Socialist Worker

Do we need to control immigration?

Common sense tells us that immigration needs to be curtailed but in reality all controls aim to drive a racist wedge between workers with identical class interests

Issue No. 2395

It often seems like common sense that immigration needs to be controlled. 

Even many of those against the brutality and hypocrisy of existing anti-immigrant measures feel it’s impossible not to call for some kind of control on immigration.

But immigration controls exist to police working class people and spread racist division. They are a tool of our real enemies—the bosses and the state.

Creating a system of raids, detention centres and deportation that hangs over migrants makes it easier for bosses to pay those workers less—and drive everyone’s wages down.

The existence of immigration controls also legitimises a very wrong and dangerous idea—that workers have to compete with each other for a limited set of resources.

There’s no fixed number of jobs, homes or services to go around. 

It’s workers who create wealth, and workers’ struggle that can put that wealth in the hands of ordinary people. Politicians talk as if migrants put “pressure” on services that they contribute to more than they use. 

They also claim that migrants are responsible for “taking jobs” when bosses lay people off.

One recurring refrain is that Britain is nearly “full up”—a bizarre claim to make for a country where golf courses take up as much land as housing.

Millionaires are also allowed to buy visas—so there’s one rule for the rich and one for the poor when it comes to immigration.

Even sections of the trade union movement talk as if migrant workers drive down wages. But wages go up or down in a constant struggle between workers and bosses.

It’s bosses who drive down wages—not migrant workers.

Migrant workers from Africa and South America have been at the heart of “living wage” strikes and protests in recent years to push pay up.

Immigration controls that target these workers and divide them from their British-born colleagues would only help the bosses push pay down.

We can see how far removed immigration laws and controls are from the reality of migration by looking at when they were introduced.

During the industrial revolution Britain’s booming cities sucked in workers from around the world. The British ruling class didn’t introduce any controls—they needed a growing supply of labour. The first peacetime immigration controls came in 1905, during an economic crisis and in response to a wave of strikes often led by immigrant workers.

The Aliens Act particularly targeted Jewish migrants from Eastern Europe, and institutionalised the idea that they were to blame for other workers’ problems.

It put restrictions on ordinary people, not on bosses. It didn’t just stop some people coming to Britain—it brought discrimination and racism to many already here.

When Britain boomed again in the 1950s politicians went to great lengths to recruit workers from its former colonies.

As the boom slowed down in the 1960s more people left Britain than entered it. 

But politicians began calling for immigration controls and even forced repatriation.

The controls were racist. Socialist Worker opposes all immigration controls.

Bosses use immigration controls to try and stop workers’ unity. Workers born in different countries have the same interests, and united they can fight for them. 


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