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The Socialist 27 June 2012 |
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Miliband speech: no answer to the race to the bottom
"I have heard stories from my Doncaster constituency where East European migrants arrived to work in a local chicken factory for long hours at less than the minimum wage while sleeping 19 to 20 to a house. That is not good either for the migrants or the people who used to do these jobs. It is certainly not good enough for one of the world's richest economies."
This extract from Labour leader Ed Miliband's speech on immigration shows that he has been forced to very belatedly recognise that big businesses in Britain have used super-exploited migrant workers to lower wages. His proposals to prosecute more employers who pay less than the minimum wage are welcome. But there have only been seven prosecutions since it was introduced 13 years ago, and for the first ten years of New Labour government not a single successful prosecution took place!
But the real character of Miliband's speech was revealed by his pledge to 'look at' migrant workers' entitlement to benefits. In fact many migrant workers are currently not entitled to benefits at all and even those that are can only claim after they have worked in Britain for a year. A central reason that migrant workers can be used by the bosses to undercut wages is because they have no safety net, facing literal starvation if they don't work. Cutting the few benefits they are entitled to will only make this worse.
Unite all workers
If Miliband was serious about stopping the race to the bottom he would not be calling for benefit cuts but for all workers - both non-migrants and migrants - to join a trade union and organise together to win decent pay and conditions. Instead Miliband, like Blair and Brown before him, has opposed workers striking to defend their living conditions and has made no pledge to repeal Britain's vicious anti-trade union laws.
Miliband is in danger of following the line of Cameron and the Tories who are using immigration to distract from the responsibility of big business, the finance industry and the politicians for the economic crisis and the attacks on the working class in the name of austerity.