Academic journal article Capital & Class

The Politics of European Integration: A European Labour Movement in the Making?

Academic journal article Capital & Class

The Politics of European Integration: A European Labour Movement in the Making?

Article excerpt

During the last decade the process of European integration has deepened and intensified. The creation of the single market has been completed and strengthened with the introduction of a single currency and an independent European Central Bank. Powerful and undemocratic forms of regulation have developed at the European level that have both facilitated and legitimated a massive programme of liberalisation, deregulation and privatisation within member states and have constrained levels of public spending and public debt. The neo-liberal restructuring associated with European integration has resulted in mass unemployment, job insecurity and a sustained attack on Keynesian forms of working class incorporation and collective forms of welfare. These developments have also resulted in a political and intellectual crisis within the labour movement. Social democratic politicians and trade union hierarchies have learned to chant the neo-liberal mantra of globalization and have sought refuge in defensive social pacts an d productivity agreements. There remain however significant pockets of resistance both within established trade unions and political parties and between new groups and activists that increasingly link issues and campaigns across national borders. Indeed, the institutional development of Europe has been forged through struggle and has opened up a new terrain of struggle that links the national, European and global levels in new and exciting ways. The focus of this paper is to explore whether it is possible to isolate an alternative (proto)European labour movement emerging from the struggles on this new terrain.

Recent contributions to the debate on European integration within Capital & Class have tended to downplay the importance of class struggle in the process of European integration. While Carchedi & Carchedi (1999) argue for the development of a 'class analysis' of European integration, in their analysis the working class appears as little more than a passive victim of capitalist restructuring. This is also evident in Carchedi (1997) in which Economic and Monetary Union (EMU) is presented as a neo-imperialist strategy developed by German capital to subordinate the European working class to the emerging global power of the Deutsche mark. There has also been an important focus on the enduring importance of class relations at the level of the nation state and the essentially symbiotic relationship between nationally-based class struggle and the global restructuring of capital (Moran, 1998). Recent analyses of labour movement politics in the UK ignore the European dimension (Fairbrother, 2000; McIlroy, 2000) and ris k overstating the specificity of the UK in the European context. There is a danger that analyses that focus on the national level fail to grasp the ways in which political relations are currently being recomposed within Europe. There is a danger of reifying the state into a fixed set of institutional relations rather than a political form of the capital relation subject to contestation and struggle (Holloway & Picciotto, 1991, Clarke, 1991a). The process of European integration involves a spatial recomposition of the global capital relation: a recomposition that can only be grasped by a rigorous empirical investigation of the changing forms of regulation and resistance within Europe.

In this paper we explore the logical and historical determinants of European integration and reflect on the potential and dangers this presents for labour movement renewal. We begin by exploring the logical form that European integration has taken and the way that through the principle of 'subsidiarity' a regulatory gap has been established between political mobilisation at the national level and new forms of neo-liberal regulation at the European level. We then trace the historical determination of this form through an exploration of the social struggles that have developed within EU member states in the context of neo-liberal restructuring. …

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