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MigrationWatch claim 300,000 Bulgarians and Romanians will “flood” the country. Migration Matters Trust counter with the claim that it will be as few as 20,000. The Office for National Statistics estimated that 37,000 extra Romanian and Bulgarian workers have arrived since June last year
In 2009, almost six in 10 people agreed that all citizens of other EU countries should have the right to live and work in Britain; today, the same proportion think the opposite.
According to an Independent On Sunday poll three-quarters of the public think that it is wrong for the UK to recruit from overseas while a million young people are struggling to find jobs – although one in three accept that businesses can't be blamed for looking abroad "because too many British workers are lazy". Two-thirds of those questioned think that British firms should give UK citizens priority over other candidates from elsewhere in Europe when hiring new workers – even if this means Britain having to leave the European Union. Just 16 per cent disagreed.
In the UK, about 20 per cent of all low-skill workers are born outside the country and certain low-wage sectors such as hospitality and food manufacturing are heavily dominated by people from poorer EU countries. In the Netherlands, workers from central and eastern Europe make up 12 per cent of all employees in agriculture and horticulture. Workers from poorer EU countries are often taken advantage of by employers who win a competitive advantage over those who play by the rules. Too often workers receive low wages, work long hours and sometimes pay high rents for terrible accommodation.
Capitalism needs a reserve army of unemployed, to exert a downward pressure on wages as well as a source of readily-available extra labour-power that can be called upon during the expansion phase of the capitalist economic cycle. The problem for the capitalist class is a potential labour shortage threatens the growth of the economy. However, a labour shortage puts the working class in a strong position and clearly the employers wish to counteract this. All things being equal, a labour shortage causes wages to rise and thus puts workers in a comparatively stronger bargaining position vis à vis overall working conditions. Naturally, our masters will always seek to counteract such a situation by importing (often cheaper, more compliant) workers, which in turn intensifies competition among workers, potentially fermenting xenophobia and racism. This can lead to the government actively recruiting labour from overseas to bridge the gap. Some economists have pointed out that such a policy is likely to put intolerable pressure on public and private housing in terms of provision and surging house prices . 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. In the nineteenth century, capitalists in Britain welcomed many thousands of Irish immigrants, in the belief that they would keep wages down. So some English or Scottish workers may have felt that their pay was less than it might have been, without the competition from these Irish newcomers. From this point of view, then, immigration might be a minus for British workers.
The working class are being inflamed with the idea that the Eastern European workers coming to Britain comes as an enemy to the British worker. As prejudice is one of the meanest in the category and least founded upon reason, it is one of the easiest to stir up. When stirred up it is virulent and capable of being used to carry out the purpose, however vile, of those who know how to manipulate it and turn it to account. The great majority of workers in Britain are more concerned with protecting their own jobs than they were with seeking solidarity with their European brothers and sisters. The Socialist Party appeals to all right-thinking working men and women of Britain not to be misled by some politicians who have made it their cause to engender a bitter feeling amongst the British workers against the workers of other countries. Rather listen to the voices of those who will foster a feeling of solidarity among the working people. Is it not rather the capitalist class (which are constantly out-sourcing work abroad and opening factories in other countries) who is the enemy, and is it not rather our duty to combine against the common enemy than fight amongst ourselves whose interests are identical.
Should we be surprised by politicians ever ready to seek the votes of Little-Englanders speak about the problem of immigrants from abroad coming to this country and causing problems such as housing, medical care and education. The problems facing working people and their families are not caused by immigration or immigrants and will not be solved by the Fortress Britain or a policy of "British Jobs for British Workers". They are caused by capitalism. We face manipulations, lies and exaggerations from the media accounts of immigration and asylum seekers. The immigrants who now try to settle in Britain come at the bottom of the social scale, taking the worst houses, accepting the worst conditions. Yet many publicists cannot contain their indignation that they should try to come here at all. We must not blame another worker for our poverty, whether migrant or not, whether illegal or legal. Those are people no different to ourselves. Instead of falling for the divide and rule tactics which weaken us all, workers should recognise who their real enemy is and work together to defeat the system that enslaves us all.
Some workers will have to get sufficiently up off their knees and stop groveling at the feet of the boss-class to be called class conscious trade unionists, before they even begin to be socialists.