Right-wing media and politicians are whipping up a storm of fear over immigration. If we believe them, immigration is to blame for unemployment, housing shortages and low wages.
The Home Office even has a van driving round telling “illegal” immigrants to “go home or face arrest”.
Workers need to see through the lies peddled by the ruling class. Division based on nationality and immigration status only benefits our bosses.
“Within a year”, says a typical scaremongering Ukip leaflet, “29 million Romanians and Bulgarians will gain the right to live, work and draw benefits here”. Off the Rails rejects the language of fear and hatred targeted against foreigners and immigrants. If we look around our workplaces, many of us will see people from Romania, Bulgaria and many different backgrounds. Our problems at work cannot be pinned on the nationality of our colleagues. They can almost always be blamed on our bosses!
Bosses and politicians dress up immigration controls as protection for workers’ jobs, wages and housing. But immigration controls weaken the working class by dividing us against each other. Borders also create a section of the working class without legal rights, who are open to brutal exploitation, which worsens conditions for all workers.
In 2008, cleaners in RMT on London Underground struck for the London Living Wage.
Cleaning contractors who had employed ‘illegal’ cleaners while they were silent suddenly contacted immigration services to arrest and intimidate those now standing up for themselves. Although the London Living Wage was won, union organisation suffered. No workers benefited from the crackdown; they had to put up with brutal treatment while the union rebuilt its strength. ISS cleaning contractor has recently employed similar tactics in response to an RMT strike ballot on London Underground.
Off The Rails believes that all immigration controls should be scrapped, and people should be able to live wherever they like. That seems radical, but countries in the EU have already abolished immigration controls for movement between each other and the sky hasn’t fallen down.
Immigration controls are a new phenomenon – the first immigration control was introduced in Britain in 1905. They haven’t been around forever.
The entire population of France, Germany, Spain, Greece, Portugal, and Italy already have the right to live, work and draw benefits here, as they have had for decades. Most choose not to.
The entire population of Manchester, Liverpool and Newcastle have those rights in London. But those cities have not emptied out simply because there are no controls or restrictions preventing their populations from moving elsewhere. Would Britain be better if the government controlled where you could live and seek work?
There are 750,000 British people living in Spain who can get jobs or claim benefits there, and 200,000 in France. Should all the British people living abroad be “sent home”?
Freedom of movement is a basic Marxist principle. Our view is that, if wealth is free to travel across borders, then the workers who create the wealth should have the same freedom.
Unions need to defend the significant numbers of “migrant” worker members from anti-migrant racism in the workplace and in society. Unions need to send pro-immigration messages to counter the poison and division currently circulated by the ruling class, pinning the blame for unemployment, wage cuts and housing shortages on the bosses instead of migrants. Unions must fight for a levelling-up of conditions and for a working-class social programme that deals with the problems by expropriating and redistributing the wealth of the rich.
Unfortunately, some in the RMT want to revive the “No2EU” electoral coalition which stood in the 2009 European Parliament elections. No2EU’s platform criticised “the so-called free movement of labour” and opposed the “social dumping” of migrant workers. The last thing we need is for the unions’ political voice to echo the anti-migrant right! We have nothing in common with the Little Englanders, Ukipers, and Tories who want to take Britain out of the EU and restrict immigration.
We are stronger when we overcome division amongst ourselves to take on our bosses.
Migrants contribute £2.5 billion more in tax than they claim in benefits.
In the year to April 2009 migrants from astern Europe were 59% less likely to receive welfare benefits than UK natives; or 49% if they had been here for more than two years. They were 57% less likely to live in social housing.
Steve Nickell, economics professor at Nuffield College, concluded that it was “very hard to find a significant impact of immigration on participation or unemployment by region, by skill or by age… there is very little evidence that they are taking jobs that would otherwise exist and be filled by natives”.
Between 1997 and 2005 middle earners gained 1.5p an hour and upper earners 2p from the effects of immigration.
Wages of the lowest-paid (the worst-paid 5%) have suffered in periods of high immigration — but only by 0.7p an hour.
The effect for some groups of particularly vulnerable low-paid workers (who often were the previous wave of immigrants...) may be greater.
Immigration expands the economy and increases the total number of jobs. The government’s cuts in public services, the depression imposed across industry by the fall-out from the bankers’ binge up to 2008, and employers’ insistence on making sure of high profits and squeezed, speeded-up workforces before they will expand and hire new workers — all of those cost jobs.