I don’t think there’s much point in picking a side in the EU debate. It’s a referendum called by the Tories, and one that takes place entirely on their terms: there is no lesser evil to choose between Cameron and the international institutions that have imposed austerity across the continent on one hand, and Johnson, Gove, UKIP and the Taxpayers’ Alliance on the other.
When there are so many questions with clear right and wrong answers – should these people be evicted from their homes, should the government be able to impose this new contract on junior doctors, do you need and deserve a pay rise and so on – it seems a bit pointless to focus much attention on a choice between two different flavours of toxic waste. Any kind of positive response, anything that points to an actual improvement rather than just trying to slow down the rate at which everything continues to get worse, can only come from rejecting the choices we’re offered and deciding our own priorities on our own terms. Arguments between politicians about how to draw lines on a map don’t take place for our benefit, so we shouldn’t fight in their wars and we shouldn’t vote in their campaigns.
But that’s a bit of an abstract slogan, it’s not necessarily easy to say what that can look like in practice. Unexpectedly, an article in the Sun has given a glimpse of what a genuine working-class response to the EU debate could look like: posties are threatening not to deliver Cameron’s pro-EU propaganda, or at least want extra money if they’re going to have to do it.
That, right there, is the essence of a real working-class approach to the problem. Not “I want to stay in because I trust the European Parliament to protect our rights.” Not “I want to leave because I think it’s easier to hold British politicians to account.” Just “why should I have to go out of my way to deliver this crap?”
And, just like that, everything is reversed, and we’re reminded of a simple truth that’s so often forgotten and obscured: everything in this society, all the things that make the wealthy and powerful so wealthy and powerful, all of it only happens because we do the work to make it happen. When we talk about Cameron spending taxpayers’ money on sending leaflets to everyone in Britain, we’re not really talking about Cameron doing anything at all, we’re talking about designers laying leaflets out, print workers actually doing the job of getting them printed, and posties actually taking the things and putting them through people’s letterboxes. Or, just as importantly, not taking the things and not putting them through people’s letterboxes.
It’s our work that makes all these things happen, and when we withdraw that work these things, all those things that make up their society, can’t function as normal. When we remember that truth, we start to open up possibilities a lot more interesting and exciting than just “leave” or “remain”.