Socialist Worker

'We support the free movement of labour' - trade unionists speak out

by Sadie Robinson
Issue No. 2537

 

Thousands of migrant workers and their families rallied in London in May 2007 to demand more rights

Thousands of migrant workers and their families rallied in London in May 2007 to demand more rights (Pic: Socialist Worker)


Free movement of labour has become a key debate. Workers currently have the freedom to travel across the European Union (EU) under current rules.

This should not be confused with bringing down borders in general, which Socialist Worker also supports.

Some in the labour movement have decided that protecting freedom of movement is now unfeasible—despite the fact that it has existed for decades.

But many unions, and the TUC, back free movement.

One TUC briefing said, “The right to move from one country to another benefits us and UK citizens living in other EU countries also benefit from the right of all EU citizens to be treated equally.”

TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady wrote in the run-up to the EU referendum, “Public concern that free movement of labour is being used to undercut jobs, wages and conditions will not be answered by freezing or further undermining workers’ rights.”

The PCS union, while not having policy on free movement, supports the principle. A spokesperson told Socialist Worker, “The debate about immigration has been poisoned.

“We in the labour movement must do more to combat the lies and prejudice peddled by some politicians and sections of the press.

“The way to tackle issues of insecure work, undercutting of wages and exploitation is the same as it as ever was, through strong, well organised trade unions.”

Ronnie Draper, general secretary of the Bfawu union, agreed. He told Socialist Worker, “We support the free movement of labour 100 percent. We think immigration is good for the country.

Immigration

“The NHS would collapse without immigration, as would a lot of the food industry.

“We had a debate on this at our regional council last week. Migration is being blamed for everything, but it’s the employers who exploit migrants.”

The UCU union has agreed to “determinedly oppose any attempt by politicians to restrict the rights of migrant workers and refugees”.

The union is committed to campaigning for “the continuing right of EU residents for freedom of movement”.

The NUT union will debate its position on free movement later this month. Its general secretary, Kevin Courtney, signed a letter in the Guardian newspaper last week that said free movement “can build our collective power”.

Manuel Cortes, general secretary of the TSSA union, was another signatory along with Pete Campbell from the British Medical Association’s junior doctors committee.

Unfortunately some unions, such as the RMT, told Socialist Worker they oppose free movement. And Len McCluskey, the leader of Britain’s biggest union Unite, has claimed, “Workers have always done best when the labour supply is controlled.”

But not everyone agrees. We can’t defend some workers by attacking others.

We can push back against the pessimism and racism that will lead to further divisions—and must urgently do so.


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