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Free movement: Labour’s great non-debate

Free movement and the left: facing in different directions

Free movement and the left: facing in different directions

Nothing illustrates better the ideological and policy differences at all levels of the Labour Party than the contradictory opinions being offered on the issue of free movement. The Shadow Home Secretary (Diane Abbott) says free movement is essential. She has even said “Ending free movement has become a synonym for anti-immigrant racism”. The Shadow Brexit Secretary (Keir Starmer) and the Shadow Chancellor (John McDonnell) say that movement of people should be managed/controlled.

What does the Party leader (Jeremy Corbyn) think? He appears to take the same position as Diane Abbott. Before the EU referendum he defended free movement on the grounds that it is “intrinsic” to the EU, which sounds more like an observation than an argument. More recently he has argued “harmonisation of wages and working conditions” across Europe are the way to convince the public rather than imposing restrictions on freedom of movement. What he has not done is to require those arguing for different positions to lay out their cases clearly in a way that can either resolve the differences or, failing that, present those differences in the clearest possible way to party members.

The policy gap at the heart of Labour and the failure to organise systematic policy development throughout the party could not have a starker illustration than this issue. What we have in effect is people shouting their different opinions across a void where a debate should be taking place.

The conflicting views have tended to coalesce round two equally weak standpoints. Thus we have had recent statements by Andy Burnham, Ed Miliband and others which have argued that migration needs to be controlled because that is what the electors said in the referendum. This ‘follow the electorate’ approach is the policy without principle that made so many people want to see a shift to a more radical left Labour leadership. This view is all the more unconvincing when it is used to refer to a vote on which the voting public was split 52% to 48% and on which voters were motivated to vote they way that they did on a series of different issues and not just immigration. Not only that, but the politicians who advocate the ‘follow the electorate’ approach would not do so on other issues (for example on bringing back the death penalty).

Diane Abbott has explained her views on immigration and free movement many times. There can be little doubt that her position is supported by many, and perhaps most, on the left. The reasoning underlying this stance is that since racists focus on immigration as the main issue then it must be racist to recognise that it needs to be managed or controlled in any way. This argument is as devoid of substance as that of the ‘follow the electorate’ approach. In a interview on Sunday Politics on 4th December Andrew Neil  questioned Diane Abbott about her views.

Neil gave the net migration figure for the last year as 335,000 and asked if this was too much, too little or about right. Abbott replied that it reflected the underlying economic situation. This was clearly not an answer so the question was repeated and the second non-answer was “targets don’t work”. It was clear that Abott would not express a view on the figures. The problem with this response is easily seen by transposing it to another context. Suppose that Neil has shown the unemployment figures and said is that too much too little or about right. Can one imagine Abbott, or any other left politician, responding simply that “it reflects the underlying economic reality”?

Neil tried another tack. He said “Do you want to reduce immigration numbers?”. Abbott replied “You can bear down on immigration. The two main reasons why immigrants come here, and the main one is to work and that is partly about the skills gap here in the UK but its partly about the fact that predatory employers use immigrants to undercut British workers black and white”. She was then asked what she thought was the scale of such predatory employment practice compared to immigration as a whole. Abbott was unable to offer any information on that of any kind, even a rough indication.

What emerged from the interview is that Abbott (i) is not prepared to say that current immigration levels are too high but that she thinks we should “bear down on it” and (ii) the results of the “underlying economic reality”, about which she is unable to pass judgement, includes the activities (of unknown extent) of predatory employers. The questioning was not aggressive and posed only the most obvious of questions. It has to be a matter of concern that a leading Shadow Cabinet member was so unable to deal with them.

The two positions outlined above (‘follow the electorate’ and ‘it is racist to suggest that immigration should be controlled’) are equally political void. What makes this even more a matter for concern is that it is not as if efforts have not been made to advance the debate by unravelling the ideas involved. On the left the arguments against ‘follow the electorate’ are well established, so it is the refusal to discuss appropriate levels of immigration and how that level could be controlled that needs to be addressed. Some on the left have tried do just that but the thing is that they have met with no response. The latest attempt is by Michael Calderbank in Labour Briefing. He sets out a clear case as to why the left should be discussing levels of immigration and deals with the faulty reasoning of those who say that it is racist to do so. He argues that the issue must be approached in terms of the different class interests operating now and not in terms of how we would like an ideal society to operate. A piece I wrote approaching the issue from the angle of human rights appeared here on Left Futures. It received a number of favourable comments but not a single supporter of free movement questioned my arguments. The arguments against free movement, from a socialist viewpoint have been made. I am not aware of an equally detailed case being made for free movement the case for which, to my knowledge, consists of one-liners and assertions but no attempt to deal with the contrary case.

The stating of different positions within Labour on free movement and immigration is, so far, a perfect example of a non-debate.


  1. John P Reid says:

    Why the photo of Clive Lewis? he has agreed to attend a blue labour meeting in thr non London part of Essex in the spring, among others invited Is Clacton councillor,jack parsons who defected from Ukip to labour

    1. David Pavett says:

      You could avoid asking questions like this by doing a five-second Internet search. Your other point is irrelevant.

      1. John P Reid says:

        Maybe he’s changed his view,or it could have been a five second of typing for the article to explain, also lif I point lewisite going to a blue labour meeting it’s relevant this new view

  2. James Martin says:

    A good timely piece David, and coincidentally one that chimes with Len McCluskey’s reported comments of free movement from a trade union perspective today, e.g.,

    Personally I was horrified when Abbott got the Shadow Home Secretary post because it was precisely on this issue that she and we will be hammered time and again. Her apparent position that it is inherently racist to talk about reducing immigration is middle class liberal nonsense. Most EU immigration is of white people, so if wanting to end EU free movement of labour is racist at all then it is against white people rather than against non-white workers around the world who suffer because white Europeans get to be head of the queue for entering the UK.

    It is also middle class nonsense as it fails to recognise as we have discussed on here previously the fact that free movement in the EU was created with the intention of reducing labour costs to the lowest common denominator via a liberalised labour market and then by default weakening trade union collective power. There is nothing remotely socialist about it, and that is before we even get to issues around the need for accurate socialist planning for things like housing and health.

    The current leadership position is untenable. McCluskey’s intervention on the subject today in calling for an end to free movement while at the same time defending immigrants and asylum seekers is therefore very welcome, but I have my doubts whether Abbott is remotely capable of the necessary response.

  3. Karl Stewart says:

    My problem with this is that those who write articles such as these, and people like Andy Burnham and others who make similar comments never actually specify what it is they would do.

    All you’ve done here, David, is to say that the left “should do something about immigration” that the left “should be prepared to discuss immigration” and that “it’s not racist to discuss immigration.”

    OK David (and Andy and others) what exactly do you propose as a policy?

    And the response to that is always “so, you don’t think we should discuss immigration then?” or “so you’re calling me a racist for bringing up the issue are you?” or “you liberal-metropolitan-elite-politically-correct types are going to lose us votes in the north…”

    So, David (Andy and others…) what is your immigration policy? Let’s hear it? What do you propose?

    Let’s discuss it – what is it exactly that you want to do?

    1. C MacMackin says:

      In the comments of his previous article on free movement, David did give a suggestion: . I also explained some aspects of the Canadian immigration system and proposed how such systems could be fit into a left economic plan.

    2. John Penney says:

      your post is, disingenuous, nonsense, Karl. You know full well that those of us who have proposed an end to the Left shibboleth of unlimited Freedom of Movement /Unlimited Labour Supply, (for many of the legitimate socialis/trades unionist reasons stated by Len McCluskey), in many discussions on this very Left Futures site, do indeed a “have a policy” . Better than that, we have a socialism-rooted STRATEGY too , based on the once well understood need on the Left for radical Left Comprehensive Economic Planning to replace the entirely capitalist market “freedoms of free movement of Capital, Goods, Services and Labour.

      Simply refer back to the many previous discussions, and its all there for you to read . Your unwillingness to face up to the existence of a very well documented Left solution to Unlimited Labour Supply, is of course part and parcel of your unwillingness , in previous threads on this issue, to accept that there is an indigenous Labour voting , poorer, often unskilled, “white working class” profoundly impacted by the competitive pressures from unlimited labour supply, who are in danger of abandoning Labour electorally in key Labour heartlands, for the populist, racist, Far Right, if Labour doesn’t propose a viable Left strategy alternative to the actually neoliberal , not Left Wing, policy of unlimited free movement of labour.

      Your response , and unfortunately, the similar response of Diane Abbott and Jeremy Corbyn, and most of the Far Left, is to stick you fingers in your ears and simply loudly sloganize that “even to discuss unlimited labour supply is racist” , and to even identify a significant subset of the UK working class that is in danger of shifting to the radical Right electorally ,ie, the poorer, unskilled, indigenous white working class , is also “racist”. This is the politics of the utterly isolated posturing Liberal Left bubble.

      1. John P Reid says:

        Although the likes of Blue labour prefer the term blue collar working class, and the shock in the USA that, Hispanic and people of color working class considered themselves wo king class first BAME second,and why many voted for trump, due to the perception that the democrats, like the London Metrolpolitian liberal elite, feel the working class are, beneath them.

        The term ‘white working class, is a defenition, Becuse there are cases of white working class people,now being a more poorly treated group than abAME working class, Rotherham for an example, the police going out of their way, to help BAME working class at the extent of, not caring about white oriole being the subject of racial abuse, or the police to afraid to tackle anti white prejudice through fear of being called racist, witness Ann Cryer MP, of all people, who had an Asian daughter in law, being accused of racism, for highlighting Rotherham

    3. David Pavett says:

      My comments were very explicitly not like those of Andy Burnham – I suggest that you read my piece again.

      I have not said “the left should do something about immigration”. Rather, I have said “the left should stop using obviously inadequate arguments on both sides of the issue”. Also I gave a reference to a previous piece I wrote and a recent article by Michael Calderbank which make some suggestions about what might be done. The clear upshot of my arguments is that “free movement” is an unsustainable position. This is not because the majority of electors don’t like it (Andy Burnham’s position) but because a free market in Labour across national borders is in itself disruptive of social planning.

  4. Rob Green says:

    Border controls must be re-imposed and properly policed. The ultra-left `no borders’ morons are simply echoing neo-liberal capitalism now dead. Labour needs to present its radical socialist vision for a post-Brexit Britain and a New European Settlement and stop banging on about the ESM and so-called free movement which for workers is the freedom to tramp around the continent in search of ever crappier wages and ever more meagre welfare if they are lucky. If they are not they are trapped in sink schools, estates, communities with zero education or training worth the name and no chance whatsoever of competing for a job in their own country. A New European Settlement would leave all this neo-liberal dross behind. It would seek to build a Europe based on co-operation not imperialism or strangulating competition or an economic and idelogical war on workers and socialism whose inevitable end was a re-divided Europe. The real political battle is not between the Remainers (Tony Blair, Major, Geldof, Clegg, Branson, the Greens, corporate capitalism) and the Brexiters but between Socialist Brexit and far right Brexit. If Corbyn keeps banging on about the ESM and free movement the Labour party is finished. SOCIALISM you morons.

  5. Doug says:

    ‘Border controls must be re-imposed and properly policed.’

    Therein lies a problem that no-one has touched on. Who does the policing and what’s to prevent border controls being applied in a racist and class-biassed way.

    It’s naive to assume a right wing racist bonehead immigration official is going to apply the letter of any law in a fair and impartial way.

    Not to mention the nod and wink understanding that rich or ‘respectable’ people can be fast tracked through without any fuss or bother.

    1. James Martin says:

      Do you make a habit of insulting PCS colleagues Doug?

    2. David Pavett says:

      Doug, Your point is part of a much wider issue: the transition to policies intended to serve the interests of the great majority are always going to meet various forms of resistance because the start from where we don’t want to be to get closer to the way we want things to work. This is not, however, a good argument for doing nothing. Great vigilance would be required to root out any trace of racist and class prejudice in the handling of immigration issues both by having very clear rules, clear guidelines for implementing them plus an extensive effort to help those involved to appreciate the reasoning behind the changes. Finally and adequate system of inspection and enforcement to ensure that the implementation is in the spirit of the rules.

  6. Karl Stewart says:

    Doug’s got a point here. Fact is, we’re not in charge of immigration policy, so whether or not we say the presence of foreigners is a problem makes no difference to the numbers of people who come to the UK.

    We can decide whether to contribute to making foreign visitors feel unwelcome and uncomfortable, or we can focus on organising to defend pay, Ts &Cs for all workers, access to public services for all etc.

    We can’t influence the decision of a foreign family to co.e to the UK, but we can contribute to creating a social environment in which they have no rights when they get here.

    We can switch the focus of people who moan and whine about immigration to a focus on targetting, instead, the wealthy parasites who are really responsible for their problems.

    Or we can pander to the whiners and the moaners, agree that immigration is the main problem, endorse their prejudices and pretend we’re able to do something about it.

    1. C MacMackin says:

      Karl, it’s ridiculous that since we’re not in power we should not discuss this policy lest it make immigrants feel unwelcome. While I have no desire to make immigrants feel unwelcome, it is vital that we discuss this so that we have a plan for what to do if and when we are in power. While perhaps not as easy, it is still entirely possible to defend the rights of migrants living in the UK while questioning the current system.

      Meanwhile, you have offered no real counterarguments to the points of those questioning free movement and have simply chosen to shift the terms of the debate. As I have said before, I would like free movement to be possible, so I am open to being convinced. The only argument you have so far offered is the experience of open Commonwealth migration, which John Penny easily dismissed by looking at the actual immigration numbers from those years.

  7. Karl Stewart says:

    We had a free movement policy for every one of the 800,000,000 Commonwealth citizens up until the mid-1960s, and that was the period of the strongest working-class movement, rising wages, full employment etc.

    Racists whined about immigration back then too. Laws were brought in restricting immigrants’ rights. But the numbers of people coming here didn’t fall.

    1. John Penney says:

      For most of the postwar period net migration was on average around 20,000 a year. It is now running at around 350,000 per year. This is an entirely new level of very rapid change with huge implications for local communities, housing, education, health services, and with a massive impact on competitive labour supply , particularly in the semi and unskilled job markets. Your fatuous non sequitur reference to to 800 million Commonwealth citizens in the 1960’s bears no relation to what happened then, or the reality of Unlimited Free Movement within the EU today, as a central plank of its neoliberal strategy to smash organised labour and bring average wage rates ever closer to those of migrant workers in Guandong Province.

      Try to move beyond your comfortable set of liberal postures , Karl, and grasp the reality that socialist planning is the only thing that can protect working class living standards from the ravages of the free reign of the EU’s four neoliberal capitalist “Freedoms”.

    2. Imran Khan says:

      In the 1960’s my parents arrived and immigration was tiny, insignificant compared to now.

  8. Bazza says:

    Whilst showing love and compassion to refugees left wing democratic socialists (until a possible transition from capitalism is possible) should control capital AND labour supply.
    Because the right wing imbeciles in Labour may concur with the latter (in a negative way cowering to ‘public opinion’ re immigration) left wing democratic socialists just need to demonstrate that we believe in the MANAGEMENT OF SYSTEMS which the world is crying out for!
    Refugees and asylum seekers plus migrant workers are our brothers and sisters and like us all have to sell their labour to live.
    But saw an interesting poem:.
    “If the world was to come to us.
    Because of our conversations.
    We should kiss each one on the cheek and say.
    Now go and build socialist nations!”
    Love & international solidarity!

  9. Karl Stewart says:

    Immigration isn’t a good or a bad thing. It’s just a simple fact of life, like the weather.

    And people like to moan and whine about it, like the weather.

    Populations have shifted around the planet ever since the beginning of time and they always will.

    There are so many ports of entry to the UK and so many vehicles coming off boats into the UK every day, that any attempt to stop people coming here from other countries is utterly futile.

    So, when we hear people whining, we can either pander to them and agree that we don’t like foreigners either and lie to them that we can change the this fact of nature – we could also lie to people and promise we’ll improve the weather as well maybe?

    We know we won’t be able to impact on the numners of people coming to the UK, but we can push for new laws removing or reducing their rights.

    Or we can focus, instead, on fighting for progress on real, bread and butter issues – issues we can actually make a difference to.

    There should be a fairly simple procedure on entry to the UK, that we start from a general presumption that entry is OK, but that the state reserves the right to deny entry to a person or persons whose presence here could potentially be harmful or dangerous to society.

    Let’s just be honest and tell people that’s the limit of what’s possible and then get the focus back onto the serious bread and butter issues.

    (Let’s also be honest and tell people we won’t be able to improve the weather either).

    1. David Pavett says:

      No, immigration is not a “fact of life” like the weather. It results from human decisions. It is no more a “fact of life like the weather” than is the functioning of the free market (of which it is a component). What is more, this discussion is not about being for or against immigration but about whether it should be controlled in any way

    2. C MacMackin says:

      Um, most countries have controls on migration. Even the UK has controls on immigration from non-European countries. And speaking as a non-European international student, believe me when I say that they are enforced. So saying that there is nothing which can be done about immigration is blatant denial of the facts. I’m not saying that I want to see immigration stopped (I don’t), but that does not mean it would be impossible to do so.

  10. Karl Stewart says:

    John Penney, the use of the term “white working class” is profoundly racist.

    Yes of course it is a fact there are pale-skinned working-class people. But there are working-class people with every shade of skin colour.

    To single out and develop policy for, working-class people with a particular skin colour/shade is a profoundly racist way of developing policy.

    1. Karl Stewart says:

      And your racist “white working class” term is also profoundly stupid in the context of a debate about immigration – are you not aware, up there in your “we-got-to-be-a-bit-racist-cos-that’s-where’workers-are-innit” tower that the overwhelming majority of recent migrant workers have been pale-skinned people from eastern European countries.

      But there you go, racists are not renowned for their logic.

      1. John Penney says:

        TRY to read the content of posts Karl, before coming out with your silly kneejerk responses. The “indigenous” white working class are a very large cohort of the overall UK based working class, quite distinct from the other “white” EU state citizen workers over here. There are of course many other sub-sets of UK workers, black workers, Asian workers, and so on. But it is the “indigenous ,white working class, with low skills and incomes, who are most in danger of falling for the political offer of the radical Right populist parties.

        Your attempt to “close down” discussion of this important issue by hiding behind a ludicrous charge of “racism” towards anyone who raises the issue is the worst sort of intellectually bankrupt technique to avoid
        having to present a serious argument for that key plank of neoliberalism, Complete Freedom of Movement of Labour.

        You really do need to move beyond your obviously very limited grasp of what actually constitutes “racism” , Karl., and actually discuss the substance of David Pavett’s article.

        1. Karl Stewart says:

          JohnP, it isn’t necessarily racist to want to reduce immigration. I do think it’s futile, but it isn’t necessarily racist. Plenty of black and Asian people and plenty of eastern European people living here also want to reduce future immigration to the UK.

          My arguments on that are not that it’s necessarily a racist aim (although there are racists who have that aim as well). But that the numbers of entrants simply can’t be stopped – there are not the resources to sufficiently guard every entrance point to the UK.

          My charge of racism is specifically towards your use of the term “white working class” and your associated arguments that we need to develop a specific set of policies geared towards white working-class people.

          This is transparently racist. It’s racism that would be clearly obvious to a five-year old. What you are saying is that political policy should be developed, presented and campaigned on, which appeals, specifically to people with a particular shade/colour of skin. How can you possible not realise that this is blatant racism?

          If the Labour Party ever did take your racist advice and start campaigning on the basis of skin colour, then perhaps they might gain a few votes from racists who have not previously supported them.

          But they would also lose the votes of all non-white working-class people as well as lose the votes of everyone (certainly including myself and everyone I know) who objects to racism.

          So the kind of racist, “whites only” Labour Party you envisage would not only be totally abhorrent, it would also win probably less than 5 per cent votes in an election.

          1. Imran Khan says:

            Stay off the Special Brew Karl.

          2. Karl Stewart says:

            Response to Imran Khan:

            I never touch the stuff mate.

  11. Eleanor Firman says:

    There seems to be little insight here that most migrants do not envisage living in UK forever. Nor do any poster seem to lift their eyes above the English horizon and notice that, actually in parts of Scotland there is a shortage of labour of all kinds and they are calling for greater immigration!
    I can’t help but find most of the posts and much of the article here, troll-like. Basically, much of what is being said is – I don’t accept principle of free movement, so there. But in case they’re proved wrong they want to justify it, mostly through misrepresenting people like Diane Abbott. For god’s sake why paraphrase someone and get it wrong when you can simply quote her in half the space? There are practical measures that will have some impact on migration without the need for immigration controls. The difficulty is perhaps how to model / research them without any indication of BREXIT strategy. I suspect ILO and ETUC could be checked out on this points but there is a need for thorough research. For example bilateral agreements that guarantee all traded goods (in both directions) are produced by labour at living wage rates plus components for holiday/sickness etc) as a minimum condition. Corbyn leadership have said as much before but we have not seen it researched from the perspective of impact on migration.
    They have also spoken about blocking or restricting the cheap labour that foreign companies bring in. Insisting on LW rates is obvious point, but also some contribution to local authority infrastructure e.g. like s106.
    Finally, I was out canvassing today and it was quite clear the voters recognise when they see politicians caving and they don’t like it, whichever way they vote. But to me it looks like Corbyn advisors and the commentariat who are caving…

    1. C MacMackin says:

      I can’t speak for the opinions of Diane Abbott, real or misrepresented, but the fact that Scotland has labour shortages does not at all invalidate the idea that there should be some controls on immigration. In cases where there are labour shortages, migrant labour can be brought in, preferably with a path to citizenship if it is desired. I don’t see what the fact that most migrants only plan to be in the UK temporarily has to do with anything. To be honest, I’m not sure that’s a good thing. While you’ll always have some people choosing just to work somewhere for a few years, I’d hope that the bulk of immigrants would plan to make a life here and become part of the community.

      I am broadly pro-immigration. Hell, I’m an immigrant to the UK myself (for study). I think that it leads to a richer society. I’d even go so far as to say that, within a socialist plan, efforts should be made to accommodate all those who wish to immigrate. However, such planning would still require a system of controls, if only to have the necessary information on what to plan for. Talking about policies which will reduce immigration without the need for controls misses this point entirely. In fact, it gets things back to front as the goal should not be reducing immigration numbers, per se, but ensuring that those immigrants who do come are provided for.

      Finally, saying that people don’t like it when politicians cave may be true, but has no bearing on what makes a policy right or wrong. Using that argument to justify a policy is no better than the Labour Right calling for controls on immigration (or renewing Trident, or attacking those on benefits) because that’s what they think the voters want.

    2. David Pavett says:

      @Eleanor Firman. That’s a first for me, I have never been accused of being “troll-like” before.

      You appear to have read my piece rather too rapidly since there is no sensible way it can be reduced to “I don’t accept the principle of free movement, so there”. My points are rather more specific than that. Also, I gave a link to an earlier piece in which I explained carefully why I think that this so-called principle is, in fact, free market dogma.

      Finally, you say that it would be easier and briefer to quote Diane Abbott rather than paraphrase her. Not only is that exactly what I did but I gave a link to the source so that readers could check for themselves.

    3. Imran Khan says:

      Ms Firman. Let me assure you as a person of Pakistani origin all immigrants from countries like that of my parents envisage being in this country on an entirely permanent basis!

  12. Of course John Reid, (that’s the Glaswegian ex-minister rather than John P Reid from Essex), gave the game away in an interview a few years ago. He was in a Blair 2004 cabinet meeting when the question of imposing temporary controls, (I think there could have been a two year delay), on East European countries that were joining was discussed.

    As John Reid remembered it the treasury suggested it would good to not impose any controls as the new immigrants would help bring flexibility to the labour market. New Labour saw this as a way to increase economic growth. They didn’t see any contradiction in being called the Labour Party and making the working class pay the price of this growth.

    Now if anyone has any doubts about whether bringing flexibility to the labour market means lower wages, let me give an example and we are not looking at the unskilled labour end either.

    As a young man, which yes, was a long time ago, electricians were regarded as part of the ‘aristocracy’ of the working class. Even with an extremely right wing union leadership, electricians under the Joint Industrial Board (JIB) had nationally set pay rates and skill protection. Now we have Polish electricians prepared to work for minimum wage. Of course that’s not their fault, but it was avoidable, both at the time and later by using some German-like trade skill regulations.

    Open borders may be a ‘target’ to look forward to once a new international economic system has been built, but right now it is just liberal nonsense. It has more in common with middle-class Greens than the labour movement. Immigration controls do not equal racism, but it does equal neoliberal economic policy. If you want to find a supporter of open borders you should listen to right-wing libertarian like Daniel Hamman.

    Once we accept the referendum result, we should not be looking at giving away free movement to buy market access if we wish for there still to be a Labour Party in five years time. Now David complains about the lack of principles with the likes of Andy Burnham and others from New Labour, but does that really surprise anyone? As for Diane who I have a lot of time for usually, the party must always start from the position of representing the working class. Race and gender issues do not take precedence over those on class.

    1. Richard MacKinnon says:

      I think I can help you here Danny. You say “Open borders may be a ‘target’ to look forward to once a new international economic system has been built,”
      I agree open borders should be the goal. The new ecomomic system that goes with open borders is, no state pensions, no NHS, no state schools, in other words no welfare state.
      What a beautiful dream.

      1. No, you have it wrong Richard. Watching a young grief-stricken couple having to make medical decisions that no one should be asked to make reminded me of why I believe in socialism. It’s so easy to just fall back on party politics and forget why people created the Labour Party, and it wasn’t to give good career opportunities to middle class kids.

        It was because some thought that what we had wasn’t as good as it gets. The post war through to the mid-1970s consensus was towards a more social democratic future as we reformed capitalism and reduced the inequalities that system created. This consensus was fairly international. those not following it comprised of the Stalinist regimes and banana republics and dictatorships.

        Allowing the right wing libertarian nuts loose to build a new anti-social consensus has put the advance on hold for almost 50 years. Hopefully the disgust the public feel for the current political class will cause another u-turn and bring us back on the path to a better future and not this one which relies on greed and selfishness.

        After those post war advances we should have been so much further along that path of fairness and equality that nobody would fear automation as its benefits could shared.

        It’s good to be reminded once and a while that yes, it can be better in reality and not just as some spin doctors trite song.

    2. David Pavett says:

      Some on the left find it difficult to grasp the simple point that free movement in present circumstances is a part of free market ideology. The latest article in Ken Livingstone’s Socialist Economic Bulletin (by Tim O’Leary) even claims to “prove” that migration has no impact on wage levels. It seems to me that people like Diane Abbot (and she is certainly far from alone in this) do not understand that dismissing an argument because it is used by the right is not a safe form of reasoning. The right is most effective when its arguments (with their many distortions) have a basis in reality.

      1. Imran Khan says:

        It might have been George Orwell and if it wasn’t it’s still true. Because it’s in The Telegraph doesn’t mean it’s not true.

      2. John Penney says:

        The O’Leary article is just one of a current cascade of similar articles, from the New Statesman, The Times, to Socialist Worker, all claiming “absolute scientific proof” that the entry of many hundreds of thousands of new workers (unorganised, and used to much poorer wages and conditions than UK workers) , each year from an unlimited “reserve labour supply” across the EU, “has had no downward impact on UK wages”.

        Hmmmm … this defies the well known capitalist market “laws” of the most basic A Level Supply and Demand economics . In a capitalist economy, particularly when trades union organisation is too weak to resist the results of Supply and Demand interactions, a massive increase in the supply of a “factor of production” like labour, just as with raw materials, will cause the market price of that commodity (in this case labour power) to fall.

        In the UK economy many areas of the labour market are still protected from unlimited labor supply, because of , for instance, specialist skills , or especially restrictive controlled entry conditions. But an increasing area of the UK labour market is now totally open for employers to recruit from the unlimited EU labour pool – particularly in unskilled or semi-skilled occupations. The actual FALL , or at best standstill, in UK wages at the lower income levels (boosted at taxpayer expense by the state subsidy to businesses of Tax Credits) , over the last 10 years , and the interconnected rise in Zero Hour contracts and “Uberisation/casualization” ,is a consequence of this unlimited labour supply, and a key reason for the perfectly rational hostility of , particularly, unskilled and semi skilled workers to this unlimited competitive supply.

        The “labour supply has no impact on wages” proposition, is hard to prove or disprove as a “scientific experiment!” – requiring as it would that a parallel UK economy , without unlimited labour supply, was available to examine as an alternative model. Instead the proponents of the argument that unlimited labour supply has not damaged the wage levels of swathes of the indigenous working class claim that “we have all benefitted from the extra wealth the huge new labour supply has brought to UK GDP. ” Sadly for the purveyors of this bogus argument,, both in the USA and UK, all the data shows clearly that 80 to 90% of the additional wealth created by economic growth over the period since the 2008 Crash has been snaffled up by rewards to capital, not to the suppliers of labour power, via wages.

        It is also the case that unlimited labour supply has had a major, negative impact on the very structure of the UK economy, with a rapid process of “de-mechanisation” taking place , whereby cheap human labour is replacing automated processes. A phenomenum examined by Paul Mason in a recent Guardian article. This is one of the reasons behind the UK’s disastrously low productivity record vis a vis other major competitors.

        Unfortunately for the purveyors of the “unlimited labour supply has no impact on wages” nonsense, those who actually suffer from the real world consequences of unlimited labour supply in their daily working lives are not easily persuaded by this guff, and will increasingly vote for parties that promise to bring an end to unlimited labour supply. Of course this is utterly impossible as long as the current neoliberal model of the UK economy , as an increasingly “low wage, low skill, low tech” model persists, so neither the Tories, UKIP, OR the Labour Right can actually deliver on the bogus promises.

        1. Rob Green says:

          The biggest impact has been not so much on wages but on the education system which is now so utterly useless they might as well not bother with the pretence. UK youth have zero chance of competing for jobs in their own home towns let alone in the rest of Britain and Europe. UK capital gets its labour ready educated and trained at the expense of the parents and taxpayers of poorer countries which means it doesn’t have to collect the necessary taxes here to pay for decent schools and can give giant corporations huge tax breaks. Neo-liberal capitalist globalization of which the EU is a prime institution has created an enormous under class of workers tethered to sink estates, communities and schools with zero prospect of ever getting a job or getting on. The rest it has turned into migrating cattle chasing each others’ tails across the continent in search of ever crappier wages and ever more meagre welfare so they can live ten to a room on zero hours contracts for brutal gang masters. This the middle class calls `freedom of movement’. It is actually forced mass economic migration.

    3. Imran Khan says:

      So. John P Reid is an Essex lad is he?

      1. John P Reid says:


  13. Barry Rodin says:

    I agree with the point made that most discussion on ‘free movement’ /mass migration is made in the context of the dominant global casino, neoliberal economy, which is one key driver of economic migration.
    If we had more of a planned economy, ideally at least on a regional basis, there would logically have been greater investment in the previous decade or so in infrastructure, secondary industries and social services in less developed areas such as Eastern and South Eastern Europe.
    This would have resulted in more employment in these countries, better welfare support and resulting rising living standards. Consequently, mass migration from Eastern Europe would have been more subdued and have been governed by a rational and planned process, whereby skilled workers would migrate to more developed areas, such as the UK, where there are deficiencies in specific skills or a need for further developing infrastructure and social services (e.g. in Eastern and North Eastern England). In any case such a process should also be a trigger for improving training in required skills and knowledge acquisition among the indigenous population, even in the more developed countries.
    In a rational and equitable economic order these migrants from less developed locations would be compensated no less than the pay levels for local nationals of equal status (and there are effective international job evaluation systems available that would facilitate this process).
    In my view one of biggest failures of the EU, is the lack of regional economic planning, resulting in continuing wide variations in living standards, economic development and social welfare standards which has sometimes sparked chaotic economic migration.
    Social democratic parties in Europe, including the Labour Party, put themselves badly on the back foot by discussing how immigration can be managed in the current chaotic economic order, with its volatile economic cycles. In recent decades for many there has been at best static living standards and in many areas a reduced quality of life, and creating a fertile ground for the development of populist and nationalist political parties
    I suggest that any meaningful discussion on the free movement of people should first be prefixed by the need to have a managed/planned/equitable economic order. A key objective is to reduce inequalities in living standards and development between regions. Economic migration can then be propagated as a means to supplement local skills and building infrastructure in a process to deliver more equitable regional development. Furthermore, free movement of labour can be then be explained as a two directional process, from developed to developing locations and vice versa, with the principal purpose of improving in different ways the skills and knowledge of the local workforces in all locations.

    1. Rob Green says:

      Right. In fact only a socialist Europe could save free movement now by ending the dictatorship of capital and toppling the vile EU. A New European Settlement would insist on a Europe-wide trades union living wage plus a regime of full-employment in each member state and of course a state bank with a monopoly of credit to prevent private financiers ripping off entire nations ever again before losing border controls.

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