“Migrants have nicked our jobs” was how the Daily Star greeted a House of Lords report that called for fresh limits on non-European Union (EU) immigrants.
The Lords’ economic affairs committee captured the headlines with its claims that migrant labour has not benefited the economy and its calls for tighter controls.
The report concluded that there has been little or no positive impact on the living standards of the existing population as a result of recent immigration.
This is despite new evidence from the Low Pay Commission which found that every British citizen is £30 a year better off as a result of immigration.
The report also stated that eastern European migrants had not driven down wages, except at the bottom end of pay levels and for young workers – though it offered little evidence for the latter claim.
What it does not say is that employers have rushed to recruit migrant workers in sectors such as agriculture that have always been scarred by poverty pay.
The man who chairs the committee is Lord Wakeham, a Tory who served as energy secretary for Margaret Thatcher, privatising electricity before becoming a peer. He was on the board and the audit committee of US energy giant Enron before its spectacular collapse.
Also on the committee are two former Tory chancellors, Nigel Lawson and Norman Lamont, the man who presided over the 1992 “Black Wednesday” financial collapse.
The Lords’ report blames immigrants for the mushrooming of house prices but does not explain how they or any other worker in this country could afford the sorts of prices being charged in London, the south east and other property “hot spots”.
New Labour has answered the Tories’ racist clamour by trying to look even tougher.
Immigration minister Liam Byrne could only counter the Lords’ committee in neoliberal terms by saying that migrant labour benefits big business, before adding there was “common ground” with the committee on demanding tighter controls.
The government, like much of big business, is keen to attract migrant labour to boost the economy – but doesn’t want to fund housing, health and education for these workers.
Ministers then queue up to blame Polish workers for a lack of midwives and maternity beds. But those shortages are caused not by immigration but by a lack of funding and by hospital cuts.
In free market terms, there is no contradiction between wanting a flow of migrants and tightening border controls.
Immigration controls act like a dam – creating a reservoir of cheap labour that can be sucked in when the economy demands it. These workers can be denied rights and benefits – with their precarious position making it less likely they will strike or protest at their treatment.
Economics are not the only concern for the government. The Financial Times reports that New Labour strategists want the government to strike a tougher line on immigration “to shore up support in southern marginal seats”.
Health minister Ivan Lewis has argued Gordon Brown is “losing touch” with Labour voters and argued for a tougher line including immediate deportation of illegal immigrants.
New Labour is copying David Cameron’s Tories in blaming migrant workers for low pay, lack of housing and poor services.
But the problems working people face in Britain are the legacy of 30 years of Tory and Labour governments pursuing vicious free market policies.
This race down into the racist gutter can only give confidence to the fascist BNP and other bigots who will always dive deeper into that mire.