Some thoughts on the recent tragedy off the coast of Libya and how it ties into political rhetoric on immigration and the received wisdom of border controls as a social necessity.
Late on Saturday, a migrant vessel capsised 60 miles north of Libya. The death toll for that one incident could be upwards of 800, over half of the figure of 1,500 deaths estimated in the past year alone - itself 50 times higher than in the same period during 2014. This is just the latest stark illustration of the human cost of border controls.
This tragic occurrence comes on the heels of a column by Katie Hopkins in The S*n suggesting that migrant vessels coming to Britain be forcibly sunk as a deterrent to the "cockroaches" trying to get here. Hopkins, of course, is famous solely because she is entirely without redeeming features to the point that it's a surprise no story has yet emerged of her punching a crying orphan child at their parents' funeral. Which is why she went on to write: “No, I don’t care. Show me pictures of coffins, show me bodies floating in water, play violins and show me skinny people looking sad. I still don’t care."
But even if Hopkins is beyond the pale, to the point of making us realise that the putrid shit-rag she writes for can actually go lower in our collective estimations, the problem is that she's not an anomaly.
This because, no matter how uniquely vile she may seem, she is just the latest incarnation of the "politically incorrect" pundit who's given a national media platform to have extremely reactionary opinions for money. And on immigration, no matter how many people distance themselves from Hopkins' comments, it remains received wisdom that borders need to be defended, and whether or not a few tears are shed for the bodies floating in the water, they're still the inevitable result of that.
Outrage over Katie Hopkins' comments will have made a lot of people forget the Labour Party's infamous 'racist mug.' Unlike Hopkins, Labour will be able to put their views on immigration into practice in government. Indeed, they already have, since the last Labour government built a vast network of immigration prisons and oversaw a regime of abuse and death in detention. This includes neglect and violence towards children in detention.
The same regime continued after Labour left office, of course. The promised 'end' to child detention never happened and the same injustices prevail. But this is because the current handling of immigration isn't a party policy, but the prevailing consensus of the ruling class.
Nor is this consensus limited to the Tories, Lib Dems and Labour. A Thousand Flowers points out how the SNP, supposed bulwark against the Westminster consensus, played into the same narrative when Nicola Sturgeon 'started talking about wanting to get rid of, “people with no right to be here,” calling for “strong controls” on immigration and declined to give a straight answer as to whether there were too many immigrants in the country.'
The Trade Union and Socialist Coalition's sister party No2EU also takes an anti-immigrant stance in its pursuit of populist workerism. As Anticapitalist Initiative explains:
Perhaps the most worrying section of the No2EU website is the one on “Yes to workers’ rights,” which starts with the argument that “The social dumping of exploited foreign workers in Britain is being carried out under EU rules demanding the “free movement of capital, goods, services and labour” within the EU.”
This is a cynical and deliberately confusing attack on what is actually one of the main progressive aspects of EU law, namely the free movement of workers. For internationalists, the only possible criticism of this is the fact that it creates a “fortress Europe”, a bloc within which workers can move freely, while those from outside Europe find it increasingly difficult to enter.
No2EU have actually picked up on this, saying “The so-called ‘free movement’ of labour is part of the development of a deeply racist Fortress Europe which would increasingly exclude people from outside the EU and undermine wages and working conditions inside the bloc.”
But, perversely, rather than arguing for an opening of the borders to those from outside Europe, their answer is…. excluding European workers from Britain by abolishing the free movement of labour inside the EU.
Of course, Sturgeon and No2EU alike will distance themselves from the likes of Katie Hopkins, UKIP, and anyone else who wants desperate people fleeing persecution to be machine gunned in open waters. They deplore racism and merely want a 'sensible' debate about a 'humane' system. But how can a system built on the state's power to dictate who has the right to live where ever be humane?
Immigration controls in Britain were born with the 1905 Aliens Act. This was aimed at Jewish refugees fleeing anti-semitism in Eastern Europe and Russia and created in response to the agitation of the proto-fascist British Brothers League. The 1962 Commonwealth Immigrants Act, directed against black people, was declared by Blackshirts leader Oswald Moseley as the “first success” for fascist activity in this country. Immigration controls were built upon racism.
Today, the ideological driving force behind such controls is not racial but economic. Without a doubt, racist sentiments are still a key element in the propaganda campaign used to reinforce their existence as a neccesary imposition upon freedom of movement. However, the concerns of state and corporate planners with regards migration controls are capital-based.
Whilst capital has complete freedom of movement, people don't. We are restricted based on our “economic worth” to the ruling class, divided into citizens and non-citizens based upon our usefulness to profit margins. One element of the working class is played off against the other on the basis of status as “indigenous” or “immigrants” by the very people we should be uniting against. This is the true value of migration controls – it allows entrenched power to strengthen its position by playing upon racist sentiments and uses nationalism to protect against the internationalism neccesary to take on those whose policies are at the real root of our problems.
But, even amongst people who accept all of the above arguments, there remains one – supposedly – inescapable reality; mass migration. If it were not for borders and border controls, then we would be “swamped” by the sheer number of people who are migrating from their homes towards the west every day. We would be overcrowded, fighting for resources, drowning in crime, our infrastructure would collapse, and so on.
However, such an argument assumes that those who advocate an end to the border regime simply want to scrap border controls and then let a chaotic free-for-all happen. This isn't true at all.
Mass migration has absolutely nothing to do with how “tough” or “soft” border controls may be. Mass migration is a product of the unjust and often violent military and economic policies that displace people on a massive scale. On important example is the General Agreement on Trade and Tarrifs (GATT) that came about in the aftermath or World War II has esentially kept the colonial system alive through the establishment of “free trade areas” – essentially meaning that we have pried open the third world to our plunder. It’s something we’ve always done, but now there’s international legislation barring them from using protectionist tarriffs to prop-up their economies. This restriction enacted specifically to prevent the third world using precisely the measures that the developed world used to become developed.
This disparity is the driving force behind mass migration, and responsibility for it lies primarily in western hands. The United States and Great Britain have spent half a century imposing market fundamentalism through unaccountable bodies like the WTO, IMF, and World Bank, and legislation like GATT. This is not to mention military interventions, funding, arming, and mobilising of terrorist groups, propping up third-world dictators and pumping aid to them in order to keep corporate profits high.
The only way to end mass migration, then, is to end precisely these injustices. This isn't an easy task, but rather one that requires complete social revolution to change the way the world is run.
While we remain a long way from that, people are still dying on a regular basis - in immigrant prisons and in open water. Fighting against such naked injustice is absolutely integral, from challenging racist immigration narratives and the very urge to determine people's worth by where they're from and how they got here to giving practical aid to those taking action to help migrants and resist immigration controls.
The case against borders is solid. We need to keep fighting for it to be heard.