Sunday, September 11, 2016

A world without frontiers

Surely, no-one can begrudge people who have been oppressed, economically and psychologically, and faced deprivation and war for actually trying to improve their quality of life. But in achieving their goal of making a new life, and perhaps, a better life than before, their hardships will not be over. Their position as working class will not change substantially—they will remain the working class. We live in a two-tier society that mirrors the divide between the worker and the capitalist. In the area of education, the "masses" attend state schools whereas the children of the wealthy attend “public" (another misnomer) schools. In the area of health, the NHS caters for the "masses" and private health-care facilities cater for the wealthy. The fat cats get fatter and workers struggle to survive while working to create profits for their exploiters. Low wages and no wage increases mean larger profits for capitalists. That is the real equation in life.  

Almost from the cradle to the coffin, we are fed the myth of Western democracy. We are continually told that the vote is our assurance of a free and democratic society. Democracy? Freedom? These are empty notions unless there is real equality for each citizen, including an equal right of access to the wealth of society. It does have that potential—if we use the vote to replace the gross inequity that is capitalism. But the millions of people, who live in poverty amidst plenty, know that choice and freedom under capitalism is determined by the amount of money you have. No money, no choice. The well-off well-to-do always expect the working class to tighten their belts at times of economic crisis. Yet it is the wealthy capitalists who could better afford to do this, but they won't. They must have their profit. So they will lay off workers, cut benefits, and fight wage increases with a vengeance. All to cut costs and maximise their profit. The fat cats get fatter and workers struggle to survive while working to create profits for their exploiters. Low wages and no wage increases mean larger profits for capitalists. That is the real equation in life.

Immigrants are the most exploited members of the West European working classes. Their civil rights are less than those of indigenous workers; their pay is lower; their housing conditions worse; their promotion prospects weaker; their accident rates higher. Insofar as 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. Almost without exception, the trade unions have failed the migrant workers,

As the problems of capitalism become acuter, as the gulf between rich and poor becomes greater so too will the desire of the capitalist class to use all weapons – in particular, that of xenophobia – to divide working people. World crises have intensified at every level of the system. While governments and global institutions attempt to allocate blame, millions seek immediate relief and move from their homes.
“That immigrant has a job. If he didn’t have that job, somebody else, somebody born here, would have it.”  This argument is oversimplified but looks so logical. But in practice, we have the empirical experience to determine its accuracy. In 1980 that brought more than 125,000 Cubans to the United States (Mariel Boat-people). According to David Card, an economist at the University of California, Berkeley, roughly 45,000 of them were of working age and moved to Miami; in four months, the city’s labor supply increased by 7 percent. Card found that for people already working in Miami, this sudden influx had no measurable impact on wages or employment. Card’s findings were that immigrants bring long-term benefits at no measurable short-term cost. Using the 7 percent figure from the Mariel boatlift research, it’s possible that the US could absorb as many as 11 million immigrants annually.

Giovanni Peri of the University of California, Davis, who has shown that immigrants tend to complement — rather than compete against — the existing work-force. Take a construction site: Typically, Peri has found, immigrants with limited education perform many support tasks (moving heavy things, pouring cement, sweeping, painting), while citizens with more education focus on skilled work like carpentry, plumbing and electrical installation, as well as customer relations. The skilled native is able to focus on the most valuable tasks, while the immigrants help bring the price down for the overall project (it costs a lot to pay a highly trained carpenter to sweep up a work site). Peri argues, with strong evidence, that there are more native-born skilled craftspeople working today, not fewer, because of all those undocumented construction workers. A similar dynamic is at play on Wall Street. Many technical-support tasks are dominated by recent immigrants, while sales, marketing, advising and trading, which require cultural and linguistic fluency, are typically the domain of the native-born.

Between 2007 and 2014 the U.S.-born population in prime working age — between 25 to 54 years old — declined by 1.9 million. At the same time, the number of immigrant workers has increased by 1.7 million, nearly offsetting the decline in the U.S.-born prime working age.

“That immigrants take the jobs of American-born citizens is “something that virtually no learned person believes in,” Alex Nowrasteh, an immigration expert at the right-wing Cato Institute, said. “It’s sort of a silly thing.”

Most economists don’t find immigrants driving down wages or jobs, the Brookings Institution’s Michael Greenstone and Adam Looney wrote in May. In fact, “on average, immigrant workers increase the opportunities and incomes of Americans,” they write.

Foreign-born workers don’t affect the employment rate positively or negatively, according to a 2011 analysis from the conservative American Enterprise Institute. And a study by the Center for American Progress suggests that granting legal status to undocumented workers might create jobs.

Capitalism needs nation states – to regulate relations among businesses; to impose common laws and currency which aid capital accumulation; to organise labour markets and the provision of education, transport, and healthcare and to try to prevent recession turning into economic slumps. Sometimes to protect their international trade or protect their supplies of raw materials by going to war. The state is an instrument of violence wielded by the ruling class to maintain the social relations of production. So today, far from the state disappearing, it plays an increasingly important function in the regulation of the world economy.  The State also has a role to play in aiding and assisting in the exploitation of the workforce – hence the use of immigration controls. They demand the right to restrict the freedom and movement of labour. Immigration controls increase divisions and facilitate greater exploitation. This was a point that Marx recognised when he talked about the prejudice directed by English workers against migrant Irish workers. He called this antagonism the ‘secret of the impotence of the English working class ... It is the secret by which the capitalist class maintains its power.’

Two contradictory moods are sweeping the world. There is a wide sense of solidarity for the suffering of migrants and refugees. Yet there also exists a hysteria against them, fanned by an unrelenting succession of lies and scare stories from xenophobic politicians and their accomplices in the media. Day after day they are telling people that asylum seekers are taking homes and jobs, living in luxury hotels, pocketing huge welfare handouts and that hostels for them are a ‘threat’ to ‘decent women’ and a haven for Islamic terrorism. The response has not been to challenge these myths, but to accept them by promising that it will reduce the ‘danger’ by halting the number of refugees and migrants. The agitation against those seeking sanctuary is based on a racism that pretends not to be racism since it avoids pointing the finger overtly at all black and Arab people.

But to claim that native-born are naturally racist is shortsighted. This is an over-simplification which overlooks factors that concentrate and divert people’s frustration against their own ruling class, towards scapegoating and discrimination against migrants and refugees. Local people may already be suffering from a tough austerity hardship and shrinking opportunities. They are being forced between feeling sympathy with newcomers, and the reality of their own actual living standards being driven down.

The Socialist Party is striving for a society free from war and exploitation. We are members of the global working class. We have no country


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