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Pandering to xenophobia is rooted in an acceptance of austerity and recession

32501888_sMany on the left will be dismayed by the furore surrounding Emily Thornberry’s recent tweet. Whatever the thinking behind the posting of the image, the reality is that the Labour leadership’s subsequent actions have come to symbolise the latest shameful stage in the race to the bottom over immigration.

How the Labour leadership has allowed the immigration debate to be so utterly framed by UKIP is beyond comprehension. Rather than taking a principled fact-based stance on the issue, it has capitulated and conceded at every turn to UKIP’s racist agenda.

But the issue is too important for us to stand by and accept Labour jumping on the blame bandwagon. Labour must take on and demolish UKIP’s fanciful claims. And if the will is there, it’s not hard to do, as shown in Left Unity’s new Migration truth kit.

At the start of this year, Nigel Farage asserted that we were in danger of being overwhelmed by people from Romania and Bulgaria; that changes in their status in the European Union meant ‘29 million Romanians and Bulgarians will gain the right to live, work and draw benefits here’ and warned of a ‘tidal flood’.

But when the laws changed on the 1 January very few people actually came from Romania or Bulgaria. By the same token the entire citizenship of France could have come here for years. Of course, they don’t, and millions of Romanians and Bulgarians haven’t and won’t either.

In fact, the Office for National Statistics has said that total net migration from Bulgaria, Romania, Cyprus, and Malta has averaged 8,000 a year since 2007. It’s certainly not the ‘millions’ Farage talked about and won’t be in the future.

Or take the question of unemployment, about which people are rightly concerned. Many are susceptible to UKIP arguments if they aren’t exposed and defeated, but again, this can easily be done if we look at the facts. It is repeated endlessly that migration causes unemployment, but it’s not true. Between 2005 and 2008 when the economy was growing and many people were moving to Britain from overseas to work, the employment of existing British workers increased by 116,000.

The massive growth in unemployment we’ve seen since 2008 is a product of the most serious economic depression since the 1930s. When the economy contracted really sharply and unemployment rocketed, there were actually fewer migrants coming to Britain – not more. Everywhere we go, we experience problems associated with staff shortages, in hospitals, transport, care homes, the list is endless. This is because of government policies to axe public services, not because there are migrants in Britain.

The way to tackle unemployment is for government to introduce a growth and investment-based economic policy. Sadly Labour is committed to sticking with the coalition’s cuts policies so, even if elected to government, they won’t be able to create the jobs so desperately needed to restore our public services to a workable condition.

It is also put about that migrants undermine terms and conditions. Actually, migrants are not a threat to workers’ conditions. In fact by improving the skills of the workforce as a whole migration often creates upward pressure on wages. But there is a race to the bottom going on in the terms and conditions of the lowest paid, most exploited workers.

Bad contracts, poor and unsafe working conditions, and poverty pay can often be found in sectors where migrant labour is relied upon. But the downward pressure on wages and conditions isn’t the fault of the migrants. It’s the result of ideologically-driven austerity policies driving down ordinary people’s living standards, facilitated by the erosion of workers’ rights and conditions, the decline in collective bargaining and the weakening of trade unions that we’ve seen in this country over the last decades. Only proper trade union rights and collective bargaining can solve this.

Migrants are made the scape-goats to obscure what is actually happening in our economy and society. Going along with anti-migrant xenophobia condones and accepts the argument that there aren’t enough jobs to go round and the lie that there’s not enough money for public services and meeting society’s needs. There’s plenty of money there – it’s a question of whose hands it’s in and whose priorities it is being spent on.

Giving any ground to UKIP on the employment question undermines our collective ability to fight back against austerity and against the reshaping of our economy and society in favour of the rich. By dividing ‘native’ workers from ‘migrant’ workers, encouraging one to blame the other for these attacks, the narrative of scarcity and cuts is endorsed. Given the Labour leadership’s acceptance of that narrative, perhaps it is easier to understand why it also appears to accept the UKIP immigration narrative too.

Image Copyright: ultrakreativ / 123RF Stock Photo

One Comment

  1. John reid says:

    Er miliband getting rid of Thornberry, was not only not a race to the bottom, it wasn’t even to do with immigration, a sneering view of working class white van man, with a St a Geroge flag in a terrace house, isn’t. Even anything to do with immigration, when does having the 3 things I just mentioned,mean someone is associated with being anti immigration, where’s your proof that Eds quick action in getting rid of a Thornberry, was due to his worry that her sneer may have been seen as a reply to those who were anti immigration.

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