– By James Martin British Conservatives, I have something to tell you. The days of the British Empire are thankfully over. Please stop treating the world as if they owe you something, as a British citizen, it’s beyond embarrassing. Whilst your at it, p …

Walton Pantland

– By James Martin

British Conservatives, I have something to tell you. The days of the British Empire are thankfully over. Please stop treating the world as if they owe you something, as a British citizen, it’s beyond embarrassing. Whilst your at it, please stop blaming the EU for everything like you do ‘the previous Labour Government’, scaremongering and propaganda will bite back.

Well, I’m sure you can gather from my opening diatribe that I’m relatively pro-European Union. As a European citizen, I like my right to a weekend, to paid holiday, to work hours that don’t befit Victorian Britain, my right to not be discriminated against at work. As a student of history I think it is vital to know about our past before we gallop in to the future, it’s important to understand why things are the way they are.

Let’s go back to 1813, 200 years ago. Europe and indeed the planet was embroiled in one of its (though not the) first global wars. The new country of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland was engaged in war against France, which had at this point conquered most of mainland Europe. The UK was embraced in global conflict, from war with the young United States of America to the older Persian and French Empires, to name a few. The UK was pitted against Europe. Invasions and battles in continental India, America – North and South – and Europe were commonplace, and in 1813 it seemed that only a pyrrhic victory was possible for either side. Continental war was nothing new, though had previously been confined mostly to Europe. In fact even to date, the ‘Old World’ (non EU see below) hasn’t had a period of sustained peace of more than 25 years since 1495. The war the UK was fighting then we know somewhat euphemistically as the Napoleonic wars.

The Napoleonic Wars ended in 1815. The Congress of Vienna and the resulting Pax Britannica was meant to secure European peace for generations to come. The war of Dukes (of Wellington) and Viscounts (Nelson) playing soldier and declaring peace was never sustainable. In fact since 1815 Europe (at time of writing) has seen 211 further interstate wars, declared by leaders and fought by workers. The resulting conflicts carried a heavy burden to our class with a loss of life totalling well over 200 million people in Europe alone, that’s half a billion of you and me’s in less than 200 years (an average of 2700+ people dead per day).

This is a horrific statement that despite the post-1815 Pax Britannica and the UK crusade against slavery (something that still goes on even in the UK, see the Houses of Parliament Cleaners Branch of Unite for evidence of this). The rise of the British Empire continued to bring untold misery and death to millions. To see so many Tories violently waving flags at ‘Rule Britannia’ at the proms still makes me uncomfortable. To see so many Michael Goves and William Hagues representing the country internationally as we do should be a warning to us. Yet we as a country have a long history of working with other countries: where our politicians have failed, our workers have not. Is this why they slam the EU as ‘a socialist Mecca’ (Nigel Farrage, 2007) and demonise it like they do the working class?

In 1945, Europe controlled over one half of the planets surface and three fifths of its population, controlled being the key word. Only the controlling states in 1945 (United Kingdom, French 4th Republic, Spain, Portugal, Soviet Union, Italy as European examples but even the United States) had any form of democracy. Yet we consider our rights, such as freedom of speech, the right to free and fair elections, to be judged by our peers as a fundamental; yes I’ll say it, they are our now ‘Human Rights’. It is no coincidence that after the horrors of the War period (1898 – 1945, though if you live outside Europe, these horrors continued for years and I personally accept the 20th century as a global 100 years war), that mine and yours Grandparents generation, in this country and Europe at least, wanted an end to violent conflict and a beginning of some form of peace, a land fit for heroes, odd how even a Tory that is most synonymous with empire said this:

‘We must build a kind of United States of Europe. In this way only will hundreds of millions of toilers be able to regain the simple joys and hopes which make life worth living’ – Winston Churchill

In the UK we elected the Great Government of Clement Attlee’s Labour Party, in a landslide in 1945. Out of war, Labour’s two terms of office saw some of our most cherished institutions created, the NHS, British Rail and the Welfare State. As the Labour Party left office, that same anti-war spirit saw the European Coal and Steel Community established (1952), with amongst many other founding principles, looked to ensure member states never again went to war. Just four years before the ECS was created, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights saw the right for workers to join a Trade Union enshrined as one of our Human Rights. Indeed it became apart of the European Declaration of Human Rights, a declaration that enshrine European citizens Human Rights (such as Habeas Corpus). As European Integration has continued, the ECS gave way to the EEC which in turn has given way to the EU, even though it seems acceptable in 2013 to criticise the ECHR as it prevents business from treating workers as cattle, though the press spin this as ‘poor business being prevented from making profit’ – don’t fall for it. The same Trade Union protections remain in place. In many ways, the EU and its workers protections are our Grandparents’ legacy.

The very Labour Party that brought us welfare and our NHS, was founded from the survivors and struggles of the common struggle for workers right, struggles like the Peterloo Massacre, Chartists, Manningham Mills strikes and the Suffragettes. Like the workers of our European counterparts, our class has fought for their rights, irrespective of nation or its wealth controllers. Workers have come together in unity in war (see the Christmas Day truce in WWI or the Workers’ Brigades in the Spanish Civil War) and in peace (See the United Nations/EU and Unions or indeed USi). We may be workers separated by language but standing shoulder to shoulder for a common goal of fairness and equality (see the French National motto as an example of ‘Libérte, égalité fraternité’) are exactly why USi exists.

We are meant to pass to the next generation a society better than the one before it. I’m not sure that the next generation are going to receive this baton, though I will be doing everything I can to do so. In 2013, whilst Europe has been at peace, or should I say EU member states have, for over 50 years thanks to European Integration, another war has crept in. The war that I refer to is in fact a war on the very working class that fought so hard in World Wars One and Two to preserve peace, fairness, equality and democracy.

As the EU has ballooned, so has bureaucracy and business protectionism. I’m not going to sit here and tell you that the EU is a paradise island. It isn’t. In the UK though, it is the only thing protecting workers’ rights and against a reinvigorated right wing. The Tories want back the EU powers that protect UK workers from the Tories. In 2013, please can someone explain how Human Rights (that are protected by the EU) such as the right to be apart of a trade union, the right for an employer not to overwork its staff and the right to a weekend are somehow bad things? The UKIP party (and especially since Eastleigh) and right wing parties seem to think that less workers rights are the key to business development and economic growth. The public have been conned to thinking that our ‘subscription’ to the EU is too much, the financial cost of workers preservation and legal dignity (let me remind you the European Court of Human Rights does great work, yet is NOT a functionary of the EU) is a price too much to pay, cuts are the only way forward it seems and our race to the bottom seems confined to the history of the future. I say no, absolutely not.

In 1813 there were only a handful of protections afforded to its workers in the UK, by 1913 pensions and the right to vote had been introduced, by 1953 a Welfare State and NHS free at the point of use was afforded to its citizens. Do you think our grandparents would have ever thought that the NHS would be sold to Virgin and Serco? That Europe, instead of being the continent of war, has instead morphed into one of the few institutions that protects its workers, that enshrines our right to a weekend? Our Working Time Directive (that stops our Doctors being overworked), our right to public protest? That has helped prevent our workers from being dragged in to another preventable European war? The Tories and UKIP are coming for your rights, they have sold off your welfare and your NHS. They have declared war on our class again, this time I’m not so sure people are willing or able to defend the society our grandparents created, after all we now have food banks. If you are reading this, make sure you are one of those that is fighting. 1813 society was 200 years ago, it shouldn’t be feeling so familiar nor nostalgic. Join a Union (Trade). Join the Union (EU). Change the Union. Fight back. Give the next generation some hope.

Let’s end with the words of Nye Bevan:

“…That is why no amount of cajolery, and no attempts at ethical or social seduction, can eradicate from my heart a deep burning hatred for the Tory Party that inflicted those bitter experiences on me. So far as I am concerned they are lower than vermin. They condemned millions of first-class people to semi-starvation. Now the Tories are pouring out money in propaganda of all sorts and are hoping by this organised sustained mass suggestion to eradicate from our minds all memory of what we went through. But, I warn you young men and women, do not listen to what they are saying now. Do not listen to [their] seductions… [They are] very good salesman. If you are selling shoddy stuff you have to be good salesman. But I warn you they have not changed, or if they have they are slightly worse than they were.”

 


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Walton Pantland

South African trade unionist living in Glasgow. Loves whisky, wine, running and the great outdoors. Walton did an MA in Industrial Relations at Ruskin, Oxford, and is interested in how trade unions use new technology to organise.

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