Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Immigration is not the problem

When I started going on demonstrations in the late 1970s I first heard the old chant that begins "unemployment and inflation are not caused by immigration!" A couple of years after that I got an Economics A-level and realised that was indeed true.

That's why I appreciate Anita Hurrel's piece on Liberal Conspiracy yesterday (http://liberalconspiracy.org/2013/10/21/nine-reasons-why-labour-should-oppose-the-new-immigration-bill/‎).

The Tory Immigration Bill (which gets its second reading in the Commons today) is as gruesome an example of racist "dog whistle" politics as we'll see between now and the 2015 General Election (which is, of course, what it's all about).

Although making less pleasant the lives of (some) "foreigners" (broadly, those who don't own Central London mansions and/or large yachts)‎ probably does bring genuine pleasure to many Tory MPs, this odious legislation isn't really about denying migrants access to services or compelling landlords to volunteer for the border agency.

The real purpose of the new law is to be seen to be "tough" on immigration in the forlorn hope of ever appeasing the ignorance and bigotry expressed in its purest form by the Daily Mail. For the Tories this is about holding on to supporters who might be tempted by UKIP, and for the other parties it's about keeping up.

What needs also to be borne in mind is the knock on effects of "dog whistle" politics on those who hear, and are encouraged by, the whistling. 

Already black people (particularly young black men) are far more likely than their white counterparts to be stopped by the police (and to die in police custody). 

Already we know that letting agents will collude with racist landlords to deny some would-be tenants homes on the basis of their race.

At work we see instances in which cuts and redundancies fall unevenly on black and minority ethnic workers (as, for example, the very local Councils which pioneered equal opportunities are now savaged by the deepest cuts).

Such discrimination is encouraged and legitimised by legislation attacking immigrants and, although the equation immigrant = black is less true than it was a generation ago, the racist consequences remain obvious.

In determining how we should respond as trade unionists‎ we do have to take on arguments about the adverse impact of immigration upon some workers. An increase in the supply of (particularly) unskilled labour through migration can depress wages - other things being equal (ceteris paribus, as I was taught in economics).

A trade union response ought not to be to try to restrict migration, but to see to it that ceteris aren't paribus. ‎Ever tighter immigration "controls" would simply mean more migrants workers were undocumented, making them even harder to organise and even more vulnerable to unscrupulous employers.

Our approach has to be to seek to organise all workers and fight for higher pay. UNISON's long standing support for an amnesty for undocumented workers reflects the interests of our members rather more than the equivocation and accommodation being shown towards racist Tory legislation by the Shadow Cabinet.

Or, as we used to finish chanting all those years ago; "Bullshit! Come off it! The Enemy is profit!"

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