Sunday, November 13, 2016

The economic purpose of anti-migrant prejudice


In post-truth politics it is the rhetoric that is the reality.

Donald Trump says he will "immediately" deport two to three million people (presumably to Mexico).

No he won't.

He can't and he knows he can't.

Just one million people would fill somewhere between seventeen and twenty thousand coaches. 

The simple logistics of transporting so many people would be the work of weeks if not months - and that is if the country to whom the deportees were being despatched cooperated enthusiastically and accepted their responsibility for every one of the (often presumably) undocumented individuals who might or might not be their citizens.

None of this is likely.

Nor does Trump really want this outcome.

The US economy depends in many ways (just as the economy of London does, for example) upon the labour of "illegal immigrants" and upon the opportunities for super-exploitation of workers for whom the ever present threat of deportation is a whip held by employers which can be cracked should those workers ever seek to pursue their own interests (collectively or individually).

Trump no more wants to expel every Latin American cleaner from the USA than our Government wishes to see the back of every African security guard in London. What they both want is that these workers should live lives of perpetual terror, never knowing if they, or their loved ones, will be one of the ‎(relatively small) number who will be picked up and deported from the country they have made their home.

These workers can then be relied upon not to unionise, nor even to demand their legal rights (to the minimum wage for example) and therefore not only to cheapen their own labour (and add to the profits of their immediate employers and/or the "end users" of their labour) but also to depress wages generally at the lower end of the labour market.

This provides not only a general economic benefit for the employers in whose interests Trump (and May) (and Farage) act, but also a material basis for the argument that it is immigrants and immigration which drives down wages. This argument can then be used to rally support for the bigotry of the far right not only amongst those whose living standards are being held down, but also (in the UK) amongst the dunderheaded Parliamentarians on the Labour right who will whine that we must "respect" or "engage with" anti-immigrant prejudice (when in fact what we need to do is confront it and defeat it).

It is easy to criticise "liberal" critiques of the Trump/Brexit right-wing as the "politics of hate" on the grounds that they fail to address the material foundations of prejudice. However, the whipping up of anti-immigrant and anti-immigration hysteria is quintessentially the "politics of hate" as an end in itself - and for thoroughly material reasons to do with the economic interests of the ruling class, every bit as much as the ideological project of the far right.

UNISON has clear policy in support of the rights of migrant workers and we need to campaign for such policies around the world.

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