Shadow home secretary Diane Abbott has slammed calls for Labour to oppose immigration.
She warned an audience of anti-racists last night, Wednesday, that “We are running the risk of going to a very dark place on issues of race and migration. If we don’t come together and campaign hard, the gains I’ve fought for all my life could be rolled back.”
Addressing a 170-strong Stand Up To Racism meeting in her Hackney, east London, constituency, Abbott said, “for as long as I have been alive, the use of the words ‘immigrant’ and ‘immigration’ in the political narrative has been a euphemism for race and the other.
“Before the Brexit vote, Labour Party colleagues would tell me that if people are against Eastern European migrants that isn’t racist because those migrants are white.
“I had to remind them that in the Victorian era the cartoons in newspapers depicted the Irish as apes. You don’t have to be non-white to be subject to a racialised attack.”
She also took on one of the most pernicious myths. “I’m saying this because you hear it even on the left—I’m not even talking about what Tories or Ukip say—there is a very common notion now that immigration drives down wages and conditions,” Abbott said.
“I’ve said it before, let me say it again—immigrants do not drive down wages and conditions. Predatory employers, a lack of trade union rights and freedoms, and globalisation drives down wages and conditions.”
Abbott also called out the hypocrisy of the Labour right wingers taking up the theme. She continued, “Some people who are now wringing their hands about the white working class and their wages and conditions being damaged, I would take more seriously if they had fought under New Labour to bring back trade union rights and freedoms.”
She warned that the argument to drop the freedom of movement for European Union migrants after Brexit could be “actually a cover for anti-immigrant feeling”.
Abbott told Socialist Worker, “I’m alarmed by people saying we need to dump freedom of movement because people on the doorstep say they don’t like immigration.”
Her speech concluded with a call on the Labour movement to come to a clear anti-racist defence of immigration.
“It is time people stopped talking about immigrants as a problem,” she said.
“It is time people stopped talking about freedom of movement as something that is wholly negative. It is time people started speaking up for the contribution of immigrants to this society.
“And it is time for politicians to say that many people are frightened by this narrative on immigration and need us to speak up for our migrant communities.
“Our job is to fight the pressure to move to the right on race and migration.
“Our job is to say to people in the labour movement, what kind of solution is it for the underpaid and exploited to encourage them to think that another section of the working class is their enemy? It’s not an answer, it’s never been answer.