Many people can see the cruelty and racism of the present immigration system. But they believe there must be some sort of “fair” system of immigration control. We believe that all immigration controls should go. And 100 years ago that would not have seemed unusual. Incredible as it may now seem, Britain had no immigration controls until 1905. People could, and did, move around the world in great numbers. Think of the millions of immigrants who went to the United States in the 19th century.
But despite the lack of immigration controls, Britain was not “flooded out”. As always, the supply of work regulated who came to this country. If there is one thing we have learnt from the recent financial crisis, it is how much money sloshes across international borders every day. That’s business. That’s the market.
But when workers try to follow that cash to find work they face a forest of legal obstacles and officially sanctioned racism.
It is not true that if there were no immigration controls then everyone would come to Britain. Most people are very slow to rip up all bonds of family and friendship to move from the place they were born to face an uncertain future. It’s often true that some regions of Britain are doing better economically than others. But even in this case, where the barriers to moving are much less serious, people don’t all move to where the economy is doing best.
Labour Party leader Hugh Gaitskell said in 1962 that in his opinion it was
“an utter and complete myth that there is the slightest danger or prospect of millions and millions of brown or black people coming into this country. Anyone who is trying to put that across is only trying to frighten people into believing it.”
The immigration laws not only bar workers from coming here; they also enforce an internal regime of courts, prisons and deportation centres for those undocumented (or “illegal”) workers who do manage to get here. As the great US socialist Eugene Debs once wrote:
“The plea that certain races are to be excluded because of tactical expediency would be entirely consistent in a bourgeois convention of self-seekers, but should have no place in a proletariat gathering under the auspices of an international movement that is calling on the oppressed and exploited workers of all the world to unite for their emancipation…
“Away with the ‘tactics’ which require the exclusion of the oppressed and suffering slaves who seek these shores with the hope of bettering their wretched condition and are driven back under the cruel lash of expediency by those who call themselves Socialists in the name of a movement whose proud boast it is that it stands uncompromisingly for the oppressed and down-trodden of all the earth.
“In this attitude, there is nothing of maudlin sentimentality, but simply a rigid adherence to the fundamental principles of the international proletarian movement. If socialism, international, revolutionary socialism, does not stand staunchly, unflinchingly and uncompromisingly for the working class, and for the exploited and oppressed masses of all lands, then it stands for none, and its claim is a false pretence, and its profession a delusion and a snare.”
A socialist society, where the immense wealth of the world was used to meet human need, would do away with the pressures that lead to anti-immigrant feeling. By taking power from the ruling class and ensuring a decent life for all, we would break the control of those who try to divide us in the interests of profit. In the course of the coming struggles against the cuts and against attacks on jobs and pay, socialists need to promote workers’ unity and argue against the myths about immigration.
If our rulers can persuade us that immigrants are the problem, they will escape with their wealth and power intact. It is true that there is a lack of affordable housing in Britain. Young people do have far too few opportunities. But it is not the fault of immigrants.
The NHS is under attack from the cutters and the privatisers in government. It is often stretched and sometimes grossly inadequate. And working people are insecure about their jobs, get too little money and have to work far too hard for the pittance they receive. But it is not the fault of immigrants.
A united working class has the power to save jobs, win decent pay and conditions, and defend public services. That means rejecting the lies about immigration which so many politicians and newspapers are now peddling. We shouldn’t let them divide and rule us. We should hit back together.
Immigration: The Myths Spread to Divide Us is available from mid-May. Updated to deal with the panic over workers from the A2 countries – Bulgaria and Romania – and uses of it, from the Tories and UKIP to Labour. An essentuial resource for the coming months, £2 per copy, or £1.50 each for orders over ten copies.
In November of last year, there was a brief moment of light amid the darkness that was 2020. Scotland became the first country in the world to make period products free for all. Just as the weekend and the eight-hour-day are now regarded by many as a given, future generations may be in disbelief that...
On 4 November last year, when many of us were watching the aftermath of the American presidential election, the US formally left the Paris Climate Agreement. Written in 2015 at the United Nations’ COP21 climate conference in Paris, the agreement is often considered to be the most significant document of international climate cooperation. Back then,...
To say 2020 was dramatic would be an understatement. The world situation has been completely transformed by the Covid-19 pandemic and the inadequacy of governmental and state responses. As we head into 2021 it feels like we are entering uncharted territory. To make specific predictions would be unwise. But the Covid-19 crisis raises fundamental questions...