Straight talk about migration ahead of the referendum


When it comes to refugees we have humanitarian obligations. We should remember the context of WWII in considering these obligations. Looking back on that period it should be clear to us that ‘doing the right thing’ did the nation no harm at all. On the contrary, the nation benefitted from the influx of sometimes affluent, often highly skilled, generally very hard working and usually very grateful workers. This pattern of benefit from migration has been repeated over and over across the globe throughout history.

In general, economic migrants, as well as refugees, work hard, increasing tax revenue, boosting demand in the economy, staffing our public services and, furthermore, demographic changes mean that we need young, migrant workers to help support our aging population. It is a bitter myth that migrants come to ‘scrounge off the state’. They are, in fact, less likely to claim benefits than the rest of the population.

Fears about housing, schools and hospital care arise out of underfunding. Austerity programmes, that take from the least well-off and give to the most well-off in society, fail to repay the debt. They are merely a ruse for disavowing the worsening of the wealth and income distribution and for withdrawing evermore funding from public services. This economic strategy should be the true target of a legitimately disgruntled electorate, not migration.

Many employers favour migrant workers because by employing them they can undercut the terms and conditions of the existing workforce, thus squeezing the overall wage bill. Migrant workers are often given false promises by unscrupulous employment agencies. They can end up working zero-hours contracts below minimum wage. Many, unhappy with the outcome, would prefer to leave but they find themselves trapped by their unfulfilled expectations and unable to save enough to return to their home countries. They become virtually enslaved labourers, vulnerable and insecure. Putting a stop to this would reduce employers’ incentives to aggressively recruit foreign nationals. Instead of increasing workers rights this government seems intent on reducing the protection given to both migrant and domestic workers.

There are those who would have us believe that corporate interests and workers’ interests are one and the same. The evidence of the past three decades makes it perfectly clear that they are not.  Were we to crack down on the enforcement of employment terms and conditions we would find that workers at home and abroad are no longer pitched against each other, and that wages would tend to rise, boosting domestic demand, investment and economic growth.

David Cameron has utterly failed to meet his manifesto targets on immigration. Migration from outside the EU is as ‘uncontrolled’ as it from inside the EU. Could it be that this is because many of his supporters and his biggest party donors themselves profit from the exploitative employment practices outlined above?

Instead of targeting EU membership the electorate should indeed address the sovereignty issue, but the real ‘sovereignty issue’ is corporate power versus the welfare of people. The real question is, ‘in whose interests is the country being run’? Is it in the interests of the people, the 99 percent, or in the interests of a narrow, highly-monied, privileged few who have the ear of government and control of the pursestrings?

Right now the EU is something of a restraining influence on this Tory government’s relentless aim to put into place ever more reactionary economic reforms, squeezing the living standards of working people, and underinvesting in public services. It seems wise to leave the restraining mechanism of the EU in place while we fight for progressive change in Britain, for economic management in the interests of the majority and not purely in the interests of a tiny privileged minority.



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