Socialist Worker

New Labour's bigoted immigration proposals

by Elane Heffernan, refugee advice worker
Issue No. 1938

Zimbabweans threatened with deportation protesting in London recently	(Pic: Guy Smallman)

Zimbabweans threatened with deportation protesting in London recently (Pic: Guy Smallman)

The general election expected later this year will be played out to the drum beat of bigotry. That was the message from home secretary Charles Clarke on Monday, as he danced to Michael Howard’s tune and unveiled New Labour’s five year plan to “curb” immigration.

Clarke announced that up to 1,000 people a week — including children — will be imprisoned without trial and then deported, shackled and cowed, back to countries such as Zimbabwe, Afghanistan and China.

Tens of thousand of others will be banned from working and denied benefits because they did not seek Clarke’s permission before fleeing from persecution.

The few refugees allowed to stay will be on permanent probation, fearing deportation if they participate in protests or organise for their rights. The brutality of Clarke’s plan is matched by its racism. Black migration from outside of Europe will be halted for all but a layer of highly skilled workers who can pass English tests.

This will strip the Third World of nurses, doctors and engineers and fill our hospitals, schools and factories with a pool of cheap workers who cost nothing to train and support.

Already 45,000 doctors and more than 70,000 nurses come from Africa, Asia and the Caribbean to work here. Their husbands, wives, children and parents must remain behind for at least five years. They will pay taxes but receive nothing in return. And unskilled workers will only be allowed in from the newly expanded Europe. These migrants — usually from the poorest European nations — are already banned from claiming any benefits if unemployed.

Clarke’s draconian immigration measures — which follow less than a year after the last Asylum and Immigration Act — were demanded by Tony Blair, who insists on trying to trump Howard’s race card.

Blair claims immigrants are “placing our hospitality under threat” and generating a justified fear of immigration that must be tackled by “tough measures”.

But the scare stories over asylum and migration are fake, whipped up by right wing newspapers like the Daily Mail and racist organisations like the British National Party (BNP).

These forces will not be placated by Clarke’s “toughness”. The right wing UK Independence Party responded to Labour’s policy announcement this week by launching an anti-immigrant poster campaign with the slogan “We Want Our Country Back”. Blair and Clarke know that the Daily Mail and BNP are talking rubbish. They have read the home office research that shows migrants bring a net gain of £2.6 billion every year to the British economy.

And they can be in no doubt that huge chunks of Britain’s economy, especially in London, would simply grind to a halt without migrants. It’s not just hospitals and schools. Agriculture relies heavily on migrants to fill its low paid and insecure jobs. The IT sector desperately seeks workers from India in particular.

And no immigration would mean no take away and no dining out — 70 percent of all catering workers are migrants, according to home office figures from 2001.

Labour’s proposals on immigration represent an attempt to deepen the general attack on working people.

Clarke wants to make sure that everyone allowed to live here is economically “useful” — as defined by big business. Through “managed migration” the government hopes to minimise spending on education, healthcare and pensions for migrant workers.

But “managed migration” will also mean an unmanaged rise in levels of racism. Blair and Clarke can’t resist playing the race card — and in doing so they will cost lives and endanger the unity of our class.

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Sat 12 Feb 2005, 00:00 GMT
Issue No. 1938
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