Why free movement?

Submitted by AWL on 6 November, 2019 - 10:08
free movement

No one today disputes that freedom of movement within a country is a boon. Both for the individuals who can move to a place or a job they prefer, and for the places where they arrive, which become livelier.

Problems may arise: for example, shortage of affordable housing in London. The answer is to tax the rich to improve social provision (for example, build more council housing in London), not to exclude those who want to move. The immigrants are often a big part of the workers producing that improved social provision.

The same principle hold across national borders. We want to defend the free movement across Europe we have had for decades, and open up both Britain and Europe more to the rest of the world.

Those who want to divide workers say borders protect us from outsiders. But really workers born in Britain have more in common with workers born in Poland or India than with profiteers and rich people born in Britain.

The Tories feel a common identity with rich people across borders. They admit that investment and trade and top managers coming into Britain across national borders bring boons. It is all the more true that workers coming into Britain across those borders bring boons.

We want a society that liberates people to live where and with whom they choose. A society without the Tories’ “hostile environment” for ourselves, our neighbours, our friends, our workmates. Without the barbed wire, the detention centres, and the 2 a.m. raids.

Some migrants are fleeing poverty, war, or environmental destruction. Many would prefer to stay where they grew up, and near family and friends. We support aid and solidarity which helps them do that. But that will not dispel war and poverty overnight. In the meantime we should not turn away the people trying to flee horrors.

It is not true that immigration in Britain today undermines wages, conditions, job security or public services for the workers already here.

For example, plenty of the NHS divisions with shorter A&E waiting times have high proportions of migrants (e.g. North-West London, Bedfordshire and Milton Keynes) while some of the worst-performing ones have very few (e.g. Shropshire, Staffordshire, Lancashire and South Cumbria). Overall there is no correlation! Meanwhile, foreign-born workers keep the NHS going.

Some people claim that an increase in the supply of labour drives down wages. That assumes that there is a fixed number of jobs. If that were true, then population growth from births in general would also depress wages, and population decline would raise them.

But cities like Sunderland and Hull, whose populations have shrunk substantially, have high unemployment and low wages. The fastest-growing cities, like Swindon and Cambridge, have above-average wage growth and low unemployment. Across the world and across history, countries with high immigration have generally prospered better than those with low immigration.

Extra workers don’t just seek jobs; they eat, drink, and live. They increase demand for housing, food, and other goods and service, and so create jobs. They pay taxes which the government could and should use on better public services, and so yet more jobs. At least some of the profits derived by the rich from the extra workers’ labour spur new consumer demand and new investments.

Researchers at the London School of Economics have found there is no relation between immigration from the EU and wage cuts, unemployment, or deterioration in public services — even when the focus is narrowed to the poorer-paid sectors which are often said to be more affected.

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