The working class and the "immigration debate"

The Kaiser Chiefs: you can deport them

A critical response to an article about immigration in the Financial Times quoted favourably on a "pro-working class" website containing anti-immigrant misinformation and scaremongering.

I have been meaning to write more for a while, however often writing something from scratch I find I don't know where to start. Therefore instead I thought I would try to practice by analysing and critiquing other texts. I would appreciate feedback and comments on the article and my writing style.

The text below was one I noticed last year, and I was pointed to see it posted with favourable comment by a socialist (and libcom poster no less) on a socialist/"pro-working class" website, Meanwhile at the bar (which had involvement from people around and supportive of the Independent Working Class Association and Liberty & Solidarity, some of whose members and supporters have espoused similar views).

The article is Time for a debate on immigration by Martin Wolf in the Financial Times from 2009, and it was commented by the poster oisleep that it was "fairly decent", and you can read it online here. I thought about doing a more general post about the irrationality of workers supporting immigration controls overall, but for now I will limit myself to just addressing this set of arguments.

Wolf begins by responding to former Home Secretary Alan Johnson's admission that "the government [had] been “maladroit” in its handling of immigration" by describing this admission as "British understatement" and stating instead that in fact "it [was] dishonest: it … pursued a radical policy, with profound consequences, on weak grounds, without serious debate. That is why the British National Party is on BBC television."

He continues: "The government has been able to get away with its dishonesty because immigration is the “third rail” of politics. Few wish to discuss the topic openly. But some discussion is essential. Present policies have big implications. These should be evaluated and discussed openly. That is the democratic way."

This kind of sentiment often crops up in many of the myriad news articles in mass circulation newspapers, TV news reports, televised debates, etc: that the immigration issue is not discussed openly. This is clearly a contradiction in terms. Discussion of immigration is everywhere, in much greater proportion to its relevance even I would argue. Compare it with much more significant issues which really don't get "discussed openly" in the media, for example the billions of pounds in subsidies given by taxpayers to the pensions of the rich, the 20,000+ people in the UK every year who are killed by their work, etc.

Wolf then states a few initial "facts" about future projected population figures, namely that the UK population is predicted to increase from 60 million to 70 million by 2030 and that immigration is predicted to be a major contributor to this. It appears that the intention of these figures is to make them sound scarily large. However, I can well imagine Wolf's grandfather writing in Ye Olde Financial Times 100 years saying that the population was 30 million and could hit 40 million by 1950. Which of course it did1. But so what? Was the UK of 1950 a much more terrible place to live than 1910? Of course not.

In terms of population density, the UK is nowhere near the top of tables. Current population density is 650 people per square mile: well below Japan (836), Belgium (889), the Netherlands (1259) and utterly dwarfed by places like Hong Kong or Singapore (18,000+)2 - all places without social problems significantly worse than the UK.

Now, moving on we come to one huge assumption which is very significant in Wolf's view, and that of many other people but in fact is completely baseless:

The UK has a real income per head of about five times the world average. One must assume that the inflow, under unrestricted immigration, might be numbered in the tens, if not hundreds, of millions. The impact is not hard to imagine.

Now for a lot of people I think this is why people support immigration controls, because they actually think this would happen.

In fact most people are loath to leave their friends, their families and their whole lives behind to move countries. However, you don't just have to take my word from their concrete historical examples which demonstrate this is untrue.

For starters, for most of history immigration controls haven't existed. And despite the global North being so much richer than the global South, migration from Europe to Africa and the Americas since the 16th century has been double the migration into Europe from Africa.3 In fact, immigrants have been actively sought out and encouraged to come (or forced with slavery) to work in the North.

Another recent example of the abolition of border controls was when the USA allowed open migration from the Caribbean. Between 1950 and 1980, when borders were closed, only 0.6% of the Caribbean population moved to the US and England, despite the obvious economic attractions. If this figure were to be applied world wide now the figure would be about 24 million per year or a growth of about 2.4% in population of the industrialised countries - probably under the anticipated labour demand in several European countries.4

There is more than a whiff of Western arrogance in the idea that everyone would just love to come and live here, with our crappy weather and often even crappier job opportunities.

Wolf then discusses the bourgeois economic arguments around immigration. As communists, these don't interest us, as we recognise that the interests of workers do not coincide with the interests of the economy. So I will leave these and move on to the others.

Wolf now acknowledges that the sheer number of people is not an issue, despite having presented the scaremongering figures earlier, stating that England is not "full up", and that 700 million people could fit here with a population density similar to London. However he is basically arguing against an increase in population - stating that "the impact of accommodating a population increase of 10 million, equal to seven Birminghams, would be substantial". However, when he continues he unveils the real problem: "This is particularly true in a country unwilling to expand the housing stock or invest in infrastructure."

The issue of shortage of housing is completely separate. There is already a housing shortage and widespread homelessness, and there always has been, regardless of the population. This is due to housing being constructed largely for profit than for need. It is not profitable to build housing for people who can't afford it! And of course scarcity of housing is vital for the profitability of house building as it pushes prices up.

Even if there were no immigration, the population will still rise. Of course building housing for 10 million people can't be done overnight, but housing for 60 million people went up okay, and other countries obviously have much higher populations - so this is a complete red herring.

Next we get to a really key point in the article, which actually displays his prejudice more than anything else, and makes it particularly concerning that a socialist would consider this article "fairly decent". He states that "diversity brings social benefits. But it also brings costs. These costs arise from declining trust and erosion of a sense of shared values."

These are just assertions. Wolf does not explain even what he means by "trust", or any evidence that it is "declining" and certainly not any evidence that "diversity" has any effect on it at all. As for a sense of shared values, these don't necessarily have anything to do with nationality. I certainly don't have many shared values with white British Tories or racists, or fans of The Kaiser Chiefs, but that doesn't mean that I think we should change the law so that we can boot them out of the country (apart from The Kaiser Chiefs fans).

Wolf then tries to give this clearly prejudiced view a liberal veneer by stating that "such costs are likely to be particularly high when immigrants congregate in communities that reject some values of the wider community, not least over the role of women in society" and "it is not unreasonable to feel concern over such rifts. I certainly do."

Again, no evidence is presented to back up these assertions. As I said above I know plenty of white English people whom I don't consider I have "shared values" with (and I'm sure they'd feel the same about me), and plenty of white English people have dodgy views on women, gays, etc. But that doesn't mean that I don't think I shouldn't share the same geographical space with them. Because really, what difference does it make what nationality or ethnicity of people you live around? We have the choice to freely associate with whomever we please, so we can surround ourselves (as most of us do) with people with whom we do share values, and it's great that we have the opportunity to do so with people from different backgrounds, from different countries and different ethnicities. Imposing restrictions on migration not only restricts our possibilities of socialising and communicating with people from other areas, but it also risks international backlash against British citizens living elsewhere. Your average British emigrant may not share many values with many people in their new country, but they still have the freedom to live there.

In conclusion, while that article may have been written in reasonable language, really it just presents assertion as fact in order to argue for immigration controls - which pretty much is the mass media approach to migration as a whole. What is a real shame in this instance is that this media bombardment is so overwhelming that a fair few self-declared anarchists and socialists, who would normally be more critical, are falling for it and actively supporting anti-working class policies.

Nationalism of any sort has no place in the workers' movement. By accepting the government and the media's line in any way that other workers are the problem, it sets us against one another and reduces the possibility of us uniting to fight together around the real problems which we face: shortage of housing, low wages, job losses and crumbling public services. The slogan is "workers of the world unite!", not "workers of the world unite! Unless you're a foreigner".

Posted By

Steven.
Apr 13 2011 12:43

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Comments

Noah Fence
Sep 9 2015 19:00

It's this simple;

Capitalism has no borders.
Class has no borders.
Solidarity has no borders.

So just fucking can it, will ya?

Benzo89
Sep 9 2015 19:10
radicalgraffiti wrote:
Benzo89 wrote:
I'm not racist, but...

Considering a large percentage of immigrants are white this is a bit odd. Add into that Nationalism is moronic and I don't identify with any british culture I deem worthy of defending or preserving, why would you assume I don't want people of colour living here?

Trying to smear someone and attach ideas to them they don't have is the laziest form of bullying. Kinda like how the nationalist forums seem to like accusing me of zionism because I don't think jews control the economy.

Benzo89
Sep 9 2015 19:05
Webby wrote:
It's this simple;

Capitalism has no borders.
Class has no borders.
Solidarity has no borders.

So just fucking can it, will ya?

If another opinion bothers you you know it is possible to just not reply? Or can't you just not help but do so out of fury that someone does not have the same politics, or no established political side?

fingers malone
Sep 9 2015 20:12

In my job we have permanent workers and zero hours workers doing the same job but the zero hours workers get about half the pay. We put up with it not because we are scabs who don't care that we are participating in worsening the conditions, but because all new posts created in the department for the last several years have been zero hours. You either suck it up or you don't work there.

There are large numbers of migrant workers in both the permanent and the zero hours sections. Many of whom have been actively involved in organising protests and strikes there.

A whole load of people got laid off last Friday. It's because of the government cutting our funding, we are not being replaced by migrants or by anyone else, the posts are just being cut. If we have a strike or a demo about it, most of the people coming to support us will be migrants.

Benzo89
Sep 9 2015 20:20
fingers malone wrote:
In my job we have permanent workers and zero hours workers doing the same job but the zero hours workers get about half the pay. We put up with it not because we are scabs who don't care that we are participating in worsening the conditions, but because all new posts created in the department for the last several years have been zero hours. You either suck it up or you don't work there.

There are large numbers of migrant workers in both the permanent and the zero hours sections. Many of whom have been actively involved in organising protests and strikes there.

A whole load of people got laid off last Friday. It's because of the government cutting our funding, we are not being replaced by migrants or by anyone else, the posts are just being cut. If we have a strike or a demo about it, most of the people coming to support us will be migrants.

Sorry to hear about your co-workers. That is another aspect of immigration. £95 billion government resources allocated to immigrants since the 90's. If that money was not spent and the government wasn't now cutting everything workers rely on, including government jobs, those jobs wouldn't have needed to disappear. There isn't an endless pool of money the government has.

Noah Fence
Sep 9 2015 20:24

Fucking hell. This has got to be a wind up.

Fleur
Sep 9 2015 20:29

Of course it's a fucking wind up. He's a repeat, serial troll who comes here, starts a conversation which he knows is going to wind people up and then people lose their shit at him.

Benzo89
Sep 9 2015 20:30
Webby wrote:
Fucking hell. This has got to be a wind up.

Are you saying the studies and reports by various governmental and non-governmental agencies are not true? If you do indeed concede that this is true, would 95 billion cover the amount of government workers being laid off?

Auld-bod
Sep 9 2015 20:31

I get on OK with a guy and we can have some reasonable discussions until his response starts reducing virtually any subject to a monotonous, “But how do you know it’s not a conspiracy?” As I cannot know, he ‘wins’ because he knows what he knows.

Similarly Benzo89 believes what he believes as he has first-hand experience through his friends and family. Though how this irrefutable knowledge relates to his professed political beliefs is a mystery. Perhaps a creative dissonance?

fingers malone
Sep 9 2015 20:32

Losing my job is bad enough, someone trying to make anti migrant political points out of it is really adding insult to injury.

The government is attacking the living conditions of the working class across the board, cutting jobs, cutting pay, cutting benefits, people are getting thrown out on the streets everyday, and you see that as caused by immigrants? It's a generalised ruling class counter attack. Also I claimed a lot of benefits back in the day, am I not to blame as well?

gram negative
Sep 9 2015 20:39

So, accepting the 95 billion 'cost' of benefits paid to immigrants and for the sake of this argument that this has led to the cutting of government jobs, why aren't you arguing for cuts in other areas, like the military (which dwarfs immigration in cost)?

In the US, undocumented immigrants pay many taxes while not being able to partake in any benefits (tax rebates, 'welfare', etc.)

Benzo89
Sep 9 2015 20:36
Auld-bod wrote:
I get on OK with a guy and we can have some reasonable discussions until his response starts reducing virtually any subject to a monotonous, “But how do you know it’s not a conspiracy?” As I cannot know, he ‘wins’ because he knows what he knows.

Similarly Benzo89 believes what he believes as he has first-hand experience through his friends and family. Though how this irrefutable knowledge relates to his professed political beliefs is a mystery. Perhaps a creative dissonance?

No, I believe reputable studies and papers from both the government and non government agencies that claim that immigration negatively affects the poorest sections of the working class and has cost taxpayers 95 billion pounds since the 90's.

I am also fine with the Anarchist answer, which is to organise and abolish capitalism and then capitalism won't be able to exploit any workers and immigrants and workers can take control of the means of production and transform society.

I just don't find it necessary to deny evidence that within the capitalist system immigration drives down the poorest workers wages and costs the taxpayer billions, which affects workers in the form of access to housing, NHS costs, inflating the budget meaning job losses and cuts.

I can still support immigration without pretending it has no negative affects within the current system for the poorest of us.

Noah Fence
Sep 9 2015 20:39
Benzo89 wrote:
Webby wrote:
Fucking hell. This has got to be a wind up.

Are you saying the studies and reports by various governmental and non-governmental agencies are not true? If you do indeed concede that this is true, would 95 billion cover the amount of government workers being laid off?

What I'm saying is that you are taking the piss or that you are a straight up racist fucking twat. And shut the fuck up about you're not anti immigration because you told us you're not - it wouldn't matter how many times I told you I'm hung like an Arabian cart horse, it wouldn't alter the fact that I've got a dick like a Marks and Spencer's cocktail sausage!

Benzo89
Sep 9 2015 20:41
Webby wrote:
Benzo89 wrote:
Webby wrote:
Fucking hell. This has got to be a wind up.

Are you saying the studies and reports by various governmental and non-governmental agencies are not true? If you do indeed concede that this is true, would 95 billion cover the amount of government workers being laid off?

What I'm saying is that you are taking the piss or that you are a straight up racist fucking twat. And shut the fuck up about you're no anti immigration because you told us you're not - it wouldn't matter how many times I told you I'm hung like an Arabian cart horse, it would alter the fact that I've got a dick like a Marks and Spencer's cocktail sausage!

How am I racist, base don what, accepting evidence, actual evidence of the phenomena I am talking about? Are you claiming immigration does not undercut wages? Are you claiming immigration has not cost the taxpayer tens of billions?

You sound like a £30,000 a year lefty spitting his dummy out because someone reference actual studies that show the affects of immigration on the working poor. Not being poor yourself and being incredibly politically biased, the mere acknowledgement these studies exist makes you unable to type without exploding and yelling racism.

Which is quite funny considering many of the immigrants coming to the UK are whiter than me.

Benzo89
Sep 9 2015 21:05
fingers malone wrote:
Losing my job is bad enough, someone trying to make anti migrant political points out of it is really adding insult to injury.

The government is attacking the living conditions of the working class across the board, cutting jobs, cutting pay, cutting benefits, people are getting thrown out on the streets everyday, and you see that as caused by immigrants? It's a generalised ruling class counter attack. Also I claimed a lot of benefits back in the day, am I not to blame as well?

Well I don't blame immigrants for coming for opportunity, I would do the same, it is basic human compulsion to try and improve your conditions. However yes obviously the people responsible for immigration caused wage undercutting and migrant spending are immigrants.

It is in the immigrants material interests to come to the UK. It is in the poorest sections of the working classes interests to either not have capitalism, or not have immigration within a capitalist system. That would mean their wages were not driven down and the 95 billion in spent tax money wouldn't have been, which could be used by the government for government jobs (which you just said are being cut) and other resources that benefit them.By the way £95 billion is 21 times what the Iraq war cost (4.5 billion)

Just because something is in our interests though, does not mean we have to pursue those interests if it goes against our morality or political views. It however would still benefit us within capitalism.

Benzo89
Sep 9 2015 20:58

I am just curious do the people refusing to acknowledge the impact of immigration on the working poor within capitalism also pretend the gentrification of black communities isn't happening?

gram negative
Sep 9 2015 21:02

Also, my union represents workers in industries that are filled with both documented and undocumented immigrants, and that hasn't stopped them from organizing together and securing better wages - such as the ~$60000 that a housekeeper makes in NYC, immigrant or not.

(not meant to be a defense of unions or this union)

Benzo89
Sep 9 2015 21:11
gram negative wrote:
So, accepting the 95 billion 'cost' of benefits paid to immigrants and for the sake of this argument that this has led to the cutting of government jobs, why aren't you arguing for cuts in other areas, like the military (which dwarfs immigration in cost)?

In the US, undocumented immigrants pay many taxes while not being able to partake in any benefits (tax rebates, 'welfare', etc.)

I am in favour of cutting the military budget. Are you? Are you for cutting the resources given to immigrants? However as I said, most workers, immigrants, everyone is not a communist. If you support capitalism and the state having a military is a necessity. Immigration isn't. For workers under capitalism who support capitalism stopping immigration is preferable to having no standing military.

gram negative
Sep 9 2015 21:12

immigratiion was heavily reduced to the US in 1921 and 1924. it did not lead to growth of wages (but organizing did)

Benzo89
Sep 9 2015 21:15
gram negative wrote:
immigratiion was heavily reduced to the US in 1921 and 1924. it did not lead to growth of wages (but organizing did)

Well yes, after wages are driven down you still need to organise to build them up. Without foreign cheap labour undercutting you this is what is done.

gram negative
Sep 9 2015 21:23
Benzo89 wrote:
gram negative wrote:
immigratiion was heavily reduced to the US in 1921 and 1924. it did not lead to growth of wages (but organizing did)

Well yes, after wages are driven down you still need to organise to build them up. Without foreign cheap labour undercutting you this is what is done.

actually, wages had increased during the period of mass immigration to the US preceding the immigration restrictions, it's just your theory doesn't hold water.

also, you make it appear as if it is all or nothing for the military budget, which appears to be more than half of the money spent on immigrants in that whole time period every year.

Benzo89
Sep 9 2015 21:31
gram negative wrote:
Benzo89 wrote:
gram negative wrote:
immigratiion was heavily reduced to the US in 1921 and 1924. it did not lead to growth of wages (but organizing did)

Well yes, after wages are driven down you still need to organise to build them up. Without foreign cheap labour undercutting you this is what is done.

actually, wages had increased during the period of mass immigration to the US preceding the immigration restrictions, it's just your theory doesn't hold water.

also, you make it appear as if it is all or nothing for the military budget, which appears to be more than half of the money spent on immigrants in that whole time period every year.

Which within capitalism is how the majority of the people think that money should be spent. Economic power and military power is something that people want their country to have.

However as an Anarchist it is slightly disingenuous to be talking about government military spending and talking about how that affects workers but ignoring how immigration, something a majority of workers don't support, affects workers.

If you support cutting military budgets based on making things better for workers within capitalism, do you support cutting spending on immigrants? Is immigrant an all or nothing thing, would you advocate cutting spending on immigration?

No because on that you take the big picture, on military spending however you deem that something to support cutting within capitalism. That isn't consistent.

And of course America is a unique situation because of its history, immigration was needed for economic growth and at the time it was growing of course immigration was not hurting native workers. You can't apply the history of an Immigrant nation that is a new nation and needed population expansion to the UK. You can try but it isn't an honest comparison.

Benzo89
Sep 9 2015 21:42

"..Ireland constantly sends her own surplus to the English labour market, and thus forces down wages and lowers the material and moral position of the English working class..."

-Karl Marx

Now Marx like myself, could acknowledge the reality of immigration within capitalism, he could be against anti-immigration rhetoric, he could be for workers uniting and abolishing capitalism as the way to end all oppression. Just because he recognised immigration hurt poor workers within capitalism, he argued workers should abolish capitalism and that the antagonistic relationship between local workers and foreign labour could be ended, as we see with this:

"..And most important of all! Every industrial and commercial centre in England now possesses a working class divided into two hostile camps, English proletarians and Irish proletarians. The ordinary English worker hates the Irish worker as a competitor who lowers his standard of life. In relation to the Irish worker he regards himself as a member of the ruling nation and consequently he becomes a tool of the English aristocrats and capitalists against Ireland, thus strengthening their domination over himself. He cherishes religious, social, and national prejudices against the Irish worker. His attitude towards him is much the same as that of the “poor whites” to the Negroes in the former slave states of the U.S.A.. The Irishman pays him back with interest in his own money. He sees in the English worker both the accomplice and the stupid tool of the English rulers in Ireland..."

S. Artesian
Sep 9 2015 22:01

But of course, that's how capitalism exists, that's what accumulation is based upon. It has nothing to do with nationality, it has everything to do with accessing, dispossessing, aggrandizing fresh sources of labor power, inflating the reserve army of labor.

You on the other hand make it an issue of immigration rather than capitalist exploitation. You argue that the material interests of the working class are jeopardized by the waves of immigrants. This is exactly the jingoism that has paralyzed workers for years. It was the AFL's jingoism against Asian workers in California in the 19th century. It was the jingoism against the Irish in the US in the mid-19th century; the Italians in the latter 19th century; against the great waves of African-Americans moving out of the South and into Northern cities between 1910 and 1970: "they're taking 'our'-- meaning white-- jobs; they're lowering our wages.

In each case, no such thing occurred-- there is no such thing as "white" or "native" jobs. The great migrations of African-Americans during and post WW2 into industrial centers did not take "white jobs;" and corresponds to overall increases in employment, investment, and wages.

So maybe Marx can be excused for not looking deeply enough into this, given the lack of statistical data at the time as to what was really going on-- but you can't, because the data shows that immigrants have not caused wages to be lowered; do not take "native jobs;" are "super"-exploited. The attack on wages far precedes immigration.

But still your persist with your bullshit abstractionism: "That parrot's not dead. He's just unusually calm." It's a dead fucking parrot. You're a fucking dick.

S. Artesian
Sep 9 2015 22:11

This:

Quote:
No, it is the bourgeoisie who want immigration, they are the fuckers who benefit from it by undercutting local workers and exploiting immigrant labour. In what fantasy world are the capitalists anti-immigration. The only reason politicians have even started to address immigration in the UK is because of working class mass anger over it

from a person who explicitly states he "supports" immigration.

In what fantasy world are the capitalists anti-immigration? In the fantasy world of Arizona, Alabama, Georgia. In the fantasy world of Donald Trump. Is he capitalist enough for you?

gram negative
Sep 9 2015 22:17

you have a disingenous style. are you sure you aren't obsessing over this like you mentioned you have other subjects?

regardless, you still haven't answered how the workers in my union (which is filled with immigrants, both documented and not, as well as 'native' workers) have been able to organize together and increase their wages?

radicalgraffiti
Sep 9 2015 23:13
Quote:
It says that European migrants made a net contribution of £20bn to UK public finances between 2000 and 2011. Those from the 15 countries which made up the EU before 2004, including France, Germany, Italy and Spain, contributed 64% – £15bn more in taxes than they received in welfare – while east European migrants contributed 12%, equivalent to £5bn more.

http://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2014/nov/05/eu-migrants-uk-gains-20bn...

Tyrion
Sep 9 2015 23:41

At this point, this is really on par with someone claiming they're not opposed to racial desegregation while insisting that it harms white people and that libcommers should stop lying that it doesn't.

S. Artesian
Sep 10 2015 00:08

^^Word.

Chilli Sauce
Sep 10 2015 02:55
Benzo89 wrote:
fingers malone wrote:
In my job we have permanent workers and zero hours workers doing the same job but the zero hours workers get about half the pay. We put up with it not because we are scabs who don't care that we are participating in worsening the conditions, but because all new posts created in the department for the last several years have been zero hours. You either suck it up or you don't work there.

There are large numbers of migrant workers in both the permanent and the zero hours sections. Many of whom have been actively involved in organising protests and strikes there.

A whole load of people got laid off last Friday. It's because of the government cutting our funding, we are not being replaced by migrants or by anyone else, the posts are just being cut. If we have a strike or a demo about it, most of the people coming to support us will be migrants.

Sorry to hear about your co-workers. That is another aspect of immigration. £95 billion government resources allocated to immigrants since the 90's. If that money was not spent and the government wasn't now cutting everything workers rely on, including government jobs, those jobs wouldn't have needed to disappear. There isn't an endless pool of money the government has.

So, up to this point Benzo, I actually thought people were being a bit rough with you.

But, seriously, after this little tirade, FUCK OFF.