I read this piece from Labour Uncut today, and immediately lashed out (mentally, I mean) at a couple of the phrases thus contained. Interestingly, however, not all.
Let me list them as follows. First, the soundbite that caused my mixed blood to boil unevenly:
- “An effective approach to migrant labour is, then, about economic justice, not racial prejudice. In the interests of One Nation politics Labour has to become the party that is tough on immigration, but tougher on its causes.”
I think this is clearly misplaced. An “effective” approach to migrant labour doesn’t – in a globalised world – aim to shut down the freedom of such labour to move where it will. Unless, of course, in the name of “economic justice”, it also chooses to restrict the movement of capital. And I’m sure the author of the post in question would never suggest that’d be a way forward.
Though I, indeed, might be inclined to.
Another couplet which drew my attention:
- “[…] There will also be a symbolic shift towards the police rather than HM Revenue and Customs taking the lead on enforcement of the national minimum wage.
- “‘There must be a level playing field so domestic workers are not disadvantaged and employers shouldn’t be allowed to use migration in the wrong way,’ says a Labour source.”
Not sure there’d be many immigrants out there who’d be positive about certain police forces getting involved in any enforcement. But Labour’s strategists probably know this – are even maybe counting on it, at least as a way of getting across a subliminal message for the “flog ‘em and hang ‘em” crowd.
Two more phrases now – this time it would seem a little more constructive in approach, and telling the kind of story I perceive:
- “[…] it is not racial prejudice driving public concern about immigration, it is economic injustice. Indeed, the contemporary discussion about immigration pits older migrant communities against newcomers in a battle for scarce jobs and resources.”
- “[…] Immigration is a necessary addendum for economic neo-liberalism to function. The growth of the New Labour years was held aloft courtesy of an ever-ready army of cheap migrants serving to keep corporate costs down. […]”
But the author goes on to colour his argument when he adds in flag-wrapping glory:
- “Surely it is a great progressive cause to tackle labour market abuses and offer British workers something more than the dismal prospect of competing with migrant workers on the basis of who will work for least? Isn’t that what a labour party should be for?”
That sentence would’ve be fine for me if he hadn’t used the adjective “British”. What’s progressive about that? How internationalist does that sit with other “progressive” approaches to globalisation? We never think twice about capital moving its dosh at the speed of electronic – and stateless – light. Yet when we talk about the flesh-and-blood aspect of our economies, we suddenly get all coy about identity and its relative importance.
No. To argue that the case of migrant workers is mainly a question of economic justice, and the economic justice we’re talking about relates to “British” workers in Britain at the expense of anyone else with an equal right on this planet to make their living, is to ignore the real causes of much migration: the relative poverty we tolerate in other countries compared to the advantages we – even today – still enjoy here in England.
And I’d be much happier if the suggestion to hand was to deal with the subject of economic justice in all its awful entirety than to use it as a fig leaf to cover the immigration sensibilities of those who’d like to be racist – but find themselves unwilling to take ownership for their state.
A final thought to be going away with. You’re right. I don’t know how to talk about immigration, do I? And that should be a most puzzling matter, for I was born in Oxford, England – can’t get much more English than that – to then spend most of my life growing up in the North West of the same country. But my mother is Catholic Croatian; my father atheist English (and possibly Welsh); my wife and children are Castilian Spanish; and I even feel kind of curiously attached to the fluid ounces of Spanish Jew that apparently course through my veins. So maybe you can understand my confusion. I belong to nowhere entirely – and yet feel beloved by all of those influences.
For me however, and for people like me, in Labour Uncut’s economic justice, there is no place at all – except, perhaps, a self-interested sleight-of-hand which, on the one hand, says if you have enough capital, the world will surely be yours; whilst, on the other, if you find yourself at the bottom of the pile, stick with the bottom of the pile in the country which still treasures that neo-liberal drive to the faecal end of the labour market.
Which probably means the vast majority of so-called developed countries out there.
Now doesn’t it?