As we go to press on 9 April, Labour is continuing talks with the government on a Brexit formula.
As the customs union which Labour is asking for will not fly with many Tories, the talks may break down. But they are proceeding on the basis of Tory-Labour agreement on ending free movement between the EU and the UK.
This is a disastrous move on Labour′s part. Despite Jeremy Corbyn's support as a backbencher for campaigns defending refugees and migrants, since November 2016 Labour has accepted the end of EU freedom of movement. As on other aspects of the Brexit process Labour has failed to be guided by issues of principle, preferring to make all politics contingent on parliamentary calculations. Keir Starmer′s concession that “alignment with the single market” could mean accepting some elements of free movement has been the best we've got recently.
Why is freedom of movement an issue of principle? Because no socialist can back away from support for it without breaking from class politics or making themselves responsible for a further rise in racism and social intolerance.
The working class is a global class. Refugees and migrant workers are our sisters and brothers, and we should unite with them against the bosses and plutocrats, who are also a global class and are hostile to us. Workers, both British born and migrant, should unite to benefit from the mass migration which is a by-product of capitalist globalisation, and stop bosses using it to undercut conditions and super-exploit vulnerable migrant workers.
But we cannot unite with workers across borders while simultaneously working to limit or stop migration. Our basic duty is to defend freedom of movement where it exists and fight to extend it. The three million EU citizens currently resident in the UK are able to apply for settled status, but will feel increasingly insecure as new borders between the EU and the UK are put in place.
The Immigration Bill currently going through Parliament gives the Tory government open-ended powers to exclude EU citizens, and the Tories have indicated that their plan is to exclude new entrants to the UK from the EU unless they have an over-£30,000 job in advance or come for a specific job only for twelve months (and then can reapply only after a further 12 months).
Only after some pressure did Labour vote against the Bill rather than abstaining. Unless Brexit is stopped completely, this may be only the beginning of the creation of a very unfriendly environment for migrants who come to work in the UK. And who pay out more in taxes than they receive in state benefits! Labour's current stance indicates that if it returns to office it will accept all the restrictions the Tories will have put in place. Such institutional change and political shifts will feed the growth of racism and social intolerance.
In 2017/18, there were 94,098 hate crime offences recorded by the police in England and Wales, an increase of 17% compared with the previous year. As the 2019 Hope not Hate "State of Hate" report shows, attitudes to immigration are deteriorating. At the same time anti-Muslim prejudice has risen. 49% of Conservative voters thing that Islam is incompatible with the ″British way of life″.
To stop the new wave of immigration control and anti-migrant attacks, Labour needs to campaign forcefully against Brexit, including through a second referendum. It needs to rearm politically so it can convince working-class voters on how Labour will protect jobs and services and how Tory (and, indeed, New Labour) policies, including, increasingly the fall-out from Brexit, not immigration and immigrants, have driven social decay.
Nationalism, xenophobia, and racism have social roots that have to be understood. But they must also be confronted as such. Shamefully right-wingers, Blue Labourites, Stalinists in the labour movement pander to these attitudes. The politics of national identity is anathema to class politics. Our alternative is solidarity with refugees and migrants. Migrant workers and refugees coming to Britain are part of our class, not our enemies.
The Labour Campaign for Free Movement is pushing for the right to vote for migrants.
Call for Euro-elections
Labour for a Socialist Europe has put out this call for the May Euro-elections.
As Labour members and trade unionists, we urge the party to champion UK participation in the European elections in May.
The long delay necessary to tackle the issues surrounding Brexit necessitates taking part. The labour movement and left should embrace that as an opportunity to promote socialist politics in Britain and across Europe.
Labour must conduct a compelling left-wing campaign calling for radical transformation of Britain and the EU. We can offer voters an opportunity to challenge both the Brexit process and their social and economic situation.
Across most of the EU, the far right are the main challengers to a discredited neoliberal establishment. To confront and defeat the right, often funded by international dark money and disaster capitalists, the left must take the offensive against that establishment. It would make a huge difference if our Labour Party, with half a million members, championed a strong anti-austerity, pro-worker, pro-migrant, pro-democracy voice in these elections. It could be a game-changer for both the UK and the EU. Socialist politics must be advanced by international solidarity, not disempowering isolationism.
We want MEPs who, rather than seeing themselves as professional politicians, use their voices, from the platform of the European Parliament and outside, to popularise socialist policies and support and help organise workers’, migrants’ and other social struggles – locally, nationally and internationally.
We need a searching debate in our movement about the policies we need. This could include campaigning for:
An end to austerity; levelling up and expansion of health, education and other social provision across the EU, extending universal rights and promoting redistribution.
An EU-wide “Green New Deal” based on democratic public ownership of energy, transport, aviation and other vital industries, allowing an emergency transition plan to meet climate targets that is also economically just.
An end to “Fortress Europe”: robust defence of free movement within the EU combined with a European migration policy that welcomes instead of brutally seeking to exclude migrants from outside. Rights to work, access services and vote for all migrants.
Abolition of anti-worker laws and regulations, levelling up and strengthening of workers’ rights, including a strong right to strike, a real living wage and banning precarious contracts, across the EU.
A coordinated crackdown on tax avoidance and evasion, harmonisation of corporation tax across the EU, increased taxes on the rich and corporations. Radical expansion of public ownership and investment, while forcefully challenging EU restrictions.
Democratic public ownership of the banking and financial sector, organised internationally, to allow economic reorganisation, reversal of austerity, and social and ecological regeneration.
Replacement of tariff, agricultural and trade policies which impoverish people in developing countries with ones that promote workers’ rights, redistribution and sustainability.
No EU army, a ban on nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction. Democratisation of EU institutions, including making the Council and Commission accountable to an empowered European Parliament.
Labour’s campaign should further put to the people an explicit commitment to a public vote at the end of the extended Brexit process – between a deal to Leave endorsed by Parliament and an option to Remain, in a reformed EU.