By Nicky Dempsey
Vile attacks on immigrants and ethnic minorities are continuing all across Europe.
Reaction is being whipped up by the pro-austerity parties, who also lend support to each other’s agendas. The latest example, but by no means the worst, is Merkel’s support for Cameron on her recent visit to Britain. While she was completely unwilling and unable to offer any encouragement on his central demand for a European referendum, the consolation prize offered was support for yet another ‘clampdown on benefit tourism’.
It is a complete fiction that Britain or any other EU country is beset by large-scale migration enticed by the level of social security payments, which the government has actually admitted. But the effect of the continuous announcement of policies in this area is to bring together a toxic mixture of racism, xenophobia and victimising the poor for the economic crisis. This is the essence of the Tories’ political campaign between now and the general election of 2015.
The support from Merkel is much-needed by Cameron. His is an exceptionally weak government, driven to a reckless promise on the referendum that would hurt the dominant sectors of British capital simply in fear of his own backbenchers and UKIP. There are a host of issues on which the Tories have been obliged to change course because of the stance of Labour or to seek its support, including Leveson, HS2 and most famously over the attempt to bomb and invade Syria. Currently the government’s main focus in its campaign for a replacement of Trident nuclear weapons is to get Labour support for the policy.
Yet the reason the Tories are able to make the running on the issue of immigration, which in Britain is always about racism, is because Labour has been echoing their statements, not challenging them. Frequently, the frontbench attacks the Tories from the right, arguing that too many failed asylum seekers or illegal immigrants are being allowed to remain in Britain. The anti-immigrant campaign is increasingly drawing in the Blairites who had previously supported free movement on neoliberal grounds. A section of Progress is adopting anti-immigration as a policy.
Attacking the benefits of immigration
The reality is very different. Like all advanced economies Britain benefits from immigration. All value is created by labour-power. Migrants, especially economic migrants are characteristically the most able and adaptable source of labour in any society. In addition to providing direct economic and fiscal benefits, they also enrich the culture, widen the perspectives and improve the living standards of the whole of society.
To take one small example, there are a number of studies showing that an influx of immigrant kids improves the educational attainment of the whole cohort of pupils in a given area. The government is refusing to publish its own report into the effects of immigration on the economy, presumably because like all serious studies it shows a benefit in terms of growth, public finances and job creation for the entire economy.
Yet when confronted with the evidence on the benefits of immigration, its opponents appeal to sentiment and anecdote or resort to outright falsification. It is now widely asserted that Labour lost the last election because of the ‘Mrs Duffy question’. The fact that New Labour presided over the deepest economic crisis in living memory, preceded by years of stagnating real wages is airbrushed out of history. In fact Labour support rose by 3 per cent between the Gordon Brown-Mrs Duffy spat and polling day.
The attacks on the rights of migrants are an attack on all workers and everyone who relies on public services. Excluding them from the NHS can only rebound on Britons working and travelling overseas, and will lead to ID checks in hospitals here. Restrictions on access to social security, or to public services will similarly require intrusive or draconian measures against the majority of society in Britain and will invite reciprocal measures elsewhere in Europe.
Most pernicious of all is the continual efforts to encroach on freedom of movement of labour within the EU. It is a fundamental right of labour to be able to move for jobs, and had to be fought for just as much as the freedom to organise and the right to strike. All reactionary regimes attempt to limit the right to free movement of labour as this allows capital and a state acting on its behalf to determine the allocation of jobs. Naturally, this is always done in the interests of capital.
In Britain, the Poor Laws were only finally abolished by the 1945 Labour government. They included severe restrictions on the movement of the unemployed, and for a prolonged period limited the minimal assistance available to the existing parish or town. In recent history internationally the most grotesque example is the Pass Laws of the Apartheid regime. The most thorough repression of any freedom of movement for labour was enacted by the Nazis.
Workers and the oppressed have nothing to gain and everything to lose by conceding to the right’s agenda on immigration. This will be a prolonged struggle, as both the new racist offensive and the related austerity onslaught are not going to disappear in the near future.
It is a major step forward that the TUC is backing the March 22 march and rally against scapegoating immigrants, racism and Islamophobia, yes to diversity. All socialists, as well as all genuine democrats should help to build it as a major national demonstration against the racist tide.
The stand up to racism website is here along with details of the March 22 demo.