Socialist Worker

Immigrants are not the problem

Issue No. 1702

Job losses, poverty, bad housing, NHS in crisis

Immigrants are not the problem

BEHIND ALL the attacks on asylum seekers is the idea that people coming into the country are a burden and are "scrounging" off the rest of us. The Tories and New Labour are happy for ordinary people to put their anger over the lack of housing, the rundown of health and welfare, and job insecurity down to immigrants.

But immigrants are not to blame. People do not wander the globe simply on a whim. They do not tear up all their roots, leave their families and travel thousands of miles simply to live on the dole in Glasgow or Liverpool or London. They are either fleeing persecution or seeking work. Immigration has always ebbed and flowed with the availability of work.

The capitalist system spans the entire globe. But it has not developed across every part of the world evenly. And at some times one area is in boom while another is in deep recession. So workers have always been forced to move to where the demand for their labour was greatest.

Sometimes they were at the centre of economic development. Around 95 percent of the entire US population are immigrants. South Wales was one of the world's great centres of immigration at the turn of the 20th century as workers flooded into the mines.

In the 19th century immigrants left behind deprivation and famine in Ireland to work on the boom industries in Britain. Before the First World War there were no passports-virtually anyone could come to Britain. Of course there was no air transport to move people around the world, but there was a vast fleet of passenger ships. Yet people only moved when there was work available. That is why they have never been the cause of economic crisis.

In the 1930s there was virtually no immigration into Britain, yet there was mass unemployment. In the 1950s and 1960s British businessmen and government ministers (including Enoch Powell) actively recruited migrants from the Caribbean and the Indian subcontinent because there was an acute labour shortage here.

In the 1980s under the Tory government the number of families living below the poverty line rose by 60 percent. Yet for most years during this decade more people left the country than settled here, and in the other years net immigration was just a few thousand. Today the increased power of multinationals means that a small number of firms have immense power.

A recent report from a UN agency said, "The globalisation of capital and trade flows is causing unpredictable changes in the fortunes of developing countries as investment capital rapidly moves in and out of fragile economies. "In turn these movements drive both internal and international migration."

Capital hurtles across the world at the touch of a button. Why shouldn't workers be allowed to follow in search of a job? In a single day up to $2 trillion is traded on the foreign exchange markets. Yet barriers go up when workers try to move on to find new work.

In 1965 there were around 84 million migrants across the world. By 1999 that figure had risen to an estimated 130 to 145 million people living outside their own countries. Many economies would not function without migrant workers. Immigrants to Britain have helped to build the economy, especially services like the NHS, enriched Britain culturally and massively improved all our lives.

Despite the importance of immigration governments everywhere still impose immigration restrictions which encourage racist scapegoating. The motive is divide and rule. They hope that playing the race card means ordinary people will direct their anger and frustration on "foreigners" rather than focus on the real enemy-the government and big businessmen. Irish migrants were denounced as disease-ridden criminals in the 1830s, and in the 1950s newspapers like the Times accused West Indian migrants of "seducing" British women.

The onslaught against refugees has encouraged racist attacks against everyone who is seen as "different", especially black and Asian people. It is not immigrants or asylum seekers who are shutting Ford Dagenham, or destroying jobs at BAe, Rover or in the steel plants. It is capitalism and its rich supporters who are to blame.

A socialist Britain would make everyone welcome who wanted to come here. They would be a precious resource to build our futures. Immigration controls should go.


Laws which boost racism

EACH NEW onslaught against immigrants has given racists the confidence to grow. In 1968 a racist scare was whipped up over Kenyan Asians coming to Britain. The Labour government introduced new immigration laws through parliament in just one day.

Within weeks Tory Enoch Powell was making his "rivers of blood" speech denouncing black and Asian immigrants. This further fuelled the rise in racism. Today New Labour is playing the same dangerous game when its answer to William Hague's taunts over refugees is, "We will lock up and deport more refugees than you did."

The Tories will go to any filthy lengths to win a contest of who can be the most racist. The German Tory party (CDU) tried to rebuild its party and win a seat in the North Rhine Westphalia region last month with a "children, not Indians" campaign.

This was a reference to the SPD (equivalent to New Labour) government's plan to recruit computer specialists from India. The far right Freedom Party in Austria, headed by J�rg Haider, ran a vicious campaign against immigrants during the 1999 general election. It claimed that Austria suffered from "foreign infiltration", a phrase Hitler's Nazis used in the early 1930s.

There is a way to prevent the Tories in Britain from trying to use racist scapegoating to rebuild their party. It is to unmask the rich and show that they are the ones to blame for the problems in society.


Scrounger Murdoch

THE BILLIONAIRE Australian media baron Rupert Murdoch is an economic migrant. He travels from country to country to make as much profit as he can. He has five homes-three in the US, a luxury penthouse near the Ritz in London, a house in Sydney, Australia-and he owns the Hayman Island. This man uses his vast media empire to label refugees as scroungers. Yet this scrounger has dodged �1.4 billion in British corporation tax since 1988.


Rich have room

IF YOU live in a run down tower block packed together with other poor people it is easy to fall prey to the argument that Britain is overcrowded. But there are 772,300 empty homes in Britain. Many are owned by speculators and rich landlords who keep the homes empty hoping to make a profit when prices rise.

The rich grab the vast areas of open space for themselves. The Tories say Kent cannot possibly accept a single new refugee. Property Yet the Earl of Radnor owns luxurious properties in Folkestone and Fleet Street, and 10,000 acres of land in Wiltshire-all adding up to a fortune of �40 million. He has nothing in common with local people in Kent. He despises them. He has refused to open his fancy property to the public, saying, "I am told you can even smell them and eventually your house takes on an odour like a railway station."

The Baron Hollenden is another large landowner in Kent. He has �25 million worth of land-4,000 acres in Tonbridge, Kent, and 6,000 acres in Buckinghamshire.


More needed

A RECENT United Nations agency report shows that countries across Europe suffer from too few immigrants, not too many. In countries like Britain the birth rate is falling. The average age is getting older.

The UN estimates Britain needs around 88,000 immigrants a year just to keep the population steady.


Truth about asylum

  • Just 5,890 refugees applied to stay in this country in April.
  • Last year just one person for every 1,400 people living in Britain applied for asylum here-and many of these were turned away.
  • Britain takes very few of the 23 million people who are officially classed as refugees across the world, less per head of the population than many other major European countries.
  • Benefits for asylum seekers cost the average person in Britain 10p a week.

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Sat 24 Jun 2000, 00:00 BST
Issue No. 1702
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