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Editorial: May Day in Europe

The First of May is the day when the workers’ movement celebrates its internationalism, and affirms the unity of their class across all boundaries. It is striking, then, that this year it also happens to be the day on which the ten ‘Accession States’ become members of the European Union. Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia will all become part of the same continuous political and economic zone, with a population of some 450 million people.

The workers’ movement that initiated Mayday as Labour Day used to look forward to a United States of Europe as its prize. Yet, the venalities of the property system defy the attempts at unity between humans. The enlargement of Europe, and all the rights of movement of Labour it brings managed to bring down a government Minister – Beverley Hughes – because the Tories saw fit to prey on the insecurities of workers in the UK, making out we would be ‘swamped’ by migrants coming to make them unemployed.

That workers are afraid is an effect of the systemic threat of poverty through unemployment capitalism needs in order to function. That the Tories did it is because they saw an opportunity to build electoral support based on that fear reflects the existing culture and institutions built up already in the UK. They did it because British capitalists do not want to invest tax money on welfare for workers who may not produce any profit for them.

It is not, though, just the Tories capitalising on the fact that humans organise around units of property called nation states. Labourites too join in the sport. Arch-apologist for Blairism, Polly Toynbee, in her Guardian column, talks of how a modern ‘social democratic welfare state’ needs to control immigration in order to function. That is, her social democracy requires a nationalised workforce competing on a world market against other national capitals. She is as much against wasting state money as the acolytes of free-market capitalism.

The Home Office, under Blunkett, has begun to inform asylum seekers from the accession states that on May 1st their entitlement to benefits ends, and they must find work or leave the country; this is because they are not at the moment subject to European rules on welfare entitlement for European Union citizens. ID cards are being rushed through to brand the workers as Made in Britain.

The truth is, that the uneven distribution of capital and property within the EU, and the attempts by the defenders of that property to build political alliances and movements based upon national prejudice and fear, remain a stain on whatever will be celebrated this Mayday.

Many workers may well be misled by trade union barons squawking about needing to take action to defend British jobs, of Labour politicians bleating about defending Britain from being swamped by scroungers; but those workers will be no better off for siding with British capital against their fellow workers. As soon as the going gets tough, the capitalists will without hesitation pull up their money and send it elsewhere to make better profits without the slightest regards for the workers who would be swamped by the resulting unemployment.

The truth is that it is not fellow workers who cause poverty and unemployment, but capitalism and its unyielding drive for profits. Their investments are the stage upon which we must try and play our parts. We cannot be free or united so long as they are free to move about the scenery around us.

The task confronting us is to build up a union of the working class, organised to put an end to the property system that divides and oppresses us. In today’s capitalism, organised on a global scale, a united Europe would not be enough; to free ourselves from the depredations of capital we need the World Commonwealth of Humanity.