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Editorial of the Socialist issue 851
Immigration: Workers' unity to defend pay jobs and services
In the 'weakest link' TV debate UKIP's leader Nigel Farage relentlessly repeated two messages in order to try to maximise his party's vote. The first, and for many the most important, was his dismissal of the other six politicians on the platform as being 'all the same' and 'not listening'. Posing as a party of protest Farage is winning the votes of some of those who are angriest at the anti-working class policies of the capitalist parties. The other constant theme to Farage's answers was to blame increased immigration for the problems working class people face.
In doing so Farage is attempting to play on many workers fears over increased immigration. Over the last decade there has been a rapid increase in the number of people, mainly from other parts of the EU, who have come to Britain to live and work. This is a major factor in the increase of around four million in Britain's population in the last decade. A small minority of new arrivals - almost all foreign fat cats - move to wealthy areas like Kensington and Chelsea. The vast majority of them, however, join the ranks of the poorest sections of the working class. Increased population density has overwhelmingly taken place in working class communities with already over-stretched public services and over-crowded housing.
In election hustings Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) candidates will be asked what their attitude is to immigration. How should Socialist Party members respond when asked questions like those below?
Why are workers from other countries able to come here and get jobs while young people who were born here are unemployed?
There are many bosses who choose to employ workers from other countries because they believe they can pay them less and force them to work harder. Occasionally a horror story gets media headlines, like the migrant agricultural workers in East Anglia last summer who were being paid £20 a week and living ten to a room, but most of this super-exploitation goes unreported. EU rules are designed to help big business get away with using migrant workers as a catalyst to lower wages for all in a 'race to the bottom'. The Posted Workers' Directive, for example, allows employers to employ workers from other EU countries on less than the 'rate for the job'. EU laws also allow employers to advertise jobs in other countries, while not advertising them here in Britain. We are opposed to these directives and to the bosses' EU, which acts in the interests of the bankers and billionaires. At the same time we stand in solidarity with working class people across Europe who are facing the same austerity as us.
It is not exploited workers who gain from the 'race to the bottom'; it is the employers. And it is not only migrant workers who have been used in this way, agency workers and young people are also used by the bosses as a means to drive down wages.
What is the solution? TUSC demands everyone gets the 'rate for the job'. We fight for a £10 an hour minimum wage now, for all workers without exemptions, and for trade union agreed rates of pay above the minimum. If this was implemented it would take away the incentive for employers to choose one group of workers over another, because everyone would get a decent wage.
But to achieve this will require getting organised. In the 1950s and 60s, when workers moved to Britain from the Caribbean and South Asia, employers tried to use them in just the same way. This was only cut across when the trade unions started to recruit these newly arrived workers and together they fought to all get the rate for the job. More recently, in 2009, workers' in Lindsey Oil Refinery - with a Socialist Party member playing a leading role - took strike action to prevent their employer using workers from Italy to undercut their wages and conditions. They succeeded in winning the rate and conditions for the job for all the workers, from Italy as well as Britain.
But aren't migrants coming to Britain to claim our generous benefits?
What generous benefits? Job Seekers Allowance is £73.10 for over 25 year olds. That is equal to about 10% of average earnings, compared to 17% when Margaret Thatcher was in power! Many people - themselves struggling on low incomes - are angry at the people who are getting "something for nothing". And the capitalist politicians' anti-scrounger propaganda tells us that it is migrants and benefit claimants that are getting something for nothing. Meanwhile they say not a word about the real scroungers in this society - the super-rich. Since the start of the century the number of people in Britain whose net worth is at least $50 million (£31 million) has almost quadrupled to 4,660, and many of them don't even pay their taxes. The PCS union has estimated that there are about £120 billion in unpaid taxes every year in Britain, overwhelmingly by the big corporations and the rich.
Rather than barely existing on poverty level benefits, immigrants to Britain want to work, or study, or join families, etc. It is dangerous to let the capitalist politicians get away with dismantling the benefit system while they distract us with propaganda about scroungers. Working class people fought for the right to unemployment and other benefits to protect us from starvation when we were unable to work. Now they are being systematically undermined. The brutal benefit cuts that have taken place under this government have led to hunger and despair for some of the most vulnerable in our society. There have been several suicides as a result of the vicious bedroom tax. We have to fight to defend benefits. This includes benefits for those who have come here from other countries. In fact workers from Eastern Europe are less likely to claim benefits than those who were born here (6.6% compared to 16%) but if those workers don't have the right to claim when they need to it will make it easier for big business to force them to work for lower wages, strengthening the 'race to the bottom' for us all.
But aren't our public services too overstretched to cope with any more people?
There is no question that our public services are overstretched, but this is fundamentally due to underfunding. They are unable to cope even without more people, as they are being cut to the bone. There are five million people on waiting lists for social housing! The main reason for this is the selling of council housing and the complete failure of successive governments to build new stock. As a result the supply of social housing has halved in the course of the last twenty years.
TUSC stands for a mass programme of high-quality, affordable council housing that could solve the housing problem for all.
At the same time the Socialist Party recognises that given the current lack of supply and the lack of an open, democratic and accountable system of allocations which would be accepted by most workers, there can be anger and suspicion that housing is being allocated unfairly. We call for democratic control of the allocation system. Decisions should be taken on the basis of need, including the right to be housed near relatives and friends, not by council officials, however, but by elected representatives of local community organisations, including tenants associations, trade unions, elected councillors and other community campaigns.
It is not only on housing that immigration is being used by the establishment politicians to distract us from the consequences of their policies. They are doing the same on the NHS and other public services. Nigel Farage, when asked a question about the NHS, answered by attacking people from other countries getting treatment for HIV on the NHS. What Farage didn't say is that he is opposed to the NHS and has declared he would be "more comfortable" if it was privatised! UKIP is no different on this to other big business parties. It wants to see our NHS handed over to the profiteers, but dares not say so openly because it would be so unpopular. Instead it supports privatisation by the back door and tries to distract us by raising scare stories about 'health tourism'. Statistics actually show that 62% of people who started HIV treatment in 2012 were born in the UK. Of those born abroad most had been living and working in Britain several years before seeking treatment, so had not moved to Britain in order to get it. We need a united struggle - of all working class people - to stop the destruction of our NHS and to maintain a health service which is free at the point of use.
Do you support the right to asylum?
Yes. We fight for a genuine right to asylum, which does not exist for many people who are fleeing war and dictatorship under our current racist immigration laws. Those laws are there to act in the interests of big business not the working class and poor, either in Britain or internationally. Look at the nightmare that exists in the Middle East after the imperialist occupation of Iraq. Yet Iraqi asylum seekers are frequently deported. Hundreds of thousands of Syrians have become refugees as they flee the horror of ISIS but the government in Britain has only allowed 750 of them to come here to claim asylum.
We call for the right to asylum and oppose the splitting up of families and the detention centres - no different than prisons - in which vulnerable asylum seekers are kept for months on end.
On the basis of capitalism there will always be people being forced to flee their country, not by choice, but out of desperation as a result of war, environmental catastrophe and poverty. We are fighting for a democratic socialist world, where the wealth, science and technique created by capitalism could be harnessed in order to meet the needs of the majority worldwide. Only on that basis would it be possible to have a world where people are free to move if they wish to, but are not forced to do so by the nightmare they face at home.
This article, first posted on the Socialist Party website on 7 April 2015, is a longer version of the article printed in the Socialist issue 851.