running it - that was the slogan the RMT came up with and we have to run with it.
The content of the ‘Yes to democracy’ slogan seems to imply going back to British democracy before we joined the Common Market.
Yes, it does seem like that. But I was in London not long ago and heard Bob Crow speak at the Olympics site. He came out with the same slogan as me: “Yes to a workers’ Europe, no to a bosses’ Europe”. I think that’s what the name is trying to get across.
We call for republican democracy - the abolition of the monarchy and House of Lords …
Well, they’re from a feudal society, aren’t they? And there are unelected people running the government. Europe is just as bad.
Exactly. The expenses scandal highlights the lack of accountability. How about MPs on a skilled worker’s wage and the Chartist demand for annual parliaments?
A genuine democracy means accountability, but there’s no accountability in the Labour Party.
What about a popular militia instead of the standing army and the constitutional right to bear arms?
These are questions that need answers, but at the moment we’re trying to run before we can walk.
Well, I’m not about to distribute the AK47s, but if you support a workers’ Europe then I would have thought you must support the right of the workers’ organisations to defend themselves.
There are many workers who believe they live under a democratic society even under capitalism and support it. You have to take the shades from their eyes to show that democracy is only there while the bosses are making profits.
I’m totally against the standing army, but it’s not exactly something we can come out with in an election address. People would think I was off my rocker if I came out with that.
But they think you’re off your rocker if you call for socialism. Shouldn’t we put forward what’s needed, not what people want to hear?
That’s right, but people’s eyes have to be opened. I quite believe that the ruling class in this country would not hesitate to use the army against us if they thought their system was under threat.
That’s the reason for saying, ‘No to the standing army’ - to take away that threat against workers. But until that happened and workers could see what that slogan would actually mean …
Lindsey strike leader and Socialist Party member Keith Gibson is number one on the No2EU list in Yorkshire and Humberside
Whereas Socialist Party comrades like yourself successfully challenged slogans like ‘British jobs for British workers’ at Lindsey, in our view you are not challenging the backward nationalism contained in the No2EU platform drafted by the CPB.
Although there are one or two things that are questionable, we would support it overall. We really see it as the first step towards organising a political voice for working people. We’re saying no to a bosses’ Europe, the Lisbon treaty and the attacks on workers’ conditions in whatever country you look at.
But the platform opposes the free movement of labour.
On their terms.
Well, the website doesn’t say that. It says, ‘No to Fortress Europe’, but the implication is, let’s have a Fortress Britain.
Certainly not. We don’t want a Fortress Britain. To be honest, it’s not a rounded out socialist platform, but we believe it’s the first step towards creating a new workers’ party. It’s the first time a trade union has challenged the three big parties.
So you are for the free movement of labour and against border controls then?
Well, it’s on a capitalist basis that we want to abolish it.
Another aspect that ties in with the platform’s nationalism is the ‘Yes to democracy’ slogan. The only content it has on the website is British sovereignty in opposition to EU bureaucracy.
I think Bob Crow’s come out quite clearly for a workers’ Europe …
I know, but I’m referring to what’s on the website.
I’ll have to have a look at this website, won’t I?! But I’m trying to encourage people to vote for the first time. The sort of response we have been getting is totally opposed to the capitalist parties. I think we can say that they are going to get a whipping, although that is not to say that No2EU are going to set things alight. Certainly in the construction industry I’ve had a very positive response.
Workers are disgusted with the so-called Labour Party and, more importantly, for the first time they have the chance to vote for an alliance to cut across the BNP. I’ve come across workers disgusted with the mainstream parties who are now looking towards the BNP. Unless we put forward a class approach, then there is that danger.
But what would a radical democracy look like in your view?
Workers’ democracy: the right of recall and so on. Parliamentary democracy is a sham - I’m sure we can agree on that. I know it’s not particularly headlined within No2EU, but we’re also campaigning for workers’ MEPs on a worker’s wage.
Well, officially there ain’t going to be any MEPs because you won’t take up your seats.
No, no, no, that’s been discussed already. If No2EU gets a good vote then we’ll have to sit down and discuss how we move forward.
What about the right to bear arms and a popular militia instead of the standing army? Otherwise how would we defend our workers’ democracy?
At the end of the day, as I said before, it’s not a rounded out socialist programme, is it? The standing army is a capitalist army, which is part of the state. We need to try and get workers to understand what the army is, what parliament is and what the state is all about. Obviously we need to discuss these issues with workers when we get the opportunity.
So what do you say about workers defending themselves when you do discuss it?
Certainly workers would defend themselves, wouldn’t they? Are you talking about a revolutionary period, pre-revolutionary period or what? I think we should be looking at where workers are at the minute, their own consciousness. We could have a full socialist policy, but we have to look at where the class is, what workers are saying. A lot of workers are nationalist.
We’ve got to develop a national shop stewards’ forum. We’ve got to appeal to national and European trade unionists, because at the minute we’ve got unions that are opposing what we’re doing. Somehow we’ve got to develop the links nationally, European-wide and worldwide. You and I both know the size of the task we have.
Well, thanks very much for answering my questions.
Probably some of my answers are a bit rusty, but I haven’t been involved in politics for the last 10 years, although I’ve been active. But in the last six months I’ve been dragged kicking and screaming and I’ve got no choice but to try and carry on the fight.
I think we’ve got to discuss, with people like yourselves, with the Socialist Workers Party, the way forward. We come across as being in different sections, with different opinions, but at the end of the day we’ve got to change the system.
So what’s your answer on the standing army then?
We actually make the call to abolish it in the here and now as part of our immediate programme for republican democracy. We’re calling for extreme democracy - get rid of the monarchy and second chamber, annual parliaments, recallability, worker’s wage, etc - and a popular militia is part of the package.
Could you send me some of your stuff?
Yes, or you could check it out on our website.