Socialist Worker

Do we need to control immigration?

Issue No. 2348

Socialist Worker opposes all immigration controls. They exist to police working class people and spread racist division.

The growth of capitalism demanded mass migration on an unprecedented scale. Booming economies suck in workers.

The British ruling class imposed no immigration controls in the 19th century. It needed a growing supply of labour to meet the needs of the Industrial Revolution.

As the demand for labour went down, Britain became an exporter of labour. But at the turn of the century, economic and political crisis hit. This led to a strike wave often led by previously badly organised immigrant workers.

The ruling class responded with the 1905 Aliens Act, the first to control peacetime migration, targeted particularly at Jewish migrants from eastern Europe. 

It aimed to institutionalise the idea that migrants caused poor conditions for other workers.

The response bore no relation to the numbers of people actually coming to Britain. Like every set of controls that followed, it was accompanied by racism.

And like all subsequent controls it wasn’t simply targeted at people outside Britain’s borders—it aimed to divide and control working class people in Britain.

Immigration controls didn’t stop bosses accessing labour. But they put restrictions on ordinary people, requiring that they had a guaranteed job to go to, for example.

During the 1950s Britain was booming again. Politicians rolled out recruitment schemes to attract overseas workers.

As the boom slowed during the 1960s, far more people left Britain than entered it. But politicians began arguing for immigration controls and even forced repatriation of migrants.

Immigration controls legitimise racism because they are racist. Some politicians have admitted this in the past.

One cabinet committee, set up by Labour, in 1951 pointed out that future controls would “as a general rule, be more or less confined to coloured persons”. 

Labour home secretary Merlin Rees famously admitted that immigration controls were aimed at stopping “coloured” immigrants in 1978.

Labour wrongly claims that limiting the number of immigrants reduces the level of racism. But the focus on immigrants as a problem only gives racists more confidence to demand harsher controls.


Immigration controls give police and other state agencies a green light to harass all working class black and Asian people. 

They help spread the idea that some people have no “right” to be here. It’s easy to then argue that people shouldn’t have other rights—to housing, health care or education.

Mainstream politicians say that without controls, migrants would stream into Britain and put an impossible strain on services.

But the period until 1905 shows that workers don’t stream in if there are no jobs. And when they do come, they work—creating new wealth and resources.

Socialist Worker believes that workers born in other countries are our allies.

The rich can move themselves and their money freely around the world, whatever their race or religion. Ordinary people should be able to too.

Immigration controls exist to benefit our rulers at all workers’ expense. 

That’s why we want them scrapped. 

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Article information

What Socialists Say
Tue 9 Apr 2013, 19:00 BST
Issue No. 2348
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