Saturday, June 03, 2017

An injury to one is an injury to all

For many, the refugees’ journey and plight is experienced only through the lens of the media. As people on the move continues, fears that Europe is being “flooded” with desperate refugees and migrants seeking a better life continue to abound. A key assumption driving this fear is that large swaths of displaced populations – from Syrians to Nigerians and Afghans to Eritreans – are picking Europe as their “destination” of choice. The rallying cry of anti-immigrant right-wing political movements in Europe was echoed by Marine Le Pen “More and more are coming from the Third World, taking advantage of our benefits …” Even liberal left-wingers argue that migration puts a strain on the welfare state.

The million or so migrants who arrived in Europe in 2015 were desperate people suffering from various degrees of insecurity in their home country and nearby countries officially deemed “safe” but in reality far from so. Most were seeking the security of a new home, a place to live and work in safety. They were not engaged in welfare shopping. For example, the choice of Germany as a destination for many refugees and other migrants in 2015 was driven not by its elaborate welfare state, but simply by Berlin’s promise not to enforce the Dublin procedure and deport new arrivals to the first country they reached in Europe. They risked their lives to reach Germany because of the possibility of legal residence in a country that offered safety and security, including the right to work, protection from abuse and a better future for their children. The welfare state is, at best, one among many factors making this possible. The lack of a real welfare state in the United States has not stopped the movement of people. The migration of lower-skilled Mexicans and Central Americans to the U.S. reveals how migrants take a hazardous journey to reach a country with the least generous system of public assistance. For some it is deadly. They die to reach a non-welfare state.

However, a new report indicates that this assumption is a myth. While some people do of course leave their homes in order to reach Europe, many do not. Migration is a quest for security, including economic security. The choice of place is subject to complex decision-making processes that involve myriad socio-economic, political, personal and collective concerns. So for many, “destination Europe” is not a pull factor in their migration journey. If we want to understand why people on the move are willing to risk their lives in unsafe boats heading for Europe, much more attention needs to be paid to the drivers of flight and how to offer effective protection to people driven to take such a dangerous journey. Many people we spoke to had fled from situations of war or conflict, from the threat of terrorist or cult groups, and from kidnapping and torture or violence. Others had fled from persecution by governments, or from being targeted by governments for conscription. People also fled from family problems, societal ostracism, extreme discrimination, and exploitation, as well as from poverty caused by unemployment or the loss of livelihood. Others faced limited prospects of integration and access to education or language difficulties.  A woman from Cameroon expressed this most succinctly:
It is because of insecurity in our countries that there are many illegal refugees [sic] coming into Europe. Total insecurity is pushing us to migrate … I only want to live in security, I live in fear.”

European leaders are now focusing on deterrent policies that try to address the root causes of migration. For example, the E.U. has focused on forging “compacts” with Ethiopia, Lebanon, Jordan, Mali, Niger, Nigeria and Senegal as a means to tie development aid to assistance with preventing migration to Europe. But such measures are set to fail where they are rooted in an agenda whose goal is to deter future migration to the E.U.. This is because people on the move are often unaware of deterrent policies – and, even where they are, the drivers of migration are often more pressing than what might happen to them when they arrive.

Hundreds of thousands of refugees, young and old, women, men, and children, risk their lives by crossing the Mediterranean in unseaworthy boats or breaking through razor- wire fences. Their search is for a safe haven in western and northern Europe and is not just driven by an aspiration for a better life, but an attempt to survive and escape destruction and poverty of the wars which are plaguing their home countries.  European governments engage in a buck-passing exercise, bickering over the number of refugees each of them would be prepared to accept. They eventually agreed on a "quota" system but no sooner was the system agreed that they began to find excuses to cynically ignore their pledges, pandering to the xenophobic rants of the far-right. Scape-goating is, therefore, the name of the politicians' game and start pointing at "foreigners" as being a threat. The history of human migration under capitalism is one where people, fleeing hardship and poverty in one region or country, are forced to move to another, where they find themselves treated as social pariahs, even as their labor is freely exploited by the capitalists of the nation to which they were forced to move.

In 2015, 4.9 million people born in Britain lived in other countries. The volume of British expats ( a.k.a immigrants ) living abroad makes Britain the 10th largest source of migrants around the world. Out of all EU countries, the UK has the most citizens living abroad. 

Workers can only defend their interests if they reject the efforts of the political elite and the unions to divide workers based on race and nationality. A campaign must be waged to defend immigrants: workers should be allowed to live in whatever country they choose, with full citizenship rights. This is an essential part of the fight to unite the working class internationally against the capitalist system, which is the source of poverty, inequality, and war. Socialists support the right of all people to move across national borders without fear of discrimination, and oppose all attempts by governments to constrict and control that movement or to treat immigrants as second or third-class citizens (or non-citizens). Any other position would make a mockery of our call for the international solidarity of the working class.

Capitalism both unites and divides workers. The system compels workers to unite in order to defend their interests, but it also forces them to compete individually for jobs. This competition forms the basis on which the ruling class creates animosity between workers of different races, regions, and nations, and tries to bind the workers of one nation to the idea that they have a common bond with the exploiters of “their” nation. Wherever the employers can get away with paying lower wages, compelling longer hours and denying basic benefits, they will do it. One way to accomplish this is by pitting lower-paid immigrant workers against higher-paid native-born workers. It isn't new. Engels could write:
Your bourgeoisie knows how to play off one nationality against the other: Jews, Italians, Bohemians, etc., against Germans and Irish, and each one against the other, so that differences in the living standard of the workers exist, I believe, in New York to an extent unheard-of elsewhere. And added to this is the total indifference of a society which has grown up on a purely capitalist basis, without any genial feudal background, towards the human beings who succumb to the competitive struggle: There will be plenty more, and more than we want, of these damned Dutchmen, Irishmen, Italians, Jews and Hungarians”; and to cap it all, John Chinamen stands in the background, who far surpasses them all in his ability to live on next to nothing.”

The only way to overcome the divisions that capital deliberately fosters among workers is to work practically for the solidarity of all workers, regardless of their nationality, race or language. The slogan “No one is illegal” is not merely a moral imperative, but one based on the idea that so long as workers allow themselves to be pitted against each other, so long will they remain weak, exploited victims of capitalism. Native-born workers may think that exclusion and discrimination against immigrant workers will help them. But the reality is that when the bosses can hurt one portion of the working class, it becomes easier to hurt the other. The old IWW slogan was “an injury to one is an injury to all.” The only way the labour movement can improve the conditions for all is by raising the conditions of the most oppressed and exploited sections, not by scapegoating them.

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