Immigration: we can’t keep succumbing to fear tactics

Written By: - Date published: 11:54 am, December 2nd, 2019 - 18 comments
Categories: Brexit, Economy, im/migration, immigration, International, uk politics, Unions, workers' rights - Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Prior to the release of UK Labour’s manifesto, Unite Union General Secretary Len McCluskey come out in the media saying it would be unwise for the party to support extending free movement of migration with Europe. My first question for any trade union leader when they make these sorts of comments is: are you representing the majority view of your union membership? Or have you assumed that as a union leader you can express your personal view without seeking wider endorsement?

I am a Unite Union member, and have been since I moved to the UK in 2017. I can confirm that in that time, rank and file members have not voted to take a position opposing free movement with Europe. In fact Unite as a union with over 1.3 million members have a range of views on topics such as immigration.

In the autumn edition of Unite Works the union paper, there was an article which pointed out that the number of EU migrants working on UK farms had dropped by 10% in 2017 after the Brexit referendum result. The article went onto say that due to labour shortages crops could be “left to rot.” (Farmageddon, Unite Works autumn 2019). McCluskey’s intervention in the general election on this issue seems to contradict the concerns raised in the Unite paper just weeks earlier.

Immigration is a fraught issue. Human being have been moving throughout the history of our species. It is how we have evolved. The idea of the modern nation state is only a few hundred years old, and for most of our species existence on this planet nation states have not existed. Nation borders are often arbitrary and based on historical divisions or conflicts. And we know from even recent history these lines are often moving and evolving.

For all the scaremongering about immigration, there are plenty of economic arguments for letting in migrants. Research from University College London shows that migrants from the European Economic Area contributed 34% more in taxes than they received in benefits between 2001 and 2011.

Yet this isn’t the message we hear from politicians…

Nigel Farage’s infamous Breaking point poster making immigration an issue during the 2016 EU referendum. 

The general impression regarding migration is that migrants are a drain on public services and society. In response to the 2008 Global Financial Crisis, internationally politicians have tended to turn the blame on migrants, rather than on the financial institutions and systems that caused the crash. This has mostly come from those on the political right, though often the left have failed to be strong on this issue. In the 2015 election, then UK Labour Leader Ed Miliband decided the best way to beat UKIP and the Conservatives was to steal their policies. Miliband announced that Labour would support tougher immigration controls, though was opposed by others in the party including now Shadow Home Secretary Dianne Abbott. Unsurprisingly, Miliband lost the 2015 election, making even David Cameron appear a strong competent leader in comparison.

Image result for ed miliband mug
Mug released by Ed Miliband’s Labour Party in 2015. The common retort to this from Labour supporters was “I’m not a mug”

Labour’s immigration policy has moved on since 2015, despite the best efforts of Len McCluskey.

My personal experience as a migrant to the UK from New Zealand is that it isn’t easy. I’m English speaking, university educated, white, male and from a middle class background. I have it way easier than most migrants. Yet there are a number of restrictions on the type of work I can do as well as restrictions on access to public services in the UK. Also the process of getting a UK visa was costly, time consuming and involved jumping through many hoops.

Conversely I know many people in England who would love to immigrate to New Zealand. However if you are over 30, don’t have very specific qualifications or a high income it is incredibly difficult. Logic would suggest that there must be a way to make it easier for English people to move to New Zealand and Australia, and vice versa. The numbers moving between these countries would be comparable.

More broadly, I have moved on from my radical socialist dayswhen I believed all immigration controls should be scrapped. While total free movement of people would be ideal, in the current economic and geo political model it would be impractical. But trying to restrict the movement of people is like trying to control the tide. Humans always have and always will move around the planet. And by and large it is a positive thing. What we need are sensible immigration polices by domestic governments that allow immigration to occur in a sustainable and equitable way. And more importantly, we need strengthened and properly democratic global governance structures to support national governments and allow this to happen.

But most importantly, we can’t be succumbing to fear campaigns about immigration causing a crisis. The economic arguments do not support this. The economic hardships people face in the UK and globally were caused by a financial crisis, the root cause of which is still to be addressed. Continued attacks on migrants for this is at best a distraction, and at worst feeds xenophobia and fear in our communities.

To support Momentum campaign for a Corbyn led Labour Government in the UK you can give your support here.

18 comments on “Immigration: we can’t keep succumbing to fear tactics ”

  1. Gosman 1

    "…And more importantly, we need strengthened and properly democratic global governance structures to support national governments and allow this to happen."

    What does that actually mean? Are you actually able to specify how that would work in practice or is this just more pie-in-the-sky left wing utopianism?

    • RedLogix 1.1

      It's a challenge but not utopian. An authentic, democratically accountable form of global governance is in my view inevitable. The most cursory glance at history reveals a progression from primitive social groups based on family and tribe, through to villages, city states, tribal empires, nation states, and national hegemonies.

      Not carefully; this historic progression was deeply uneven, marked by progress and collapse many, many times. It was a deeply imperfect process, characterised by tyranny, war and brutality. And at every step along the way, there were those who objected, calling out the next level of social integration as 'utopian'. Yet here we are in 2019 and there are now some 200 odd nation states on the planet, and around five of them counting as hegemonic empires in one form or another.

      Then in the last century, in the wake of two catastrophic world wars the major powers, undertook two nascent attempts at global governance, the League of Nations, then the United Nations. As with all first drafts both were flawed and remain tragically limited. But in my view they are consistent with the inexorable flow of human social and political development … toward larger and wider horizons of political integration.

      As I've stated here many times, all the really big problems we face as a species are global in nature, and therefore require a political response at the same scale.

      Note also; the trend of history show that all successful expansions of the political sphere achieve a balance with the structures that gave birth to them. For instance we are all citizens of a nation state, yet also we retain our individual rights, and remain members of family, cultures and religions that support our natural human diversity.

      Therefore I would argue that any successful form of global governance will retain the nation states as essential components. And this in turn implies security of borders and the controlled movement of peoples. The role of a global organisation (and indeed the UN is already heavily involved in this sphere) is to encourage the development of even handed and reasonable immigration rules across all nations. Just as the nations already share a myriad of technical, commercial and legal standards globally.

      Experience with the UN shows the major hurdle we face is the reluctance of a handful of the large nation state hegemonies, USA, China, Russia, Europe, etc to relinquish the necessary sovereignty in matters that are global in nature. As long as we keep playing 'Game of Thrones' and empire building, then sadly you are right Gosman, true global and federal governance will remain a bit utopian and just out of reach.

      Unless of course a third catastrophic round of global devastation leaves us so broken and chastened that we finally come to our collective senses the hard way.

      • Gosman 1.1.1

        Explain to me how you will get people in nations agreeing to surrender large amounts of sovereignty to an organisation they will have even less ability to influence than their own one?

        • RedLogix 1.1.1.1

          The same question has been asked a thousand times in history; just at smaller scales. Consider how at one time the modern nation we now call Germany was a collection of tiny duchies and warlord fiefdoms. Dozens of them. If you could go back in time and propose to most of the people living at that time the idea of a unified nation state called Germany … you would likely hear your exact words repeated back to you. Except in a different language 🙂

          The pattern of this aggregating, unifying process has played out repeatedly in history; all I am proposing is the logical progression of this. I agree it is a challenge; history suggests these transitions are rarely easy or painless … but equally they are not impossible nor utopian in principle.

          Still the question you ask is a good one. I think the best answer I can give is to have some faith in human’s ability to adapt and progress.

          • Gosman 1.1.1.1.1

            Yes and it took the most brutal war in human history where the losing side was confronted by the results of it's own inhumanity for (someof )the nations in Europe to realise they might want to hand over some of their sovereign rights to a larger trans-national authority. Even then you get lot's of people complaining about how the EU is essentially do the bidding of the Germans or the French and the smaller nations (like the Greeks) get screwed over.

  2. Stuart Munro. 2

    The economic arguments do not support this

    The economic arguments are invariably calculated to further the interests of capital, not labour. The reason workers firmly reject immigration on the vanishingly rare occasions their opinions are actually solicited is that they wear the costs, in competition for jobs and scarce resources like housing, in suppressed wages and eroded conditions.

    The black economy construction workers have slammed one of the few remaining doors by which New Zealanders used to enter the construction industry – casual work in related professions. If NZ is ever to be self-sufficient again (not a priority in the frankly perverse logic of the bureaucratic hacks who make economic decisions, but a key element of the greater freedom that comes of self reliance) it needs to rebuild the pathways that once allowed our workers to progress in their careers. Could we use a few more skilled construction folk – well yes, actually. So why are we driving our young folk out of the industry?

    • Gosman 2.1

      What is the average wage for labourers in the construction industry today compared with 10 years ago?

      • Stuart Munro. 2.1.1

        Why don't you tell me? And you might explain how you calculate the percentage and influence of the offbook fraction.

      • Buster12 2.1.2

        We pay $18.90 for unskiled labour and $25+ for skilled labourers. When i started out 15 years ago i was paid traning wage while i did my pre apprenticeship course but once i finished that i moved straight into my apprenticeship.

        • Stuart Munro. 2.1.2.1

          Would you happen to know whether most folk get full weeks, or is there a bit of casual work going on there?

          • Buster12 2.1.2.1.1

            Yes it does happen not so much in residential more so in commercial builds and bigger companies who hire thru labour firms.

        • Gosman 2.1.2.2

          Seems like a reasonable wage to get. 18.90 * 32 hours a week say gives someone an income per week of just over $ 600 per week. This works out to be around $30,000 per annum. While it might be difficult to raise a family of 2 kids on that it should be enough for a single person.

          • Buster12 2.1.2.2.1

            Company i work for treats labouring as a stepping stone to an apprenticeship. Most guys who have worked for us have gone onto apperntiships/hammer hands within 6 months. If you can't handle labouring for a few months how are you going to handle a 4 year apprenticeship.

  3. "This has mostly come from those on the political right, though often the left have failed to be strong on this issue."

    Ain't that the truth. And it's unfortunate that those 'on the left' in politics (in NZ at least) are only just beginning to wake up to the fact that simply copying policies in small part or large of the cabal of HRH's former empire members and dressing it up as "best practice" ain't necessarily so. Rearranging the deck chairs on policy and administrative structures that are fundamentally flawed is also not a good idea.

    Unless of course people trafficking, worker exploitation, all the muck, corruption and filth that goes with it, and judging the benefits of immigration purely from an economic perspective is OK Jack.

    In NZ's case, they may well have rid themselves of one or two of its enablers, but nothing substantive will change, and any Government Minister claiming left-wing credentials is going to be continually sabotaged, hampered and embarrassed

    • * " HRH's former empire members" = " HRH's former predominantly Anglo-Saxon, exceptionalist empire members"

      And I imagine there'll probably be another round of policy-maker pearl clutching,hand wringing, consultation, othering, spin et al, before anything of value comes about.

    • Lettuce 3.2

      "Unless of course people trafficking, worker exploitation, all the muck, corruption and filth that goes with it, and judging the benefits of immigration purely from an economic perspective is OK Jack."

      Actually, it seems all that stuff's just fine:

      https://www.stuff.co.nz/national/crime/117812515/nzs-first-convicted-human-trafficker-freed-after-serving-third-of-prison-sentence

      • OnceWasTim 3.2.1

        Yep, and he'll probably be back at it before to long – maybe using some sort of proxy.

        I've YET to see anywhere in international media in overseas countries, NZ government advertising warning of the various scams and bullshit being propagated by arseholes such as this guy. Not. a. one. Anywhere!

        Quite the opposite in fact. The programme seems to be to reduce/rationalise any sort of overseas presence and resort to as much automation as possible with algorithmic tik-a-box risk factors driving it all.

        Which is why genuine immigrant applicants get a hard time and are tarred with the same brush with others whose only intention is to rort the system and make a fast buck. And don't think for one minute that there aren't our fellow citizens and residents enabling a lot of it.

        Makes for good reality TV though eh? I'm wondering when Border Force Abu Dhabi and Border Patrol Lebanon start filming.

        • Lucy 3.2.1.1

          Like most countries we have never had the full talk about immigration. We have just taken the guys who will work minimum wage and below as they are fleeing poverty and no opportunities in their own country. I understand that they will do anything to stay but it has caused an affect on the rest of the workforce. We need to spend time and money up skilling the people who are here as we have an incredibly large aging workforce that are being replaced by foreign workers who work hard but take large amounts of time away to return to families. We can not work an economy where workers continually work 10 months a year or work 4 – 5 gig jobs with all the instability that brings. Employers needs to change in NZ if they wish to continue in business, as the model they currently have will not work long term.

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