Monday, December 16, 2013

Stand Together or Against One Another?

 Antipathy towards immigrant is not of recent origin. Opponents of migration keep dusting off their old discredited  theories, repackaging them for new consumption.

One argument is that migration is bad for the economy because it diverts resources from always unstated better uses to the construction of infrastructure for the migrants as if the schools and hospitals would miraculously improve without foreigners eating up the budget just as unemployment would disappear the moment migrant workers disappear. Decent affordable housing will also suddenly materialise like magic. The media continually feed the belief that immigrants are here to steal the bread from the mouths of the honest native-born Brit, to steal their jobs and homes.

Anti-immigrants make their main appeals to the perceived resentment of Little Englanders against changes to the ethnic and cultural mix of the UK as they happily tuck into their pizzas and chicken masalas, wearing their baseball caps.

 With the welfare state, the symbol of British left reformism,  being dismantled, many have drifted off into political abstention of apathy and resignation but some have turned to new political alternatives of both the left and right. A huge political space has opened up in Britain’s political scene. While Tory and Labour  are united in the need for working class sacrifice, any group which can put forward a different strategy is bound to pick up an increasing level of support. Ukip and anti-immigration parties have filled that space. Voters have flocked to the nationalists. Racist and chauvinist ideas which permeate many sections of the working class are more likely to regard immigrants as outside competitors for scarce resources than as potential allies in the class struggle.

 Capitalist countries of Western Europe have become totally dependent, for their continued expansion, on immigrant workers.  Capitalism needs workers who have to accept miserably low wages and can’t complain. “Pro-immigrant” politicians are happy to welcome immigrants into the country, in controlled numbers, as long as they live in fear and don’t fight for decent wages and conditions.  By forcing immigrant workers into competition with native-born workers, the capitalists intensify the exploitation of all. The mass use of immigrant labour, at a time of retreats by the unions and minimal job security, has stirred competition. The capitalists use these low wages to undercut the living standards of the rest of the working class.

 What has been the lot of these foreign-born workers? The longest hours and the lowest wages; the worst housing and the poorest schooling; and discriminatory laws against them.This has been their lot in life. Cut off by differences in language, in customs, religion, they more easily became a prey to the employing class, today the most exploited and oppressed section of the working class. From every corner of the earth they have come, eager to experience liberty and happiness in the promised land. They have come, hoping for a new and better life, in which the misery and suffering of the past will be ended. Instead they find they are the despised burden bearers, who, performing the hardest and most unpleasant work, are condemned to live in squalor and poverty. Insofar as some of  the native-born working classes have experienced an improvement in their job-prospects, they have done so thanks to the immigrants’ taking the most menial, low-paid and lousy jobs.  These workers can serve as an alternative labour supply, since indigenous workers, through their past struggles, have come to expect higher wages and benefits. Opportunities for “upward mobility” are restricted to the immigrant labourers coming mainly from Eastern and Southern Europe.

 It is the task of all workers regardless of their place of birth to unite and present one front to the common enemy in the common struggle — the fight against the exploitation of those who work by those who own — the fight against capitalist wage- slavery. The capitalists create and exploit every possible difference, every prejudice, within the working class. If the native-born worker can be led to believe that the basic antagonism in society is between those born in this country and those born abroad, that will make it easier for the capitalist to rule undisturbed by a united working class. The same is true if the capitalist can make the worker believe that the basic antagonism in society is between white and black, or catholic and protestant. Both Labour and the Tories want threats held over immigrant workers’ heads to keep them down and to undermine the wages and working conditions of all workers. They also seek to drive wedges between sectors of the working class, telling lower-paid workers that immigrants threaten their jobs.  If the working class is fighting among itself along such lines, capital, whose only real religion is capital itself, and which has neither colour, nationality, age or sex, can continue to rule society and to keep labour at its mercy. If the workers understood that they are part of one class, with common basic social interests, then the days of the rule of the capitalist minority would be numbered.  Working people have only two choices: either let the bosses play us off each other until we hit bottom, or to unite and fight for decent wages and benefits for all.

'Past experience has shown how disregard of that bond of brotherhood which ought to exist between the workmen of different countries, and incite them to stand firmly by each other in all their struggles for emancipation, will be chastised by the common discomfiture of their incoherent efforts.’ (Inaugural Address of the Working Men’s International Association, 28 September 1864).

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