In a bid to make a splash above the drone of silly season stories, various bits of Labour decided to throw a few shapes. It was a bit of a mess.
Andy Burnham, shadow health secretary, dived in saying, “I think there’s definitely a need to shout louder, and speak in a way that captures how people are feeling and thinking. There’s definitely a need to put our cards on the table.”
Lord Levy, former chief fundraiser at the Labour Party, joined in. He said of Ed Miliband, “I don’t think he’s doing brilliantly, and I don’t think he’s doing very badly. He’s doing so-so.”
Graham Stringer MP moaned that there had been a “deafening silence” from the shadow cabinet on policy matters. If only.
Shadow cabinet member Chris Bryant entered the fray with a mucked up leaked speech about immigration. He denounced the Tories’ racist van as a stunt and then promised that Labour would stop immigration undercutting wages.
While one bit of Labour dreams of Lord Mandelson’s return, another tries to breathe life into Gordon Brown’s poisonous “British jobs for British workers” slogan.
Most of the noise in the media was about whether Bryant got his facts right about Tesco and Next using migrant labour to undercut the wages of British workers. He didn’t, so it all became a bit of a farce. He managed to make Tesco look good—which is an achievement.
But the real furore should come from the left. Yet again Labour is pandering to the nasty racist consensus that immigration is a problem and causes low wages.
Immigration does not cause low pay. Migrants tend to go to countries where there are jobs available and the economy is growing.
In the 1930s there was virtually no immigration into Britain—yet there was mass unemployment and poverty. In the 1950s and 1960s government ministers actively recruited migrants from the Caribbean and the Indian subcontinent—yet workers’ wages rose throughout those decades.
In the 1980s, under a Tory government, the number of families living below the poverty line rose by 60 percent. Yet for most of the 1980s more people left the country than settled here.
Bosses will always pay as little in wages as they can in order to boost their profits. Firms compete with one another for market share and profits. If a company can reduce wages, then it will do so. But this is not the fault of immigrant workers—the bosses are to blame.
The reality is that it is division among workers that drives down wages. If immigrant wages are held down by an anti-immigrant climate, it is easier for bosses to force down everyone’s wages.
The neoliberal dream of “flexible labour markets” is for a pool of workers that are instantly available—but also instantly sackable.
This is not just about migrants. It’s about using the labour market to make as much profit as possible—although migrants are more vulnerable.
This is not some new phenomenon, but a fundamental feature of the system. There are concerted attempts to raise profits through increased “flexibility” in all areas—flexibility for bosses to hire and fire workers and to slash the welfare state.
Labour could oppose all of this, but instead it has signed up to continue Tory austerity.
It also seems determined to pander to racism whenever the opportunity arises.
Many trade unionists have asked why Ed Miliband doesn’t want their money. They should really ask why they should give it to Labour just to get Tory policies.
The Labour leadership thinks it won elections by being right wing. The reality is that Labour won because people hated the Tories—and they lost when many saw them as no better than the Tories.
Wages and job conditions improve when there is resistance. And it is resistance to the Tories and racism that is urgently needed in British politics. On that there really is a deafening silence.