Thursday, August 04, 2011

Migration and Socialists

The migration journey can be expensive and hard, often indeed fatal, with many dying at sea on leaky boats or while trying to cross a frontier. It is all too easy to blame migrants for causing or at least aggravating problems such as unemployment, bad housing or crime. Whether it is a matter of people from Eastern Europe or South Asia in Britain, or Hispanics in the United States a finger can always be pointed at "them" for making things worse for "us". Socialists, however, prefer to take a wider view, to see processes like immigration as part of world capitalism and its historical development. Migration is the other side of globalisation, the massive increase in the interdependence of various parts of the planet. Investment is directed overseas, as capitalists look for the biggest profit they can extract and build factories or sweatshops in China, Thailand, and so on. But at the same time some jobs have to be done in the developed world — foodstuffs can be grown half way around the world, but the cooks, waiters and dishwashers have to work in restaurants in London or Manchester.

Over the past 25 years, the total number of international migrants doubled to more than 200 million. It is expected that number to double again in the next two decades. Professor Ian Goldin and Geoffrey Cameron argue in “Exceptional People: How Immigration Shaped Our World and Will Define Our Future”, that in a more interconnected world than ever before, the number of people with the means and motivation to migrate will only increase. Climate change threaten rural livelihoods, pushing more people into cities and some across borders. Despite increasing controls, we are entering a period of intensifying migration. The world is entering a period of hypermobility, a product of a greater supply of potential migrants from developing countries and a burgeoning demand for both low- and high-skilled workers in the developed countries. the younger, brighter, more adventurous who migrate are prepared to do the 3D jobs (dirty, difficult, dangerous) that other workers are reluctant to take on — the hotel industry, for instance.

Immigrants have made up more than three times as many Nobel Laureates, National Academy of Science members and Academy Award film directors as have native-born Americans. Migrants have been founders of firms like Google, Intel, PayPal, eBay, and Yahoo. More than a quarter of all global patent applications from the United States are filed by migrants, although they are only about 12% of the population. By 2000, migrants accounted for 47% of the U.S. workforce with a science or an engineering doctorate, and they constituted 67% of the growth in the U.S. science and engineering workforce between 1995 and 2006. In 2005, a migrant was at the helm of 52% of Silicon Valley start-ups, and a quarter of all U.S. technology and engineering firms founded between 1995 and 2005 had a migrant founder. In 2006, foreign nationals living in the United States were inventors or coinventors in 40% of all international patent applications filed by the U.S. government. Migrants file the majority of patents by leading science firms: 72% of the total at Qualcomm, 65% at Merck, 64% at General Electric, and 60% at Cisco. Many cherished British institutions were developed by migrants — Marks and Spencer, Moss Bros, Burton’s, ICI . Even the figureheads at the top of the tree are migrants: the royal family was French after the Norman Conquest, and later German. Queen Victoria, often seen as one of the greatest British monarchs, had almost all German ancestors, and she and Prince Albert spoke German to each other.

Canada accepted 17 per cent more migrants last year than in 2005. Canada admitted 50,000 more migrants in 2010 than in 2009. The movement of people has sparked innovation, spread ideas, relieved poverty and laid the foundations for all major civilizations and the global economy. Millions of Europeans left for the Americas in the late 19th century to seek, among other things, wages that were two to four times higher than those at home. Today, migrants stand to earn as much as 15 times more by moving to another country to work.

Demand for migrants will increase as declining fertility and population aging create severe labour shortages, often in developed countries such as Canada. The fiscal burden of an aging population will be borne by a shrinking work force, and staff for nursing homes and retirement facilities will continue to be scarce. Just as Canadian farms rely on temporary foreign workers during harvest time, the elderly population will benefit from the care provided by new Canadians. Over the next fifty years, demographic changes in many developed countries will make expanding migration an increasingly attractive policy option. Medical and public health advances mean that people are living longer, while persistently low fertility levels and the end of the post-World War Two baby-boom mean that the number of native-born workers in developed countries will fall in the coming years. The fiscal burden of this aging population will be borne by an ever-smaller number of workers and will also generate an unprecedented demand for low-skilled health and home care services. The effects of a shrinking labor force will be compounded by the fact that as educational attainment rises in developed countries, fewer people are interested in taking on low-skilled service jobs. As education levels rise, so do expectations about work.

For capitalism there are clear benefits. The World Bank estimates that increasing migration equal to 3% of the workforce in developed countries between 2005 and 2025 would generate global gains of $356 billion. Completely opening borders, economists Kym Anderson and Bjorn Lomborg estimate, would produce gains as high as $39 trillion for the world economy over 25 years. Giovanni Peri of the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco found that, “immigrants expand the economy’s productive capacity by stimulating investment and promoting specialization…This produces efficiency gains and boosts income per worker.” A government-sponsored study in the UK found that migrants contributed about £6 billion to the national economy in 2006. George Borjas estimates that migrants make a net contribution of $10 billion a year to the U.S. economy, a figure that other economists have suggested is at the low end of the range. Arguments along these lines are found in books such as Philippe Legrain’s "Immigrants: Your Country Needs Them" — which should really be called "Immigrants: Capitalism Needs Them." For that is what is really being claimed. Migrants provide capitalists with a supply of cheap, flexible labour, which they have not had to pay to educate, into the bargain. “Open borders” is a capitalist slogan, not one that Socialists endorse. We are not advocating the abolition of frontiers here and now under capitalism, if only because we know it's not going to happen: the capitalist states, into which the world is currently divided, will always prefer to be in a position to control the labour force within their frontiers. What we envisage is that when the resources of the Earth have become the common heritage of all the human race then the world would no longer be divided into separate states, and people would be free to travel anyway in the world without needing a passport or visa and whether to live or to work or simply for pleasure. Socialism will be a world WITHOUT borders and with no concept of migration, where we will all be at home anywhere.

Particular communities and groups of workers may be disadvantaged and justified in what they perceive as excessive migration and a threat to their employment and cultures.In some parts of the UK the influx may well have resulted in increased unemployment for existing workers and appears to be putting a downward pressure on wages in some sectors. For workers fighting over crumbs in lower wage unskilled jobs, the temptation to blame your unemployment or wage level on foreign labour may be strong. But nevertheless such views are false. The blame lies elsewhere. In order to stay profitable, UK employers are demanding cheap labour.

It is often objected that migrants move from one country to another in order to claim benefits and live off the backs of "indigenous" people. But there is no reason to think this is true in the vast majority of cases. Benefits are low, and most migrants are not entitled to them anyway. Thatcher famously talked of people afraid of being !swamped" by immigrants, a refrain taken up by the BNP and MigrationWatch. Even workers who do not support such ideas may still blame migrants as convenient scapegoats. The Socialist response to all this is simply to point out that poverty and social disruption are caused by capitalism, a social system which requires the vast majority of the population to rely on selling their labour power to survive. With or without immigration there will be unemployment, homelessness, crime. The World Socialist Movement say that migration – out of as well as in to Britain – has not harmed people born in Britain. In fact, it hasn't made any difference, either way. The problems we face are not caused by workers from other parts of the world migrating to this part, but by the capitalist system of class ownership and production for profit instead of the common ownership and production geared to satisfying people's needs which will be the case in socialism.

It is a dog-eat-dog world, and whereas people have to acquire visas and passports, corporations and capital have relative ease of flows across the world. Money eases the wheels of commerce, but the migration of people can be very much resented and resisted, as from Mexico with the self-styled vigilante border patrols . Short-term protectionist measures are counterproductive. As with so many issues, politicians are slowly realising that governments must simply accommodate to capitalism with regard to migration and accept it. They can only try to control it but if they are to have any hope of effectively securing borders and finding those who slip through they must expend vast sums as on ID cards and the like. Since its inception, capitalism has drawn workers into highly concentrated areas of development in order to satisfy its labour needs. All those people seeking migration, whether legal or illegal, are simply obeying the imperative that they must try to find a place to work; and no amount of government restrictions will change that fact.

The WSM understand that the thing which makes workers leave behind their communities, and go to a place where their language is not spoken, is the wages system itself, which swats humans around the globe like a kitten playing with its toys. This underlies the need for us to recognise our identical position with regards to the wages system, and work together, as workers across the world, across boundaries, to create a commonly owned planet where all can live in security.

Some info from here and here.

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