Socialist Worker

Theresa May shows Tory desperation with attack on migrant workers

by Dave Sewell
Issue No. 2556

Theresa May let the mask slip with a nasty racist attack on migrants today, Wednesday

Theresa May let the mask slip with a nasty racist attack on migrants today, Wednesday (Pic: Home Office/Flickr)

Theresa May responded to her crumbling lead in the polls by returning to what she knows best. This morning, Wednesday, she lashed out at immigrant workers.

May claimed, “There’s a very clear choice at this election, there’s a very clear difference between myself and Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party. I want to ensure we control migration. Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party want uncontrolled migration.”

She dusted off the old myths that “too high uncontrolled migration puts pressure on our public services” and it “lowers wages at the lower end of the income scale”.

Don’t blame immigrants—Socialist Worker takes apart eight of the lies used to divide us
Don’t blame immigrants—Socialist Worker takes apart eight of the lies used to divide us
  Read More

But repeating these lies doesn’t make them true (see below).

May seized on a leaked discussion document circulated inside the Labour Party which explores the return of “tier three” visas for seasonal and “unskilled” workers, scrapped in 2013.

Right wing papers seized on this as a bold and dramatic opening of borders. Any such policy would be long overdue, but tier three visas are nothing of the sort.

Many businesses and establishment politicians are worried that an end to freedom of movement for European Union nationals after Brexit will lead to labour shortages.

The lobbying for some measures to make sure farm workers, for example, aren’t shut out is coming from the mainstream of British capitalism.


The Migration Matters Trust warned on Monday that the government’s goal of slashing immigration would make businesses collapse and increase unemployment. Its co-chair is Tory MP Anna Soubry.

The Labour document follows on from these concerns of the bosses. And Corbyn’s response to its leak was to rapidly downplay it, emphasising that Labour’s migration policy is what’s in its manifesto.

There’s a popular case to argue against draconian immigration controls on much more human terms.

Even people who accept the abstract argument that immigration is too high are often outraged by the treatment of migrant friends, colleagues and relatives.

It takes a lot of gall to argue that borders, which money crosses freely, are there to protect workers.  In reality they restrict workers’ right to move and are a weapon in the hands of bosses.

The truth behind all the lies is that workers, including migrant workers, produce the wealth in society.

Corbyn has rightly insisted he is “not going to make false promises” on immigration numbers, and stressed the need to allow families divided by borders to reunite.

But his manifesto makes dangerous concessions. It accepts the end of freedom of movement and proposes measures, such as work visas, that cruelly restrict workers’ rights.

A better response is Stand Up To Racism’s campaign to keep racism out of the election.

May’s Ukip-style attack on migrants is a sign of her desperation. It should be firmly rejected.

Analysis: migrant workers are no burden

By far the most important factor for people choosing to migrate is the search for work.

Many migrants work in public services such as the NHS. Far from putting pressure on schools and hospitals, migrants’ labour keeps them going.

More broadly, most groups of migrants pay more in income taxes than they cost in public services.

Our services are under pressure because the Tories hold down their funding despite population growth. This isn’t migrants’ fault—and scapegoating migrants helps the Tories get away with it.

It can seem like common sense that migration drives down wages. It’s simple “supply and demand”, we are told. If there are more workers available it means they have to sell their labour more cheaply, goes the argument.

Yet studies seeking to prove this effect have repeatedly failed to find any clear pattern. Some even suggest that migration boosts wages.

The supply and demand argument assumes that the number of jobs available is constant. It is not. The economy expands and contracts. Bosses hire people and fire people.

One sector often singled out as having seen a big influx of “unskilled” migrants is construction. This came during an expansion for the sector—and repeated increases in pay.


Wage rates are set through a struggle between workers and employers.

Migrant workers have been central recent strikes by university cleaners, cinema workers and hospital porters, warehouse workers and others pushing wages up.

Division and repression are part of how the bosses keep wages low.

It’s harder to stand your ground over pay when an anonymous phone call could get you deported. It’s harder to unite and fight when half the workforce blames the other half for the bosses’ wage cuts.

The truth behind all these lies is that workers, including migrant workers, produce the wealth in society.

This is something the Tories only acknowledge when it comes to attacking pensions. They say there aren’t enough workers to care for—and pay for—an ageing population.

That’s partly an excuse. But it underlines that as far as economics are concerned there is an urgent case for mass immigration.

Click here to subscribe to our daily morning email newsletter 'Breakfast in red'

Mobile users! Don't forget to add Socialist Worker to your home screen.